Virtual Routes: Teaching in the online classroom and the new, interesting challenges it presents

While it takes some adjustment, teaching in the virtual classroom can be an exciting, dynamic and engaging experience
Online classes | (Pic: Pixabay)
Online classes | (Pic: Pixabay)

For teachers accustomed to teaching at the front of a classroom, the move into the virtual world presents new and interesting challenges. How do you create the same kind of connection with students when they are no longer physically sitting in front of you? How do you know if someone is paying attention or if a particular student is truly absorbing the subject matter when you can’t make eye contact and directly observe their behaviour?
While it takes some adjustment, teaching in the virtual classroom can be an exciting, dynamic and engaging experience. There are studies that show students who learn online perform just as well as their peers in core subjects, and our collective understanding of what makes for a great learning or teaching experience in the virtual world is growing. What best practices can teachers draw upon when teaching in the online classroom? Here are eight suggested best practices and observations for instructors looking to hone their approach: 
SIMILAR OUTCOMES: Based on study evidence, blended and purely online learning conditions generally result in similar student learning outcomes.
PROMPT LEARNER REFLECTION: Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and by prompting learner reflection. Studies indicate that manipulations that trigger learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective when students pursue online learning as individuals.
SUPPORT MECHANISMS: When groups of students are learning together online, support mechanisms such as guiding questions generally influence the way students interact, but not the amount they learn. These tactics work better when leveraged on an individualised basis.
ALTER INSTRUCTIONS: Use data provided by a learning management system to alter instructions, adapt to various learning styles and provide early intervention when a student is struggling.
REORIENT THE PLAN: Take the time that would typically be spent in a traditional classroom on lesson planning and reorient it toward communicating with students and giving feedback.
EASY ACCESS: Present learning materials in multiple formats — from labs to video to text — to provide alternative learning paths and increased accessibility.
KEEPING UP: Stay active within the course by frequently checking message boards, grading, facilitating discussions and providing feedback.
SUSTAINABLE IMPROVEMENTS: Commit to continual improvement both in terms of curriculum and in the use of technology for learning.

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