Teaching Virtually: Strategies and Challenges in the 21st Century Online Classroom

Teaching Virtually: Strategies and Challenges in the 21st Century Online Classroom

Leanna Archambault (Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/ijopcd.2014010101


Enrollment in K-12 online learning continues to grow at an exponential rate throughout the United States. With this increase, one of the key factors for ensuring quality educational experiences for students is the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of their teachers. To address issues of online pedagogy, this study reports practices from a group of K-12 online teachers from a cyber charter school located in the desert southwest of the United States. Results show that online teachers use web-based programs, internal communication systems, and/or a combination of these types of tools to provide clear instruction, while also encouraging student participation, engaging students, and clearly communicating learning goals. Challenges found with online teaching include dealing with a heavy workload, garnering parental support, coping with high student-teacher ratios, and learning “the job.” This article calls for additional support for virtual teachers, including coursework and field experiences within teacher education programs that address the needs of K-12 online educators.
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Virtual schooling for K-12 students represents a growing movement in today’s educational landscape. Clark (2001) defined a virtual school as “an educational organization that offers K-12 courses through Internet or Web-based methods” (p.1). Currently, all 50 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of online learning at the K-12 level (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, & Rapp, 2011). Different formats have emerged from a variety of sources including state, local, private, non-profit and for-profit agencies. While certain virtual schools have been created to include curriculum that is entirely online, others have incorporated specific online education courses that are offered in addition to their traditional classes held in “brick and mortar” buildings (Roblyer & Marshall, 2002-2003). Many terms have emerged to describe different types of online education including “virtual schooling,” “e-learning,” “hybrid courses,” “asynchronous learning,” and “Web-based learning.” Despite the classification or format, virtual schooling is increasingly becoming an option for students with the intention of offering a more individualized education.

Enrollment in K-12 online learning continues to grow at an exponential rate throughout the United States. According to Barbour and Reeves (2009), “The combination of state-sanctioned virtual high schools, virtual charter schools, students served by online homeschool association endeavors… university laboratory schools, and other online course offerings…has provided a growing opportunity to secondary school students to complete individual courses, and in many instances entire high school diplomas, though virtual school offerings” (p. 404). The number of online enrollments grew to an estimated 1,030,000 students during the 2007–2008 school year (Picciano & Seaman, 2009). This represented a 47% increase in two years. The proliferation of different types of K-12 online programs is driven by a number of practical as well as political factors. School districts, education officials, and policy makers explore the potential advantages of offering online classes. These may include addressing different student populations (e.g., special needs students, students who are “at-risk” of not graduating, gifted and talented students, etc.), dealing with the challenges of limited space, geographical location, scheduling conflicts, failed courses, and meeting the needs of specific groups of students by allowing them to take courses for credit recovery or Advanced Placement (Setzer & Lewis, 2005). The creation of educational policy surrounding online education has also contributed to its growth. For example, several states have added high school graduation requirements for students to complete an online learning experience as part of their coursework. These states include Michigan (2006), Alabama (2008), Florida (2011), Arkansas (2012), North Carolina (2012), and Virginia (2012).

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