As a six-year veteran online teacher, I see students from all walks choosing cyber school for various reasons. Some are taking extra classes to get ahead and graduate early; others are recovering credits they failed in the traditional school setting. A select few are getting a solid education while working or participating in activities full-time. For instance, I once taught a 15-year-old girl who was training to be a professional ballerina; she was and remains one of the best students I have ever had!
Which brings up a good question, one that has sparked much debate over the how’s and what’s of the quality of virtual education: What makes a student successful in an online classroom?
At the onset of cyber schooling, there was an underlying assumption that its increasing popularity was due in part to the curriculum being easier. It allowed students to sleep until noon, “go to school” for a few hours and then focus on the fun stuff. However, as online programs continue to grow and, in some areas, begin to replace public schooling, we are seeing the rigor and challenge that require nothing short of students’ steadfast commitment in both effort and attendance. In short, online learning is not easy.
As a matter of fact, I think it is more difficult than traditional learning.
So, how do students find success in their online classrooms? What makes a student a good candidate for cyber school? Below is a list of various traits and expectations that can make or break a virtual learner.
1. A basic understanding of technology: Seems like common sense, right? If a computer is required, one should know how to use said computer! (Sighs) Unfortunately, that is not always the case, though it should be! Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat Reader, email—these are a few of the programs a student will use (and should feel comfortable using!) in a virtual classroom.
2. Patience for the learning curve: Anything new takes time to get used to, and online learning is no exception. There are live and pre-recorded orientation sessions that aim to familiarize students and parents with the program; teachers host daily or weekly office hours; and there are boatloads of resources available for the taking. It is only when students don’t take advantage of these things that their learning curve is prolonged and they end up falling behind or not completing the program. Patience and effort go a long way!
3. Good time-management skills: I know, I know—many adults can barely manage their time! But without a bell signaling the beginning and end of class, online learners must create their own daily schedules and stick to them! Which brings me to …
4. Dedication: There is no teacher walking up and down the rows of desks offering guidance; students in a virtual classroom must push themselves to keep on keepin’ on, especially in the face of a challenge. They must read the directions (like, really read them. All of them.), communicate questions clearly, and above all else, not give up at the first bump in the road.
5. Organization: Are you laughing because you’re visualizing the hot mess that is the average high school sophomore’s locker or bedroom? I don’t mean organization like a physical filing system or a dedicated office space with color-coded folders; I simply mean the students must keep track of all their materials, most of which can be housed on their computer. Make a few folders on the computer’s desktop, label and date things clearly, and never delete or get rid of anything until the course is over and grades have been issued.
6. A working email account that you actually check: Again, this seems like common sense, but alas, it remains a thorn in the side of online teachers everywhere. Students cannot sign up for a virtual program without a valid email address, so some of them create an account just for the sake of signing up. This is well and good, but once the email address is established—read: submitted to the program and shared with the teacher—the student must … wait for it … CHECK THE ACCOUNT now and then! Please, students of the virtual classroom, make a habit of checking your email because teachers send you important information about your education. Check it from your phone, your iPad, your desktop, or that fancy Apple Watch that’s, like, all the rage! JUST CHECK YOUR EMAIL EVERY DAY!
While we’re on the topic of email, might I make a suggestion? When creating an account, really think about how you’re presenting yourself to everyone who receives a message from you. As an online learner, you probably won’t have the chance to meet your teacher face-to-face, so your email will be your first impression. As such, I caution against using an address like ‘BadBoy4Lyfe@email.com’ or ‘LuvBrian4Eva@email.com’ because 1.) you’ll hate Brian in a month and then won’t want to use the email anymore, then we’re back to square one with the whole CHECK YOUR EMAIL thing, and 2.) no one will know who you are by those dumb email addresses, so consider using, oh I don’t know, your real name as part of your email. Just some food for thought. You’re welcome.
Of course other traits such as having effective communication skills and a good work ethic are just as important, but those are necessary in life, not just in online education. If you or a student you know is leaning toward enrolling in a cyber program, share this list because it’ll make their lives—and their teachers’!—much easier.