4 tips for online learning success in schools
By: Nga Huynh, Assistant Principal & VHS Learning Program Primary Site Coordinator, Shrewsbury High School
Our school has been using online learning since the mid-1990s when we became one of the first to sign up for VHS Learning. Since then, we’ve expanded our use of the program and involved more students.
Here are four tips for success that I’ve learned along the way, and that other schools can use to get the most out of their online learning partners:
1. Involve all types of learners. Online learning isn’t just for high-performing students who want to earn more credits or expand their learning horizons. We use it for learners of all levels, and it can serve as a successful alternative for struggling students, allow students to explore specific areas of interest not offered at our school, and for those who want to take more Advanced Placement (AP) courses than we offer on campus. I always have several students who are interested in AP classes that we don’t offer at our school, but I also make sure that I keep half of the online semester elective courses open for students who are interested. I want to make sure that students at different levels have an opportunity to learn online as well.
2. Dedicate the space and time. Our students have a dedicated class period for online learning that either lasts for one semester (for an elective) or a full year (for an AP class). This effectively replaces whatever elective the student had previously registered for offline. About 50 percent of students using the online platform take AP courses and the rest are taking other courses.
When working on their online courses, students use a block of dedicated computers in our school’s media center, or they can also use iPads. When I proctor exams (not all are proctored), I get a loaner laptop and the students sit in my office and take the exam on that laptop.
3. Set early expectations. When we approve students to take an online class, they receive a registration email and an instructional video. We accept 35 new students into the program every year; everyone else is placed on a waiting list due to demand. I keep a few spots open to accommodate the roughly 80-100 students who transfer to our school every fall. Right out of the gate, I explain to them exactly how the online classes work so they fully understand the course structure before they apply, get accepted, and start the program. I remind them all again in the fall, and we kick off the online program one week after we start school. During the first two weeks of class, I meet with the kids and review everything again, make sure that they’ve done the online student orientation and ensure that everyone can log in. Then, I go over it again, just to make sure that 1) there are no surprises, and 2) students are set up for success.
4. Follow up and follow through. I especially like the automated weekly emails students receive from our online learning partner, letting them know where they are in terms of grades and progress. I use those emails to follow up with students and will send out “Excellent job, keep it up” messages to those who are doing well and request that those with grades of 75 or lower meet with me for an in-person check-in. It’s a good way for me to follow up and tap in to remind them that I’m still here, even if they’re doing well in the course.
Every so often a student will approach me for help with a course like AP Economics and I encourage them to work with their online teacher first. This is important because it teaches students how to advocate for themselves. I may also offer up helpful website links and/or post about the student’s question in the online learning program’s learning management system in case any other students who are taking the course have similar questions. Then if they’re still stuck, I can step in to help them figure it out and come up with a solution.
Schools or districts that are starting new online programs or that want to refine their existing initiatives can use these tips to increase the impact and successful outcome and fully leverage the power of virtual learning.
This article was published by eSchool News.