Teach Online: Engaging and Enriching Online Education

by | Education, eLearning, Instructional Design

As an online science teacher and one-to-one tutor the single biggest challenge to teaching online is to create a stimulating and engaging learning environment in a virtual setting. The bottom line is I communicate with students who are on the other side of the world and I need to know that they are engaged and ideally enjoying the course. In short I wish students to be online and on time at the scheduled time, so the question is how can we ensure this happens without having to resort to coercive measures?

Creating study groups and learning communities

Most of my classes number 4-6 students and are all mixed ability. The very first thing I noticed about on teaching online is that students actually want to be there and this clearly is pre-cursor to student enthusiasm and therefore engagement with the subject. To foster and develop this I encourage all my student groups to form study groups and learning workshops outside of the virtual classroom. Students are able to share knowledge, help and get to know each other and in essence work together to hit their goals. The teaching feels more real to them and they connect as small learning community and feel more confident. Students also take their work very seriously; I have had more apologies for late homework and assignments than I have ever received in a classroom. As with any social setting there will be personality clashes and issues between students, if they feel that they belong to a community these problems will be resolved quickly and positively.

Make the learning relevant to their situation.

Here there are additional fantastic opportunities to reinforce the content of the course. I teach a student in the Midwest of the US, he lives not too far from tornado alley. I live some 6000 miles away and have never seen a Tornado. At the time we were doing weather patterns and air masses as part of the physical and environmental science course. You can see where this is going, he actually has to go and hide in a shelter and so for the next lesson rather than me tell him how a tornado works, roles were reversed. In online settings it is vital that these learning opportunities are (for want of a better expression) thoroughly exploited.

Using the right resources

We all know students have different learning styles and so the more media you can employ to accommodate this, the greater will be the overall achievement of all students. I teach one student with major ADHD issues and the only way I can keep her engaged is by having several different activities with different ways of presenting the content. This is nothing unique and obviously applies equally to classroom settings. However, the techniques you employ (often with the cooperation of parents and guardians) need to be even more refined. You don’t need to be an SEN expert but you do need to pay extra attention and be exceptionally flexible.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but simply an article which seeks to inculcate that teaching online requires adaptation to your established teaching skills.

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