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The Virtual Village: Supporting Online Students

By Laura Smith

We all know the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” – and in a brick-and-mortar school, it is often easy to see that village at work. A student meets with many teachers, counselors, and advisors throughout their time at a school, and in many cases, families are regular contributors to the school community. But what does the village look like in the online classroom? Who makes up each student’s “virtual village?”

To provide the best support and experience for students, online course providers must understand themselves as part of the student’s village – a group made up of both online and in-person teachers, the student’s local school personnel, their family, and other adults in their student’s life. Having clear policies and procedures for communication and interactions between these groups is critical to student success.

Stakeholders Who Create a Strong Virtual Village

  • Online Teacher: The online teacher has direct interaction with students inside the course platform. A student may have more than one online teacher.
  • Local Academic Support Network: These people who provide in-person support might include local teachers, school counselors or guidance staff, principals and assistant principals, coaches, tutors, and even therapists and doctors.
  • Families: Families will include parents/guardians as well as other adults who provide support and coaching in the student’s personal life.

The online provider should facilitate communication and interaction among these stakeholders, considering questions such as:

  • How is information about student progress, successes, and challenges shared?
  • When is the information shared?
  • What are the tools available to access the information?

At VHS Learning, the online teacher and an in-person site coordinator designated by the student’s local school, work together to communicate about student progress. Site coordinators serve as liaisons with families, and all stakeholders can access information about student progress through the student information system at any time. At VHS Learning, the teacher, site coordinator, and family make up the core of each student’s virtual village.