Reflections and Realizations about Online Teaching

White text caption on a dark indigo hexagonal overlay reading "Online Teaching Program @ MU: Reflections, Thoughts, & Questions - Spring 2017, Week 10" on a starry purple galaxy background | A Wrinkle in Tech by Mrs. J in the Library

I’m now in the middle of my 2nd accelerated class in the Millersville University online teaching endorsement program.  After finishing my first class of my sabbatical, Current Technology in Online Teaching, I realized that online teaching might not be for me.

Truth be told, this wasn’t too much of a surprise.  As popular as 100% online learning is now as an education trend, I don’t foresee it working for every student.  We have to accept as educators, administrators, community members, and especially politicians, that education is not one-size-fits-all, even if the “one size” comes in a shiny technology package (and a huge marketing budget) promising all the data you can wish for.  Some students just need someone to work with them face-to-face to not only stay focused, but also to teach concepts in a different way.

So while I’m not looking for any online librarian jobs (if they would even exist), I have taken away some ideas for our school library that I’m excited to implement when I get back (given time to do so, of course):

  • Start putting my library lessons into Google Classroom to manage the academic content.
  • Add more multimedia and accessibility features to my teaching materials – This change, above all else, will be time-consuming! 
  • Emphasize evaluating information and other digital “information fluency” skills at an earlier age, including how to use Google better.
  • Add even more center choices and more ways to learn the same content to my library classes.
  • Reach out to the current virtual students in our district and make sure they know when our library is open and available for their use (supervised, of course…I’m not a babysitter.)

What Public Schools Should Learn from Online Schools

With that said, I think public schools, and specifically public school libraries, have MUCH to learn from the online school trend.  For starters, we have to stop caring so dang much about standardized tests.  Seriously, it is WAY past time that we stopped the test prep, and started teaching in an engaging way that will make kids WANT to come to school.  We are competing with video games, streaming music, social media, and all manner of more interesting distractions in a student’s life.  It’s time we took that seriously and made learning engaging enough to captivate our students’ attention.

Another thing we can take from online schools is the idea of managing classes and learning activities with “blended” teaching, using both face-to-face and online teaching in our instruction.  Technology, when used creatively and intelligently, should be as ubiquitous and embedded in our classrooms as our smartphones are in our personal lives.  The tools are all there, and I think they’ll only get better if teachers are invited to help develop them.

What Online Schools Should Remember about Traditional Public Education

Education for all isn’t cheap.  Many online schools now are charter schools, and they can choose, if they so desire, not to accept students that require or would benefit from more expensive accommodations or services.  Don’t get me wrong, many online charter schools DO choose to accept students with special needs and choose to add more expensive services to help their students, but they don’t have to take all of them or even a specific quota of them.

What I see happening now, in my admittedly limited and biased view, is that many online schools are operating as cheaply as possible to maximize profits and/or fund their marketing campaigns. 

  1. They often have larger class sizes, so they can employ fewer teachers with lower salaries and less benefits, or sometimes no benefits if they are part-time. 
  2. Every fall and throughout the year, they run radio/TV ads, post billboards, and buy Google ads to advertise their schools.  I can’t imagine how expensive that must be, but I also can’t imagine tax payers being okay with a public school doing the same.
  3. They offer fewer services overall; I have yet to come across an online school who employs a teacher-librarian or has a publicly accessible online library.  Some seem to have a “virtual library” embedded in their learning management system, or LMS, but there was no information I could find on what actual resources or databases were provided or recommended.  I wonder if anyone is even thinking about how well the resources they DO provide are working for their students’ needs.

A cursory search unearthed this study that interviewed 2 principals of online schools and found that the duties and skills traditionally taught by a librarian are divided up among several individuals within the online school, with lesser degrees of success.  Given what I’ve read in my classes and on my own about online schools, that doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’m guessing many administrators of online schools have stereotypical, outdated ideas of what a teacher-librarian does.  Any teacher-librarian that would be hired would have to prove their worth, and probably in a short amount of time too.

Another theory I have is that online schools are leaning on the students’ local public libraries and home libraries for support in finding and using high-quality resources.  This isn’t a sustainable or fair system, because many communities lack adequate funding for their public libraries as is.  I would love to believe that public library support could increase with more students and parents choosing online education and understanding the potential for the public library to serve everyone…but frankly, everyone wants more for the same tax money, so I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation.  Public libraries simply cannot replace the services that a school library (with a certified teacher-librarian), or even a classroom library, can provide.

With that said, I do think online learning can work, and can be the right fit for many students.  It can be done well…but I suspect to run an online school well is at least as expensive as running a public school well.  (I haven’t researched this, so I have no idea if I’m right.)  And that isn’t a popular view of education funding.

Ranting aside…I have been thinking about why online teaching isn’t a good fit for me, despite the flexible schedule being VERY appealing while my daughter is so young.  As it turns out, Stephanie Jankowski wrote a much-better articulated article at We Are Teachers just this past week.  It’s worth a quick read for anyone who is thinking of online teaching and perhaps has a misguided idea of how “easy” it is.  I know I thought it would be easier before I started this program, and I’m learning that, much like anything else in life, to do it well, it’s hard.

If you are an online teacher and have some insights to share or if you’ve ever considered online teaching, leave a comment and keep the conversation going!

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Mrs. J in the Library

Collette J., or Mrs. J in the Library, is a full-time elementary teacher-librarian, blogger, and mama from Pennsylvania. She loves technology, books in any format, makerspaces, and all things Harry Potter. The information and opinions represented here are her own and are not the views and opinions of any business or organization.

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3 Responses

  1. Hey there, fellow Mrs. J.! Thanks for the pingback and the great read. I’m with you in that online learning isn’t for everyone–student OR teacher!

    • Thanks for stopping by and reading! I’m still learning so much about what online school are, and what they can be. I hope I don’t come across as bashing online or virtual schools, because that wasn’t my intention at all. I appreciated your perspective in your article, and it’s also great to hear from another PA resident! 🙂