Magazine article Technology & Learning

Virtual Learning 2.0: Professional Development Is a Whole New Ballgame for Educators Who Teach Online

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Virtual Learning 2.0: Professional Development Is a Whole New Ballgame for Educators Who Teach Online

Article excerpt

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According to the 2006 report Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning, Funded by the North American Council For Online Learning and the K-11 online Connections: "... 38 states have now established state-led online learning programs, policies regulating online learning, or both. Enrollments in online courses have surged in the past year, increasing by as much as 50% in some states. Twenty-Five states have established state-wide or state-led virtual schools. Michigan this year became the First to require high school students to take at least one online course For graduation."

With sustained, dramatic growth across the nation, online learning is here not only to stay but also to drive innovation in both core curriculum and professional development areas. Encompassing everything from a single Web site that links to resources (such as Virtual Learning Resources Center) to just-in-time lessons, a total school experience, workplace training, or part- or full-time online courses for students and educators, virtual learning's adaptability is proving itself well-suited to the 21st century.

The Connections Academy--a pioneering virtual school that began serving K-8 students in 2002 and has now expanded to K-11 in 12 states--"combines strong parental involvement of learning at home, the expertise and accountability of public education, and the flexibility of online classes." Teachers work with their students using a variety of methods including Web-based exchanges, phone conversations, and videoconferencing. Students work on collaborative projects, and the schools even facilitate face-to-face field trips and gatherings for students in the same area--or beyond.

Personal Attention

Sarah Ault, principal of the Denver Connections Academy, taught for four years in a traditional setting, two years at Connections Academy, and is now starting her second year as principal. She touts the advantages of the online venue. "I had 34 kids in my last year, which made it impossible to reach every kid. To be able to talk with every kid and get them what they need is heaven for me! The parents are also very involved here, and in a brick-and-mortar school, sometimes I never even met teachers." Connections Academy works with states and districts to set up regional Virtual schools, and teachers within an area work together in a physical place so that if one is having difficulty with a student, he or she can talk with colleagues on the spot.

Mickey Revenaugh, vice president of State Relations at Connections Academy, whose job it is to smooth the pathway of virtual learning with legislators who may be unfamiliar with the concept, explains that bringing together Connections Academy teachers from the various states is a priority. "We want them to interact with each other through online courses and becorae friends and colleagues in the same way their students do. In fact, they learn to teach online by learning online."

A 21st-Century Model

Several years ago Connections Academy contracted with Boise State for custom graduate level courses for its teachers and administrators around the country. Kerry Rice, EdD, assistant professor at Boise State, explains that the program includes exploring many aspects of teaching that make an effective online program, including project-based and hands-on learning, distance learning, community building, engaging instruction, and technology tools. Rice explains that the "overarching themes are community building, collaboration, and teamwork, and how you build those features into online teaching." Specific aspects include active listening, modeling collaboration in big groups and small groups, as well as teaching specific skills, such as the instructional design for developing courses for asynchronous delivery, and understanding the ever-growing palette of online learning tools.

Not surprisingly, according to Rice and Revenaugh, good online teachers share many of the same qualities as teachers in traditional settings: caring about kids, mastery of their subjects, flexibility, and an interest in lifelong learning. …

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