Use + Remix

Classzoom: how online learning can work

Despite many parents’ experiences during COVID, online learning can be effective. : Alpha, Flickr Despite many parents’ experiences during COVID, online learning can be effective. : Alpha, Flickr

Giving an effective online lesson is a specialised skill. Understanding what works has led to successful online schools.

By Michael Phillips, Monash University

Online learning during COVID was reportedly “hell” for many parents and teachers.

But for tens of thousands of students around the world, attending face-to-face classes is not an option, even when a pandemic isn’t occurring. They rely on virtual schooling to achieve their educational aspirations.

‘David’ is 14 years old and has chronic fatigue. He quickly becomes overwhelmed by the huge variety of inputs in traditional classrooms.

‘Tayla’ is suffering from trauma caused by recent family violence. She is reluctant to leave her mother or her family home for extended periods of time.

‘Greg’ is an elite athlete who has an incredibly busy training schedule as he hopes to represent Australia at the Winter Olympic Games next year.

‘Anne’ is living in a regional area and is the only student in her local community who wants to study Japanese at senior level.

Students like these are catered for by virtual schools. Large-scale virtual schools with enrolments of tens of thousands of students exist in many countries around the world. Many people don’t realise that the largest school in the Australian state of Victoria – Virtual School Victoria (VSV) – is fully online with more than 5,000 students enrolled from Foundation to Year 12.

Virtual schooling with specially qualified teachers can not only be highly effective, it can be a vital part of an education system, providing equity and opportunity for students who would otherwise miss out.

It works because teachers working in virtual schools do things differently from teachers who were required to shift to online teaching as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A study of interviews with experienced online teachers helps to explain how.

When compared with teachers who were required to rapidly shift to online learning, teachers in virtual schools have a complex and interconnected understanding of the use of technologies. They manage their relationships with students differently and actively critique their own teaching practice and the technologies they use.

They also understand online instructional design principles, since they’re so critical to their job.

The pandemic paved the way for student teachers to undertake virtual placements, developing the knowledge, skills and capacities to become effective online teachers.

A pilot project in 2020 took all the learnings from interviews with experienced online teachers to deliver a new virtual school, with classes taught by student teachers under the supervision of fully qualified, registered and experienced secondary school teachers.

Final-year exam revision classes were quickly snapped up. Post-pandemic, the school’s focus is on supporting disadvantaged girls and young women studying STEM subjects. More than 60 student teachers can continue to develop the knowledge, skills and capacities to become effective online teachers – an essential component of any mature educational system, not just one that supports learning during a pandemic.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

Michael Phillips is the Associate Professor of Digital Transformation in the Faculty of Education, Monash University. His work focuses on the knowledge expert teachers develop when integrating  educational technologies into their practice. Additionally, Mike  researchers the ways in which expert teachers make active decisions  about their classroom technology integration. The research was undertaken with support from the Department of Education and Training Victoria.

Michael Phillips, Monash University
Sara Phillips, 360info