By Dr. R. Mark Beadle
Most students still learn using a method that has existed in our schools for over 100 years. In a typical classroom setting, students sit at desks in rows and the teacher “teaches” from the front of the room. The typical student has been trained since childhood for someone to give them information and take notes or listen.
While the traditional classroom is adept at preparing students for industrial and knowledge-based jobs, it has not kept pace with preparing students for today’s economy that employs a greater share of workers in service and innovation-based economies.
Today, new learning methods are available to give students an expanded skillset needed for their future. Many schools today are utilizing Project Based Learning (PBL) and computer-based instruction in the form of online and blended learning to fill the gaps left by traditional instruction. These initiatives are expected to grow as research studies indicate that families want more technology-based instruction and less use of teacher-driven instruction.
However, given that students have been conditioned to learn in only the traditional sense, schools and students typically struggle when online courses are made available. Suddenly students must now control the pace of learning, show initiative, and make choices about where to invest their time and energy.
In order for students to successfully make the transition, schools and online learning providers must purposefully engage students in activities that train them for a new learning paradigm. Schools can greatly increase their chance of successfully onboarding new students with the following best practices:
1. Ensure students acquire the basic skills need to succeed.
How: Assess student readiness using an online learning assessment and provide a student orientation course to ensure that students have the tools they need to succeed. Orientation should show students how to navigate their course, complete their work, contact their teacher, and get technical support. It should also make them aware of policies, procedures, and expectations.
2. Provide more guidance and oversight to students at the beginning of their online courses.
How: Before students begin their first day as online learners, their online instructor should introduce themselves through a welcome email and a welcome phone or Skype conversation. Teachers should review course expectations and schedule regular calls and chats throughout the course.
3. Monitor student progress and effort in the background so your teachers can intervene when students need academic assistance or motivation to stay on pace.
How: Parents, students, and any supporting school staff should review gradebooks regularly and subscribe to progress update notifications that are automatically sent from their online course system. Typically, these weekly updates will confirm that a student is progressing in their course and allow you to intervene if there is an academic issue.
4. Reward students for the behaviors that lead to success.
How: Students that are doing well in their online course should be acknowledged via positive feedback loops from their system, parents, teachers, and staff. The encouragement will keep students motivated to successfully complete their course. Students who excel academically should also be offered the opportunity to take honors courses and have the opportunity to earn an honors diploma that recognizes their achievements.
By taking these efforts, schools will better prepare students for success in online learning environments, in addition to better preparing them for college and careers where independent learning is expected.
Dr. R. Mark Beadle is the chief executive officer of Sevenstar, a leading provider of online education solutions for Christian schools worldwide, www.sevenstar.org.
Case Study: Claiborne Christian School
High school students in Louisiana are required to complete two years of foreign languages in order to take advantage of the state’s Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS).
Claiborne Christian School (CCS) had used free, state virtual learning foreign language options in the past.
However, parents were never completely satisfied with this option in terms of content and support.
When the state raised the price two years ago, CCS sought a different option. They wanted part time teachers as well as online course options.
CCS had heard great things about Sevenstar’s online courses from other Christian schools.
They now utilize Sevenstar to offer foreign language options. They also use other online courses from Sevenstar to meet out-of-sequence student needs.
CCS students are now successfully gaining the required foreign language credits they need to qualify for TOPS. Out-of-sequence students are also gaining graduation requirements.
Principal Lee Taylor says, “We could have invested the money in a part-time or full-time teacher. However, we would rather invest the same dollars in online options through Sevenstar for the following reasons:
- We get Christ-centered content and teacher support, similar to that received in CCS traditional classes.
- We get complete schedule flexibility, which has helped our scheduling staff work the online courses into any student’s schedule.
- We can meet a broader range of students’ academic needs for the same money as a teacher hire.
- Our students gain online learning experience that serves them beyond CCS. This is important because almost 100% of our alumni are involved in some form of online learning.”
When asked about the funding mechanism for their online courses, Lee indicated, “We created an online learning budget line item that we use to pay for each online course.”
Sevenstar school solutions provide a flexible, online alternative for middle and high school students to earn and recover credits throughout the year. Sevenstar empowers Christian schools with easy-to-use technology, a full catalog of biblically integrated online courses, and Christian teachers for every course, www.sevenstar.org.