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[Online Learning] Administrators’ Guide to Supporting Students Taking Virtual Courses

[Online Learning] Administrators’ Guide to Supporting Students Taking Virtual Courses

Worldwide, more and more students are taking advantage of virtual education options. As students, parents, and educators embrace the individualization and flexibility of online learning, this growth is likely to continue. With this in mind, it’s becoming critical for school and district administrators to have a plan in place to offer virtual options for students and, even more importantly, to make sure that students are set up for success in these programs.

So, as an administrator, what can you do to offer a virtual program option designed to support students—whether they’re working entirely independently or taking a combination of online and in-person courses? Here are six best practices to pave a path to student success:

  1. Set clear goals to recruit the right students. Every successful virtual learning program starts with clear goals. School staff must understand what challenge needs to be solved in order to design an effective program and determine which students will thrive within it. Have specific goals from the outset to set the tone and direction for your program and prime your students for success.

 

  1. Create a student application and vetting process. Virtual learning requires strong time-management skills and plenty of self-direction on the students’ parts. So, no matter what group of students you have chosen to target or how you are structuring your program, it’s critical to have a process in place to vet students. Consider using a written application and/or in-person interviews as part of your process, and make sure to think about important questions like:
  • What support does the student have at home?
  • Does the student have access to the technology online courses will require?
  • Will your program provide any technology for students?
  • Has the student mastered the basic computer skills needed in a virtual learning environment?
  • Why does the student want to participate in your program (if enrollment is voluntary)?

 

  1. Enlist parent and guardian support. This an important key to success once your virtual program is up and running because online students won’t have the same robust, in-building support system in place that traditional students do. Take steps to cultivate buy-in from your students’ parents and guardians from the outset. To recruit for your program, host “town hall” style meetings that are open to both students and parents so that everyone is on the same page about what your program will involve. Then, make parents and guardians feel like they are part of the program by hosting an orientation meeting and sharing contact info for the program staff. It’s also important to make sure that parents are provided with their own access to view their student’s progress and get in touch with any questions or concerns. Lastly, never hesitate to reach out to parents about their student’s successes.

 

  1. Develop a thorough orientation program. Students must be given a thorough orientation to be successful in your virtual program. Cover topics like how students can log in, how they can access and navigate their online courses, where they can go to find grades and check their pacing, and how they can communicate with program staff and online teachers. These tasks are all critical to student success—if students are unclear on these fundamentals, they may feel overwhelmed and begin to disengage with their online learning. Make sure that students understand how your program operates and know where they can go for support.

 

  1. Facilitate regular student check-ins. Flexibility and independence may be two of the biggest draws to online learning for students, but they still require (and want) guidelines that lead to success. Make sure that students understand that they will be held accountable for their progress from the very beginning to help them stay on track. This also empowers your support staff to provide help to students as challenges arise—not weeks down the road when problems have escalated. One of the most effective ways of establishing this accountability is to facilitate weekly one-on-one check-ins with each student in your program. These check-ins can be conducted over the phone for entirely independent students or in person for students who come into a lab or other dedicated program space. The meetings should focus on checking what the student has completed the previous week (look at pacing, communication with online teachers, time-on-task, etc.) and setting goals for the next week to complete the course on time and work towards personal milestones. Make sure that support staff in charge of these meetings is also held accountable for ensuring that they take place and for completing any follow-up students require.

 

  1. Find and train a rock star program support staff. Even though students in your virtual program are working with online teachers, a dedicated program support staff is critical to their success. These staff members should be outstanding communicators and passionate student advocates who are ready to wear a lot of hats. Here are a few of the important roles program support staff fill:
  • They are guides, cheerleaders, tutors, and motivators.
  • As the individuals with whom students likely have the most direct contact, they must be the “answer people,” ready to hunt down answers to all student questions.
  • They are liaisons for communication between students, parents, and online teachers.
  • They work with the online teacher(s) to plan a path for each student’s success.
  • They are outstanding classroom managers, ready to set the rules and uphold the rules.

When students know they have been given the tools, resources, and guidance to succeed, you’ll be amazed by the learning they can achieve in your virtual program. Looking for a virtual program partner to support your goals? Edmentum’s fully accredited virtual school, EdOptions Academy, provides over 400 state and national standards-aligned courses, paired with state-certified teachers and expert virtual education consulting. Check out this video to learn more about one district’s experience!