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Whether schools are able to return to physical classrooms in the fall is still an open question, but it is clear that even if schools do reopen their doors to students they will still need to have a plan for providing distance education in the event of future outbreaks.
That means that schools need to know how to provide virtual education, either by partnering with companies that have already perfected the medium or by training their teachers how distance education is different than in-person education.
“Teaching in a virtual classroom is an art form,” said Kevin Chavous during a panel discussion on the future of education last week.
Chavous is president of Academics, Policy, and Schools, at K12 Inc., one of the leading virtual education providers in the country.
“A great teacher in a brick and mortar classroom can be a great teacher in a virtual classroom as well but they need to train and chances are if you don’t get that training you will not be a great teacher,” he added, noting that K12 has partnered with Southern New Hampshire University to offer the only virtual education masters-level training program in the country.
They looked at some of the most and least effective virtual teachers and developed a rubric for what an effective virtual education teacher looks like.
“An effective teacher means how do you engage students,” said Chavous. “A trained teacher who knows how to engage students, who knows how to group kids according to proficiency level. Our best teachers are able to group kids into boxes of kids who have some of the bigger challenges, kids who are at task, advanced, and then through peer-to-peer interaction moving kids from one box to the next.”
He said effective virtual teachers also know how to use creative technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality to engage students and gamify the learning process in distance education.
“When kids are studying then they’ll get badges and coins similar to video games when they go to the next level all with an eye toward making sure that this is an engaging exciting and frankly fun experience,” said Chavous.
He pointed out that providing distance education requires a very different mindset for teachers.
“We are going from where the teacher was the end-all, know-all deliverer of content,” he said, explaining that the new holder and deliverer of knowledge was the internet. “Kids don’t need a deliverer of content in the old traditional teaching way they need a guide anyone who can help them manage through all of the information out there and through our virtual experience.”
Chavous added that his company is offering free teaching webinars for both individual teachers and districts on how to be effective providers of online learning.
“A number of teachers have availed themselves of that and they really are excited to learn about this new approach,” he said, pointing out that what they teach can be particularly successful for students with IEPs. “Our program is grounded on the belief that personalized learning succeeds. Our special ed compliance is really phenomenal around the country and that’s because our teachers are able to engage students one-on-one and help them guide them through the best way to use the technology to get them, and keep them, excited about learning and at the same time make sure they’re growing academically at the pace that is dictated by whatever their challenge is.”
Chavous also highlighted the importance of data security when providing online learning.
“You have to make sure that your IT infrastructure is strong enough to have secure platforms for thousands of kids to use it with teachers at the same time,” he said. “Many school districts don’t have that so they need to have a secure platform. Second, they need to have the right content. The curriculum has to be adaptable to the online experience.”
Chavous warned that school districts that do not focus on providing high-quality virtual education options do so at their own peril.
“Parents are now more educated consumers,” he said. “If they feel that the school district isn’t ready to teach their kids online or something beyond just giving the PDFs then they’re going to start looking for alternatives. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a virtual online provider but they’re going to be looking for those education options that will help their kids learn and asking why isn’t this happening.”