Can Online Teachers Establish a Connection with their Students?

The other morning, my professor asked our class how many of us had taken online courses. I looked around the room to see about ⅓ of my class’s hands go up, in addition to my own. This was a room full of students who spent most of our childhood in a pre-smartphone world roamed by dinosaur computers, yet a good fraction of us had been able to answer “yes” to having participated in an online course. I could only imagine how many hands would be raised for a class of students ten years younger.

Taking online courses is appealing for college students because of scheduling conflicts or registration restrictions. In fact, from 1998 – 2008, the increase in the number of college students choosing to take online courses was at a rate of 150%.  However, these classes have been a hot topic for K – 12 educators too. As of 2012, more than 66% of US high schools had their students enrolled in virtual education courses, and that number continues to grow.

A big question looms in the air as our education system drifts into this new realm of teaching style – how can students still feel connected to their teachers through a screen?

The fact is, teachers tend to play a very specific role for students. They are given the opportunity to not only help a child master a subject, but also be a mentor, motivator, role model and so much more. Their relationship with the students keeps students engaged and accountable for their work. Whomever parents and administrators choose to play this role in students’ lives must understand the gravity behind this and create virtual programs accordingly.

Here are three ways online education providers can ensure connections between teachers and their students:

Method #1

Teachers should be reaching out to students to get to know them, whether it be through a discussion board encouraging introductions at the beginning of the class or through student-teacher conferences throughout the year. Courses with two-way communication between the pupil and the instructor offer much more engagement for both parties and therefore more effective learning. Any program where a child is just a username and nothing more should be taken with caution. Unless there is an exceptional amount of structure accompanying the instructor to keep the student accountable, there is a worse rate of completion.

Method #2

Online courses can better help students understand and absorb material by engaging in blended learning. Study after study has found that programs incorporating more than one forum into lesson plans is far more successful than otherwise. Teachers who make use of this technique can push learning to another level and connect to students by hosting class discussions, promoting social learning and establishing a sense of community.

Method #3

Selecting qualified teachers goes a long way. Even in a virtual atmosphere, teachers’ abilities to convey information to students in an interesting, engaging and powerful way plays a humongous role in a student’s chance of actually learning the material. A study called the “Six Second Teacher Evaluation” done in 1993 by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal showed that students were able to predict teachers’ effectiveness by watching six second videos of their instruction, and that these predictions quite accurately matched end-of-semester evaluations. In short, students can accurately judge teachers’ abilities, even through video, proving the importance of online educators getting talented staff onboard.

Online learning has opened a lieu of opportunities across the globe, altering where supply is able to intersect demand for educators everywhere. Success stories of remote high schoolers now accessing AP courses, classes with interim teachers finally receiving qualified instructors and virtual teachers connecting with their students are just a few of the reasons schools across the US and the world are deciding to incorporate online learning. Making sure that online education providers are confidently providing a place for students and teachers to connect ensures that students are able to reap the many benefits of virtual courses and experience education to the fullest.

“This is not technology for technology’s sake; this is technology living up to its potential for education excellence.”

— DR. ROD PAIGE – FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION

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