I have learned a lot since becoming a virtual teacher with Georgia Virtual Schools. Virtual classrooms offer an educational opportunity for those that need flexibility, or want to enrich their current experience. According to Nicole Geary from Michigan State University College of Education, “Online programs make higher education opportunities available to more people in more places. Fewer students feel they can sacrifice time and professional commitments to travel to campus, and improving technology and web accessibility means they don’t have to.” Methods of online learning can vary from program to program. In my GaVS classroom, I use both asynchronous and synchronous learning.
Asynchronous learning allows a student to take a class on their own schedule. There is not a set time during the day that classwork must be done. For GaVS students, they are welcome to turn in their work or participate in discussions any time during a two-week period. According to eLearners.com, the following are elements that can be found in an asynchronous classroom:
- Virtual Libraries
- Discussion Boards
- Social Networking
- Wikis and Collaborative Documents
Of the above elements I mostly utilize the top three. Each course for GaVS has their own resources, including text, pictures, diagrams, interactive activities, reviews, and videos, where students can gain information. This content also points them to outside resources where they can learn more about specific topics. E-mail is the main tool of communication between my students and I. Discussion boards are built into the course to encourage collaboration among the students. By reading my students reflections, I have found that many of them enjoy this aspect where they get to read their classmates’ ideas on a topic and respond back to them. I utilize e-Portfolios as a GaVS teacher, but this used as a method to record what I’m doing professionally as a online teacher rather than an assignment for students. In regards to social networking, I have a professional Twitter account, but have yet to use it for my students. This is one aspect that I would like to improve upon in the future. Overall the asynchronous portion of my course tends to provide the “meat and potatoes” of the content. It also provides a large majority (if not all of the information) that can be found on student assessments.
However, many students need more than just the “meat and potatoes.” Nicole Geary also adds, “Even at a distance, students crave interaction with one another and want to know the faculty member as a person.” This is where the synchronous classroom comes in. Synchronous classrooms require the students and teacher to be online together at a scheduled time. According to studies from the MSU College of Education, “Faculty members say synchronous technologies like Google Hangouts for group video discussions and Etherpad for real-time collaborative editing can help cover more material while leading to much richer learning. And happier students.” We use similar technologies such as Adobe Connect in the GaVS classroom. The following are elements that can be found in a synchronous classroom as given by eLearners.com:
- Web Conferencing
- Video Conferencing
- Virtual Worlds
Again, of the above elements I mostly utilize the top three. Each instructor at GaVS is required to hold a weekly synchronous session using Adobe Connect. During these sessions I can use voice, chat, and web conferencing to review and enrich my students’ content as well as to answer questions. I have even used the web conferencing as an individual tutoring tool when a student just doesn’t seem to be picking up on the content. Since attendance to these synchronous sessions is not a requirement for a student’s grade, participation is relatively low. I am hoping that I will find ways to increase my students’ participation in the future. According to Paul Signorelli’s post in his “Building Creative Bridges” blog, “Flexibility, adaptability, and participation—particularly participation—seem to be key elements of this experience as well as of digital literacy, for the less we tether ourselves to time and place, the more deeply we can engage each other.”
Although, the attendance to my synchronous sessions has been low, I do feel that students may still be benefiting from recorded sessions. I was at first disappointed since they were not attended at all, but then I realized that students were viewing them after they were created. Paul Signorelli also talks about how the line between the synchronous and asynchronous sessions can be blurred. He says, “The opportunity to learn more about digital literacy by treating both sessions as one continuous ‘meeting’ helps me define what digital literacy actually implies (the ability to move seamlessly within these various digital platforms to create one cohesive experience).” This means, that although there is no students in actual attendance at my synchronous sessions, they can still learn from the recordings at a later date as if they would have attended. As I continue to teach in a virtual classroom I am hoping to hone my skills in the synchronous and asynchronous classroom to give my students the best educational opportunities that I can so that they can literally learn from anywhere at any time.