Identifying and Addressing Teaching Challenges in K-12 Online Environments
Archambault, Leanna, Distance Learning
Often, educators report that they were born to teach, and from a very early age, it is clear that they are destined to have a classroom of their own. However, this dream typically did not include teaching via the use of a webbased environment. An increasing number of elementary and secondary teachers are finding themselves encountering this relatively new form of instruction. However, this type of teaching presents a unique set of challenges. According to a recent survey of almost 600 K-12 online teachers throughout the United States, major areas of concern include the amount of time devoted to teaching online, control over the content, and issues related to students (Archambault & Crippen, 2009).
While virtual teachers enjoy the flexibility of teaching online, the amount of time spent teaching online surpasses that of a traditional, face-to-face environment. When asked about the challenges related to time, online teachers agree that although it is beneficial in many ways, including getting to know their students better, the time investment was a major factor in their workload. As one online teacher commented, "I feel that it is a wonderful opportunity for my students, but it takes much more of my time than it did when I was in the classroom." Another echoed the same theme: "Teaching online I feel is much harder than any other type of teaching position I have had in the past. It takes a lot of preparation, and decision making."
The notion of time and energy spent is one that is particularly underestimated by those outside the field, and often comes as a surprise to those who are new to online teaching. Because many teachers in this area are continually improving their practice with new content, new technologies, and new ways of engaging students, it can be particularly time-consuming, as another online teacher noted: "I work harder now than ever before. No two years are ever the same." This finding is consistent with previous studies that suggest that through the process of teaching online, instructors at the K-12 level continually made changes to improve their courses, especially the courses that they had previously taught face-to-face (Lowes, 2005).
The amount of time needed to teach in an online environment is an important consideration for those considering entering the profession. Although schedule flexibility and the ability to teach "anytime, anywhere" is a understandable draw to prospective teachers, online teachers need professional development from the onset that emphasizes the demands for time and addresses time management strategies specific to online teaching. These could include setting clear expectations with students, such as policies regarding response time to e-mail, feedback on assignments, and procedures for having questions answered, and the role of the teacher as facilitator. These elements are related to classroom management for the online environment. Because teachers coming from traditional settings have experienced preparation related to establishing rules, routines, and procedures for face-to-face teaching, the translation of elements for an online setting is sorely needed.
Another challenge facing online teachers is how content for their courses is developed. From examining various models, there appears to be a wide range of models for how online content is created. Some virtual schools allow their teachers to create their own content and others use materials developed by a content provider, colleague, or curriculum specialist. The experience on the part of the teacher with respect to how much control they had to change their course(s) seemed to be an issue. When teachers do not have control over the content, this can become a source of frustration, as one expressed: "I have little control on curriculum and course management. [Notice of] errors within the course need to be submitted through a third party. I would prefer to make corrections myself to eliminate the delay. …