A few years ago, my youngest child embarked on her high school journey and expressed interest in a foreign language course, only available through our school district’s virtual learning program. As someone involved in the online field, I was eager for her to experience this learning format, particularly since her previous encounters with emergency remote learning during the pandemic were less than ideal. I hoped this would provide her with a positive online learning experience. However, her experience fell short of my expectations.
The shortcomings of her virtual learning experience can be attributed to several factors. Here, I will discuss these issues and suggest ways to incorporate best practices into a virtual environment to enhance student learning.
Course Design: The virtual classroom my daughter encountered was primarily centered around textbook readings, supplemented with recordings of in-person lectures for the virtual students. A more effective approach would have been to adhere to best practices, which advocate for a well-structured, intentionally designed classroom that incorporates instructional design principles. This includes fostering robust learning experiences that integrate community-building and interaction within the digital environment.
Teacher Presence: When my daughter expressed her dissatisfaction with her virtual class, I inquired about her level of engagement with her teacher. I asked if he held virtual office hours, synchronous meetings, or responded to students in the virtual classroom. To all these questions, her answer was no. In fact, she often waited weeks to receive feedback or grades on her assignments. The learning content was primarily textbook readings, supplemented by recordings of in-person lectures for the virtual students.
In this scenario, the teacher was noticeably absent from the virtual learning classroom. It is well-known that students thrive in an environment where there is a strong teacher presence. This can be achieved through regular communication and interaction (both synchronous and asynchronous) between the teacher and the students, as well as providing timely feedback.
Interaction: Learners require more than just a textbook and recorded lectures. The ability to interact with their peers can significantly enhance engagement. Furthermore, there should be opportunities for them to engage with the content. As previously mentioned, the virtual classroom should offer high-quality, robust learning experiences.
Continuous Improvement: One of the most significant shortcomings in my daughter’s virtual classroom was the lack of opportunities to provide feedback. While the class grades may have reflected the subpar learning environment, offering opportunities for anonymous feedback about the course design and teaching experience could have assisted the teacher and the district in developing higher-quality courses that better meet the needs of the learners.
Through initiatives such as the OLC Innovate 2024 K-12 Symposium, my aspiration is for a greater number of educators to gain insights from their colleagues, expand their professional networks, and share effective strategies that enhance student success.