Below is another interview I did this week, this time with one of my students. She is writing her senior research paper on the costs and benefits of online learning. I thought her questions were insightful for all of us to consider.
1. Have you taught at a brick and mortar public school? If so, how did it compare to being an online teacher?
I taught in a brick and mortar school for 7 years before moving into the online high school full time. In many ways, there are a lot of similarities. I still do a lot of planning and grading. I still spend a lot of time building relationships with students and encouraging them. However, taking the classroom management factor out of my job does change the work significantly. I’m always working one-on-one with students and that’s a completely different experience than managing 30 students at once. I feel like, in some ways, I wind up getting to know my students better on a personal level than I did when I taught face to face.
2.What type of schooling have you observed to be more beneficial for students?
I very much believe that we should have lots of different school options for lots of different types of students. I can’t say that one is more beneficial than another. However, I can say that for some students, online classes are a much better fit for them and their learning style. However, for others, it’s not and they need to be in f2f courses. We are all very different and to say that one approach will ever fit for everyone is a fallacy.
3.Did you ever attend online schooling in high school?
Online classes weren’t available to me when I was in high school. Online learning was really in its infancy then and it wasn’t readily available anywhere. (Yes, I’m not that old but neither is online learning!) However, I did take two “correspondence courses.” They were basically classes where the school sent you a textbook and a series of assignments. You completed the assignments and then sent them back to the school for grading. I needed that option since I graduated from HS a year early and it was actually a good fit for me. I enjoyed learning on my own.
4.What do you notice about procrastination of online students?
Procrastination in online learning is definitely an issue. However, it’s not an issue that’s confined to online options. F2F students have just as much of a problem with procrastination. Come to think of it, humans in general have an issue with procrastination! The big difference for online students is that, since you’re not in a class each day, there’s no one in your face reminding you of upcoming deadlines. I try to approximate that experience with regular texts, emails, calls, updates, etc. but if a student isn’t logging in or connecting with me, then they can fall behind due to procrastination.
5.Do you think check in sessions are necessary for students success? If so, why and are they more essential in specific subjects?
I think that education is multi-faceted. We learn by interacting with the material and creating new things out of it. But, we are often motivated to learn by our relationships with the people in our class and with our teacher. That’s why I ask my students to have a check-in session with me. Many are already texting and/or calling me regularly anyway but for those who aren’t, it gives us an opportunity to connect. I hope that our connection can help motivate them if they find they’re struggling or feeling discouraged. They know I’m there to help and they know how to find me. I also find that during a check in session, students will ask questions that they might not otherwise reach out to ask. I think regular check-ins with the teacher are essential in every subject. I can’t think of a subject where building a relationship with the teacher isn’t important.
6.Has online education changed at all since you started teaching? If so, how has it changed and is it a significant change?
I think online education has gained greater acceptance since I started teaching. We’re seeing universities that are very favorable to online learners since they know that these are students who excel at being self-directed learners, a crucial skill for college and for the workforce. I also get fewer complaints from students when they find that my courses are not “easy.” In the beginning, many students took online classes thinking it was an easier option. I think that myth is getting dispelled and students are coming to us realizing that the work they will do is equivalent to a f2f course, just in a different, more flexible format.
It’s also changed because of the trend of “blended” learning. That’s where f2f and online options are blended in a school. Blended learning is growing rapidly and that’s exciting to see.
7. Do you think teaching through the internet is more or less time consuming that teaching face to face?
It’s actually more time consuming but the workload is distributed in a different way. I’m inundated with messages, assignments, and texts from students 24-7 so in many ways work tries to invade my regular life. When I taught f2f, those interactions with students were limited to 8-3 M-F. It’s a very different kind of workload. But, since the workload is flexible, it feels different. I may work for a few hours and then go take a walk for an hour to de-stress and refocus. That’s an option I never had when I taught f2f and it makes the time commitment more manageable. (I think my online students would say the same thing about their own workload!)
8.What are some challenges that you’ve experienced as an online high school teacher?
I work with a very different population in the online classroom than I ever did f2f. My students now tend to be more at-risk, struggling students than the high schools I worked in before. That can be really rewarding when I help a student reach graduation who might not otherwise get there. At the same time, it can be really discouraging when I’m not able to reach a student and they drop out or fail to earn a credit in my class. We’re all products of the complex fabric of our lives but sometimes, as a teacher, I feel like a failure when one of my students fails, even if the reason for their failure had little to do with me or my class.
The other challenge is the one I mentioned above about work trying to invade your life. With any teaching position, there’s always more work to be done. When I’m working from home, it’s hard to know when to stop and just live life (read a book, play with my kids, etc.). I’ve had to learn to be really careful and make a clear stopping point for work each day. Otherwise I could easily be a workaholic and burn out. Then I’m no good for my students!
9.How do you feel about tests being graded automatically by a computer?
I think it depends on the test! If I make a test for one of my classes where it will be mostly auto-graded by Schoology, then I spend a LOT of time working on the design of the test. I want it to have really great questions that will discern who knows the material and who doesn’t. That’s a much more complex task than it seems at first. You want the questions to be difficult enough that they clearly show who knows the material at a higher level but easy enough that if a student read the material and processed it, they can answer every question correctly. I also spend a lot of time trying to create questions that require critical thinking, not just basic fact knowledge. So, all that to say that I’m ok with a computer grading a test automatically if the test was designed well in the first place, which requires the careful design of a good teacher. Also, I almost always include 1-2 questions that require me to grade them by hand (short answer questions usually) so that I have a good understanding of what my students do and don’t know.
10.Who gets the most out of online school, part time or full time learners?
As I said above, I think it depends on the learner. In general, my part time students tend to perform better in my classes but I think that’s because they’re already in the rhythm of school and my class becomes an extension of that rhythm. However, I also have very successful full time online learners because the courses are a good fit for their learning style. Every student is different and it’s the responsibility of the parents and the students to choose and help design a learning environment that works best for them. I’m so grateful that we have that opportunity to be flexible for our students!