Teaching in a virtual learning environment can be both challenging and extremely rewarding. After seven years of teaching secondary English in a traditional classroom, I was given the opportunity to teach in a virtual environment and it was here that I learned what it means to truly differentiate instruction in order to meet the needs of every student. However, making this change was in many ways like starting over as a first-year teacher. While virtual teaching requires many of the same skills needed to effectively teach in a brick and mortar classroom — academic expertise, teamwork, organization, creativity, and of course love for learning and for students — there are some strategies that are particularly helpful when trying to reach students with whom you may never see face-to-face.
1. Communicate regularly with students and provide opportunities for students to collaborate with peers.
One of the biggest challenges facing those who teach in a virtual environment is to ensure authentic student engagement. The temptation to "game the system" will be minimized if the student knows they will have to analyze, justify, and/or evaluate the content in a group discussion or in an extension activity provided through a journal activity, practice, project, or even a written assessment. This regular communication and collaboration can take place in person or online through a digital messaging center, discussion group, or even through the feedback provided on teacher-scored activities.
2. Set clear expectations.
While flexibility is one of the greatest benefits that virtual programs can provide, setting clear expectations in regards to participation, pacing, and progress is a key component to ensuring student success. It is important that teachers work with students to determine reasonable scheduling for pace and progress so that students will continue to work toward timely completion. While virtual learning provides the opportunity to deliver instruction based on individual student needs, all students need clear goals to work toward.
3. Use data to guide student learning.
As educators, we have all been told to use data to drive our instruction. This can be an overwhelming instructional task when you are staring at a classroom full of students with varying learning preferences, academic experiences, and reading levels. However, as virtual teachers, we have the ability to do just that. Because a virtual teacher will not be planning and preparing to deliver content on a daily basis — this will be provided through the use of the digital curriculum — their time is better spent analyzing the student performance in order to determine mastery and understanding. By regularly monitoring and reviewing student data, we are able to better guide student learning and provide interventions to struggling students.
The great thing about teaching in a virtual environment is that you have the unique opportunity to individualize your instruction like never before. By using these strategies — along with many other tips you will pick up along the way — you will be better prepared to meet the needs of the students you serve.
Prior to her current position as an Implementation Success Manager with Apex Learning, Laurel Beach served as a Lead Program Manager for Bay Virtual School, where she taught online courses.