How 5 EdOptions Academy Teachers Foster Student Engagement in Virtual Courses

Oct 23, 2023
Virtual learning questions Edmentum article

More and more, students are asking for virtual learning options. On Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy team, we partner with schools and districts across the country to provide rigorous, fully accredited K–12 virtual learning experiences using an approach that is all about personalization and relationship building. But, what does that actually look like in practice? Recently, five of our exceptional EdOptions Academy teachers got together for a live panel to discuss the learning experience for students in our virtual courses. Here are some highlights of what these educators shared about the online teaching and learning process; how they keep students engaged and on track; and what they do to collaborate and communicate with their students, students’ families, and other educators.

How does the learning process differ for students online? How do you facilitate opportunities for interaction, engagement, and hands-on learning?

Marilyn Stefani, an educator for 27 years, highlighted the major differences in teaching students virtually as compared to in the traditional classroom—most importantly how critical it is to build a relationship with online students from the get-go.

“Online learners require more interaction with the teacher. Think back to when you were in school. Would you have called a teacher on the telephone?” Marilyn explained that virtual students need to work much more independently than traditional classroom students, which means that, as a teacher, establishing strong relationships and setting clear expectations are keys to success. “The learning is more student-driven. They tell you, ‘I’m going to get to it when I want to get to it.’ You have to give them expectations, or their work will be last-minute.”

Lauren Masino, one of our middle and high school science teachers, described how EdOptions Academy’s media-rich and highly interactive content makes teaching easier because it is designed specifically to foster student engagement.

“Our curriculum team is fantastic. They’re so well-versed in making science labs that students can do at home with or without household supplies. The delicate balance impresses me so much. We also record ourselves doing the labs for students who can’t get those everyday materials. This way, they can watch us do the lab rather than just write things down from a worksheet. Having that visual aspect of performing a lab experience is cool. Then, we encourage interaction with teachers and classmates through discussion boards.”

How do you connect with your students without having in-person time with them? How do those relationships increase student engagement?

Social studies teacher Maggie Champlin talked about how building relationships with her students positively impacts motivation.

“Having a connection with students from the start of the class is extremely important to keep their motivation. In my first communication to new students, my opening line is always, ‘What do you like to learn in social studies? What’s your favorite topic to learn?’ And then, I tell them a little bit about what I like to learn. That makes me human to them and gets a connection going between us when we enter our Zoom live lessons.”

Expanding on the Zoom live lessons, Diane McRandal, a health and physical education teacher and EdOptions Academy’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, spoke about how Zoom sets up teachers and students for success.

“With Zoom, we’re on video, and we can talk with the students, as well as use it for live lessons. No matter with their setting is, Zoom allows us to adjust and modify what we are presenting to meet their needs. We can also record lessons and send them out to all students in that specific course. We also have Zoom Rooms that are similar to open hours in a brick-and-mortar school. For Zoom Rooms, I sit in front of my computer, and any student can jump on during that time to ask questions they need answered and pop right off when they’re done.”

How do you monitor students’ progress in online courses and hold them accountable? What do you do to intervene if you’re concerned that they’re falling behind?

Donnie Lecroy, a math teacher with 38 years of teaching experience, told a story about how he works with his students’ home districts to keep learners on track if they’re falling behind.

“I had a student that was having trouble, but during our call, I found out he played football. When I was having trouble getting in contact with him, I was able to contact the school coach and have the coach tell him it was important to get their work done.”

The digital curriculum that powers EdOptions Academy courses is also designed to help keep students on pace. Diane McRandal described how simple the interface makes it for teachers to monitor student progress.

“In our [learner management system], we can quickly do a walkthrough of each student’s pacing. It has a bar that shows completed assignments versus total assignments. Then, within the individual students’ page, we can see if they are on pace, off pace, and what interventions need to happen. We can print these reports off for records or to turn over to their parents. The platform helps us identify which students we need to contact to make sure work is going to get done.”

How do you collaborate with other EdOptions Academy teachers, coaches, and mentors? How is that beneficial for you and your students?

Donnie Lecroy illustrated how closely EdOptions Academy teachers work in partnership with educators at their students’ brick-and-mortar schools in order to gain a more holistic understanding of their learners.

“Coaches and mentors can always give us the student behaviors. They can tell us if there is something going on in their life that is keeping them from working.”

Maggie Champlin expanded on this valuable form of partnership.

“Connecting with different people that are involved in the student’s education allows us to educate the whole child. It’s a lot easier to bring social [and] emotional learning in the classroom when you can see their direct behavior in front of you. If you can connect with those other people who are physically seeing the student, then you can start to build a little more on that. It is really important for us to have that collaboration with everyone, allowing us to be better teachers.”

Finally, Marilyn Stefani touched on the true team dynamic among EdOptions Academy teachers.

“I’ve been in the classroom for 27 years. This is my 12th year of online teaching. With my online math teacher team, we’re constantly opening up questions to each other, talking about how each other’s day is going. I text them a lot. We also work together as a team. If I can’t get ahold of a student and I know Donnie has been in contact with them, I’ll ask Donnie to have that student reach out to me.”

EdOptions Academy partners with over 480 schools and districts to expand options and support positive outcomes for more than 50,000 students. Interested in learning more about how our team of 200 highly qualified, state-certified teachers facilitate a student-centered approach that brings virtual learning to real life? Watch the full recording our teacher panel discussion!

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