First in a series of posts looking at the rapidly evolving world of online education for school-age students.
“Technologies are not simply inventions which people employ but are the means by which people are reinvented.” —Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980)
In recent posts about technology in education, we looked at some ways teachers are integrating personal tech devices into the classroom. Whether for memorization, research, or group project management, handheld computers are changing how students interact with teachers, and how classes access and share information.
The technologies and applications that have driven the use of tablets in classrooms have helped inspire new online curriculum designs that are challenging the concept of what makes a school. Virtual schools and online programs use Internet technology to provide full courses and academic programs, and their popularity is growing. Whether used to augment a traditional or homeschool program or to completely replace it, the virtual classroom will be impacting most students at some point in their educational career.
As an educator, how will this impact you? Are you ready to take the step into using virtual class management and delivery systems? What traits, skills, and training are important for an online teacher? How do you find out more about virtual teaching options in your field and area?
Traits and Skills Virtual Schools Value
Whether teaching for a virtual school or managing one online class in a traditional school, teachers are almost always required to meet their state licensing requirements. Some private or college virtual schools will waive this when substantial expertise is shown. Being well-versed in your field is still important, and a strong work history and attendance record remains valuable. Experience in instructional design, a history of welcoming innovations in teaching, and a desire to stay current with technology are all helpful.
Think about how to translate your classroom skills into virtual applications. Being able to communicate effectively in writing is very important, not just to deliver information, but to engage students—just like in the classroom. Online “listening” can be a more subtle challenge, so developing your skills in reading between the lines and seeing what is happening with a student is a valuable skill. Flexibility and creativity are as important for online teaching as they are in a classroom, sometimes even more so when you do not have face-to-face or even real-time communication.
The teaching style you adopt when teaching online may be dictated by the delivery system your virtual school uses, which you can read more about in the next section. But your personality will have opportunities to shine through. Finding ways to adapt your personal style to virtual teaching may take time but is encouraged by most schools. Making personal connections with pupils is still a key element.
If you are dreaming of sitting at your computer in your sweats and sipping your chai tea all day while typing encouragement to students and managing message boards, you may be in for a surprise. A comfortable chair may be as important to an online teacher as comfortable shoes are to a classroom teacher, but online programs increasingly use video technology to allow direct communication. You may even be working in an office or school environment instead of from home.
Your work hours may be set similarly to a classroom, with late afternoons or evenings dedicated to grading and preparation. Some schools cater to populations that need different hours for contact time, so expect some evening communication with students.
Virtual Delivery Systems
Being familiar with hosted content management systems (CMS) such as Blackboard is a big help when moving from a classroom to online teaching. Some virtual schools have full curriculum programs with supporting class management requirements, and teachers have little latitude in changing lesson plans. The CMS field is full of change and growth, so expect to need ongoing training and support. There are also curriculum programs that allow teachers more input into content and delivery options, but almost all virtual programs depend on some preset subscribed system to manage coursework.
For a few teachers, their first online experience comes within the traditional school where they have taught for years. They may take on the role of working with students who are required to remain off-site for health or other reasons. While some schools rely on a CMS for these situations, others require the teacher to modify existing courses to meet the student’s needs.
Finding Online Teaching Jobs
Virtual school teaching positions are showing up on all the major educational job listing services. Since most virtual schools are charter schools, start checking in your local school districts, and expand to include any state that you are licensed in. Search the Web for state-by-state listings of virtual schools chartered in your area.
If you apply to teach for an out-of-state school, expect to fulfill licensure requirements, and clearly show your willingness to do so in your application. There are national schools that accept teachers with any licensure and have teachers working all across the country. All have sections for prospective teachers on their websites.
Use your tech-savvy skills to support your application where possible. If you have prepared your own set of instructional videos and managed message boards, provide a demonstration option in your résumé materials. While you may have a live interview, you may not, so think of ways to demonstrate your comfort with working in the virtual community.
Some Pros and Cons of Teaching Online
It can sound like a dream job. You may find yourself teaching flexible hours with students across the country, and find that you really enjoy that. Some teachers are drawn to online schools that support marginalized students, and find it a challenge that they enjoy. You will probably spend less on your school wardrobe and transportation costs.
In some instances, though, the preset curriculum does not allow for any change, so if you are very attached to using particular materials or projects, you will not be able to. And if you thrive on being in the room with your students, carefully consider the impact of working alone and online. Check on the pay rate for online teachers to see if it compares with classroom teachers.
Future posts in this series will explore the types of online schools for the K–12 student, some curriculum models they are using, and different ways online courses are being used by school districts and homeschoolers. We will see how some individualized and group teaching methods are being employed by teachers in virtual schools.
Are you teaching any courses in an online environment? What pros and cons have you encountered? Have you considered moving from the classroom to the computer to reach students? Please share your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comments.
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