Building out a successful, technology-driven online/blended learning program for K-12 can be challenging, but planning ahead, involving all key stakeholders, and keeping the student at the center of the conversation can help overcome most, if not all, of the obstacles.
Coordinating and supporting students in multiple online classrooms can present some interesting challenges. For example, our Online Academy Coordinator in India found that some students struggled to get used to deadlines set in an online class: "Our students have many after-school activities: sports or school events. So, sometimes finding the time to finish their assignments within the deadline was challenging," he said. "The time zone difference can also be a challenge when trying to meet deadlines."
Here's how we worked through these and other challenges when developing our online offering:
Get students focused on planning, prioritizing, and organizing. Online courses provide students with a level of flexibility and choice they may not be accustomed to, particularly when it comes to taking their class anytime and anywhere. And while discipline, commitment, and organization are key traits for any successful student, such traits don't always come naturally to them. "To first-time online learners, I would say the learning curve can be demanding," said our Online Academy Coordinator. "However, I meet with the students every day to guide them through the process. Also, we try to give first-time online learners pass or fail instead of grades to ease the pressure." In addition, before they start their semester-long courses, first time online students are given a four- to five-day orientation course on the fundamentals of what it takes to be a successful online learner.
Outline the virtual school's objectives and goals early in the game.Identify clear goals for both your school and your course offerings. For example, define your online learning program's objectives and goals beforeyou even begin to create the content. Ask yourself questions like: What skills should the learners develop during the online courses? What information must be included in the online course syllabus? What learning tools and instructional design models or theories should be used to deliver this information? "If you have identified the online learning objectives beforehand, then you will be able to use them as a guide to move forward," according to The eLearning Industry Network. "Your objectives will become your road map since they give you the opportunity to see where your online learning course is headed and what points you need to cover along the way."
Put a spotlight on interpersonal communications. Online and blended learning both depend on strong collaboration between students, teachers and parents. As such, we like The Virtual High School's course emphasis on interpersonal communication. Class discussions are a part of every course and all students must participate. The discussions are asynchronous, so students can share their input when it best suits them. However, participation is mandatory. If any student tries to avoid leaving a comment on the discussion thread, the instructor sends them a prompt. Without this interpersonal communication, a student could feel disconnected with the class, which would, in turn, make it easier for him or her to put off the coursework until they've either failed or decided to just drop out.
Use online learning to reach a more diverse group of learners. Via our Online Academy, we want to continue to work with both Indian and international schools in other parts of the world, expanding students' opportunities to select course topics they may not otherwise have been able to take. At the same time, we're helping to prepare them for college where more and more students are taking at least one online course.
Reach out when students appear to be struggling. We check our students' progress on a weekly basis and provide status updates to member schools. Local site-coordinators are asked to meet with students who seem to be experiencing difficulty in order to provide support and guidance and get them back on track. As an interim measure, some of our member schools provide a time and place where students can go and work online with a teacher available for support.
Find a good partner to work with. Here at Consilience, some of our courses are designed and taught by our own instructors, others are offered in conjunction with accredited content providers like VHS, which we began partnering with in 2012. This partnership has provided us access to very high-quality content, a broad selection of courses, and high student-teacher interaction levels, all of which are critical to a successful online/blended learning program.
Infuse digital literacy and citizenship into your online strategy. "Teach students to be online researchers, critical consumers of information, and courteous digital citizens. Model how to create search terms and keywords and how to identify credible online sources," writes Amy E. Baeder in 5 Tips for Effective Blended Learning. "Set norms for online discussion boards. Show students how to access expert help and communicate courteously online."
Using these strategies, the Consilience Online Academy has been able to effectively innovate educational practices and experiences to help a diverse range of learners everywhere enhance critical thinking, efficiency, and collaboration. Our courses are flexible and self-paced, and are actively supported by experienced instructors and facilitators. In addition to the diverse range of engaging courses that have been designed and are taught by Consilience Online instructors, we have partnered with a carefully selected group of content providers in order to offer a carefully curated range of engaging courses for K-12 students. All of the courses are open to participants worldwide.