Friday, February 24, 2012

Motivating Students and Other Online Challenges

Danger of failing letter sent home to failing students

I spent today contacting many of my students who have fallen behind or have failed to start my class. It is the 6th week of the semester but I still have a number of students who have yet to complete any assignments or attend class. How is this possible? One of the biggest challenges of teaching online is motivating reluctant learners. Unlike a traditional classroom where students can be motivated to work by looking their teacher in the eye every day, my students can hide from me. I contact these students through email, phone calls, and most recently letters in the mail. I sent a “danger of failing” letter out to all my students who had not started working about a week ago and since then, many have begun to complete work. However, I still have some stragglers. It is a myth that art teachers do not need to motivate their students to do work because it is a “fun subject”. There will always be students who don’t enjoy my class, but in an online setting students seem more likely to disengage in their learning entirely. I’ve already talked before about how online learning requires more self-motivation from the student than traditional learning, and this fact is extremely clear when looking at reluctant learners. I continue to find new ways to engage these students and I feel it is something I’ll always struggle with.
My mom reminded me of another challenge I face in my online classroom with her question: How can you make sure the work students turn in they actually did themselves since you don't always see them working?
This question is an issue that has inspired a policy at my particular online school. I am required to proctor students about their completed work once every 9 weeks. When I call students about their work, I ask them about their ideas and how they created their artwork. I embrace these moments as a time to really measure and learn what students are retaining and putting into practice. It is also a time where it is easy to tell if a student did not actually make this artwork. Many students who turn in plagiarized work in my classroom are easily caught. With tools like Google Image Search, I can upload the image a student submitted and search for others like it online. I also look for similarities in style between different projects done by the same student. It is easy to see if a student who was struggling is suddenly creating work far beyond their previous skills. Though authenticity will continue to be a challenge, I feel comfortable that my students are being held accountable for what they submit.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Managing My Online Classroom

As I met with my thesis project advisor this week, we discussed many factors that make my situation unique and different as an online teacher. One of the main challenges of any first year teacher is classroom management. We are generally young and semi-unseasoned in our experiences other than during student teaching where we have a cooperating teacher to step in. High school students have always been my favorite age group to work with and I have always been able to connect with them well and establish rapport. However, I was nervous about managing a high school classroom, as I look rather young. Teaching online negates many of the challenges of classroom management because students are not physically present in a classroom with one another, though we do meet in a virtual classroom once a week. A colleague of mine once said that she has always wanted to work with an at-risk population of students but that in her experiences in the brick and mortar classroom, distractions and discipline took over almost all of the learning time. Now that she teaches online, she is still working with the same types of students but is able to work with them one-on-one and distraction free. I feel the same about this, I am no longer worried about discipline and classroom management, which leaves room for real learning to take place and for me to be the best teacher I can be. I feel comfortable relating to my students and talking to them on a personal level because I do not worry about coming off as soft and opening the door for students to take advantage of my kindness. Students are not constantly being distracted by their peers or frustrated because they want to work hard and their classmates want to cause trouble. Even when students are meeting in our digital classroom, they only have the opportunity to talk to one another when I allow them to through the software I use to deliver instruction, which makes controlling the situation easier than it would be in a brick and mortar classroom. Even when students choose to go on a tangent in the chat box, I find them to be more respectful of my request for them to return to the class discussion than I have experienced in traditional classrooms. From the perspective of classroom management, I feel teaching online is more productive for both my students and I.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Digital Learning Day

Today is the first ever Digital Learning Day, a day where teachers, administrators, and students across the country come together to talk about digital tools in education today. It was exciting for me to witness the innovation in digital learning technology by so many teachers and the effect it is having on students. It is a wonderful experience to work in a technologically advancing field. It was an inspiration to see all the schools and teachers who are using technology and knowing I am not alone in my online classroom.
Digital Learning Day is asking teachers to respond to this question:
How do you make a difference using digital tools?
I provide access to at least 180 high school students every semester from all over the state of Ohio to a high quality education in the fine arts. Many of these students would otherwise not have the opportunity or access to study art or even to graduate high school. By offering school online, students who have been bullied, work or volunteer full time, are parents, are professional athletes or performers, have health issues, or for some other reason could not find their place in a tradition classroom now have the opportunity to attend school at their own pace in their own home. Every day I strive to create a community of self-driven, creative learners and I use technology to encourage that idea. The school where I work has an enrollment of 12,680 students who chosen to be educated through online technology. I am proud to be a part of reaching more students, offering personalized attention to each student, offering a flexible pace, and encouraging students to take charge of their own learning through technology. 
For more information about Digital Learning Day check out