Learning with computers isn’t what it used to be. Most of us knew them as a classroom tool; now, they are the classroom. A total of 1,500,000 K−12 students enrolled in online courses in 2009, almost double the number in 2006, according to the International Association for K−12 Online Learning. Alabama, Michigan, and Florida require online learning for students to graduate, and others, like Idaho and Utah, are considering similar changes. Students, parents, and teachers alike appear to be embracing online learning. In a fall 2011 EducationNext article, students report better engagement when learning is differentiated and accessible through multiple venues, and teachers often report better relationships with students and the ability to provide one-on-one guidance that face-to-face classrooms cannot afford (“The Highs and Lows of Virtual School: One Teacher’s View”).
But knowing how to instruct online effectively is not automatic. The first time I delivered professional development virtually, in spite of knowing better, I lectured more, used fewer multimedia resources, and did not provide ample time for participants to interact with one another. It seemed that all the lessons I had mastered in face-to-face instruction suddenly had to be relearned in an online environment. I didn’t have the physical cues (e.g., eye contact, facial expressions, off-task conversations) to help me adjust my lessons accordingly.
So I went back to the nine research-based strategies of Classroom Instruction that Works (CITW) that I know so well and realized that, tweaked for virtual application, they still provide the framework I need for effective instruction. They reminded me to do the following in an online classroom:
- State explicit objectives for each session and make them accessible to all.
- Provide feedback to each participant and allow them opportunities to give their peers feedback and self-reflect.
- Offer multiple avenues to help participants develop understanding of new concepts.
- Provide ample opportunities for participants to interact in groups.
- Provide opportunities for participants to apply what they learned in real-world situations.
Time and again, we have received feedback from readers and workshop participants that the CITW strategies provide clarity and purpose for how to create an environment conducive to learning and how to scaffold student learning from initial understanding to deep knowledge (see figure below)—whether they’re teaching science or social studies, in an urban or rural setting, or in an ELL or mainstream classroom. Though the delivery method of online learning is different, we have every reason to believe the CITW strategies will deliver for teachers in virtual classrooms like they do for teachers everywhere who want to be the most effective they can be.
Elizabeth Ross Hubbell is an educational technology consultant at McREL