Why Students and Teachers Engage More in Online Schools
“I know my online students better than my previous face-to-face students”
A few years before the pandemic, a university professor who had been teaching for more than a decade taught her first online course.
She did so with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. She took her teaching very seriously, having won several teaching awards, and didn’t know how well she would be able to reach her online students. She was also at a university with a well-developed online program (in addition to tens of thousands of on-campus students), so she knew she had strong internal support with developing her course.
Once the course began, it didn’t take long for her fears to evaporate. In fact, she found herself saying “I can’t believe how well I know these students.” She found that, unlike her large university lecture courses where she got to know only a few students, she could gain an understanding of many of her online students. Why was this? Because, as she learned, students who might have sat in the back of a big lecture were much more comfortable sharing and participating in the online class. She had students record an introductory video about themselves and why they were taking the class, and was amazed at what the students shared with her and their peers.
From University to K-12 Schools — Is there a difference?
This story applies equally to K-12 education and is not unusual—but it is also not well understood by people who have not yet been immersed in digital learning. Online and hybrid teachers routinely talk about how well they know their students. But the media, policymakers, and others persist in thinking that most online students are isolated and disengaged. How can it be that both teachers and students in these schools report higher levels of communication and engagement?
A few key factors explain why. Note that not all these factors exist in all schools, but they each contribute to strong engagement.
Why Online Schools Report Higher Levels of Engagement and Communication between K-12 Students and Teachers
- There is no “back of the class.” Experienced online teachers know how to get K-12 students involved in online discussions, shared documents, project-based learning, and other instructional strategies that engage learners. Online teachers don’t lecture much—if at all—so there’s no “lurking” by students who might be sitting in the classroom while their minds wander.
- Students are more willing to share online. Experienced online schools and teachers report a common phenomenon in regard to the typically shy student who blossoms in the online environment. Students who would be unlikely to raise a hand in a physical classroom tend to be more willing to share online—especially if they are already doing so via social media and other outlets.
- Online K-12 Schools focus on engagement. Great teachers know their students well—not just how they are doing academically, but also their career interests, pursuits, etc. Online and hybrid schools often take this to a new level by systematizing that understanding of their students. They often have a professional adult who is a mentor, coach, or champion—although they may use different terms—for each student. They make sure that no students “fall through the cracks” and are lost to the school.
- Teachers and counselors at online schools have easily accessible student data. Data dashboards provide teachers and school leaders with a complete picture of how students, classes, and the entire school are performing. Further, experienced online and hybrid teachers work frequent formative assessments into their instruction. Learning management systems can flag students who are falling behind in their understanding, allowing teachers to spend more one on one time with those students—which is understood to be the most effective form of intervention.
Whether students are learning online in a university or within grades K-12, there's a unique opportunity to reach and engage learners. StrongMind has over 20 years of experience building or expanding online and virtual options for K-12 schools and districts. We know what it takes to build strong online communities and elevate the learning experience for students.