School House Wonk

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine." Benjamin Franklin

Meet The Online Teacher

In a previous post I examined the promising trend of the hybrid student. In Online Teacher Connects With Her Students, reporter Angela Dice looks at online learning from a teacher’s perspective through Tami Caldwell, an online social studies teacher with Insight School.  Much like the hybrid student, Caldwell’s experiences as a teacher appear to defy the conventional wisdom of the pros and cons of online learning, particularly when it comes to social connectedness.

Although she started her career in a traditional brick and mortar school, Caldwell was forced to explore alternative ways to teach so that she could care for her husband, who was dying of cancer.  She heard an advertisement for Insight School, and applied.  She now teaches at Insight School of Washington from her home in Bremerton, Washington.

How does it work?  The social studies curriculum comes already prepared, but the teacher can modify or expand it to suit the needs of the students.  For example, students can create videos or graphic presentations in lieu of written essays.

What is the typical profile of her online students?  According to Caldwell, there really isn’t a single profile.  Some students just need more learning at home, others want to escape bullying.  Some are training for specialized events like the Olympics, while others have changed family circumstances (giving birth, illness).  Still others seek advanced courses not offered by their schools.

While there is no single profile, there is most certainly a common theme for online students: “We get a lot of students that mainstream schools can’t serve,” observed Caldwell.

But what about the impersonal nature of online learning?  Does the lack of daily, in-person contact mean that students miss the emotional connection so vital to the learning process?  Not so, says Caldwell.  In fact, Caldwell claims online teaching allows for more, not less, bonding with her students.  All 200 of them.

How?  Through the regular use of email, texts, phone calls and comments on her professional Facebook account, Caldwell can connect with her students on a more personal level.  She also takes students on course-related field trips, or meets them for coffee to discuss a problem.  In other words, the flexible nature of online teaching allows for more varied and more frequent individualized student contact.

In a [traditional] classroom, I got to know most of my kids, but for only one hour a day. You don’t have any time to say, ‘What’s going on in your life?’  Online, the opposite is more there. I pick up the phone and call. There’s no sitting in the back of the class with your head down.

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