- Four American Sign Language classes in two high schools in Ector County, Texas are being taught virtually. The classes are part of a trial run through Proximity Learning, an Austin-based online education provider, and will be evaluated in November, Your Basin reports.
- While such virtual classes should ideally have each student equipped with a laptop and headphones and allow for one-on-one learning, budget constraints have the Ector County kids viewing one big screen instead.
- District leaders warn that to implement teacher pay raises to entice educators to Ector County, programs that aren't state-mandated, such as marching band and athletics, will have to be cut in coming years. The district is more than 250 teachers short this school year.
A dearth of certified teachers is a growing problem for school leaders well beyond Texas. With the advent of educational technology, though, virtual classrooms are now a way to bridge the gap, especially for rural districts that have trouble luring well qualified teachers to move there.
A virtual classroom lets students and teachers talk to each other, watch presentations or videos in real time, and work in groups to utilize resources. But not all of them are equally effective at engaging students. The teacher can take certain steps to help ensure the desired educational outcomes are achieved, even though he or she isn't working with students in person. Some ideas include going beyond discussion boards to having students present their work via videos that other students can react to.
Simply uploading assignments and readings for students to complete can result in feelings of isolation. Communal document creation, by way of Prezi, Google docs or even Pinterest, can keep students sharing with classmates, exchanging ideas and staying highly engaged with the content. Educators can consider leveraging webinar technology as well, such as Google Hangouts or Zoom, for student presentations to add a face-to-face component to group work.
The most important thing for school leaders to remember, though, is that even the latest and greatest in ed tech can't take the place of a passionate teacher with a clear vision of course goals.