Online and hybrid education has long been a hot topic in higher education, but the impact of virtual learning on K-12 schooling is continuing to grow. With this growth comes new opportunities for students from all walks of life. With online learning, students with mobility issues can more easily access the materials they need; homeschooled students have more resources available to them; and students at schools that don’t offer AP or language classes can still get the education they need. Most importantly, it gives students the opportunity to interact with and learn from classmates from around the country, or even the world.
Allen C. Grant has spent the last decade in this virtual space. The current department chair for education policy and leadership programs at Drexel University’s School of Education, Grant began his career as a kindergarten teacher before eventually becoming the director of the Louisiana Virtual School. He’s been working in virtual education since about 2006, and although he’s been happy to watch it evolve, it still hasn’t reached its full potential.
"There’s certainly more of an emphasis on assessment and engagement, but sadly a lot of the things that we were doing ten years ago, we’re still doing despite a lot of the newer technologies that are out there,” Grant explained.
So, how do online instructors go about creating an engaging, modern virtual classroom? Grant suggested first focusing on the three types of engagement: student-to-teacher, student-to-student, and student-to-content. From there, it’s a matter of figuring out how to breathe life into the online learning platform. Often, this can be done using common technology in new ways.
Three Ways to Increase Engagement in Virtual Classrooms
Go beyond discussion boards:
Discussion boards may be a staple of online learning, but let’s face it: they’re hardly the most interesting learning tool. Grant suggested using programs like VoiceThread, which allow students to present over video. Other students can then respond with comments or videos of their own. “It’s like a discussion board, but it gives you higher-level engagement,” Grant said.
Focus on communal document creation:
It’s not enough to just upload some readings and assignments and expect students to complete them. The key to engaging students is letting them collaborate. “We always want to get students doing things and building things together,” Grant said. He recommended using tools like Prezi, Google documents and even Pinterest to let students interact with their classmates rather than working in isolation.
Utilize live webinars:
A lot of educators teaching in the virtual space are used to giving live webinars. But the technology offers additional benefits when it’s put in the hands of the students. Webinar technology like Google Hangout or Zoom can be used for student presentations as well as adding a face-to-face component to group work.
As online learning becomes more and more prevalent, the resources for educators will continue to grow as well. And while incorporating new technology into the classroom is a great way to revitalize the content, it can’t replace an educator with a clear vision for the course. “You can’t use technology just for technology’s sake. You have to have a set of objectives,” Grant said.
Attending the 2018 ISTE conference? Visit Drexel University Online’s booth to find out how to learn more about this topic and other subjects related to technology in education.
About Drexel University
Drexel University specializes in innovative, internet-based education programs for working professionals, organizations and corporations, enrolling more than 7,500 unique online students from all 50 states and more than 25 countries. Having offered online degrees since 1996, Drexel is known as a leader in technology-enhanced education and enjoys regional accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Ranked among “America’s Best Graduate Schools” by U.S. News & World Report, Drexel University’s School of Education offers more than 30 online bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and certificate programs including: EdD in Educational Leadership and Management, MS in Learning Technologies and Graduate Certificate in K-12 Virtual School Leadership. Learn more.