Editor’s Note: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.
This week we are celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week. Teachers across Ohio and the country have been incredibly resilient in the throes of the COVID-19 virus. They have had to quickly transition to a remote learning model. They have been using their time away from their buildings to gather content and get training from every source they can find. We all need to celebrate these devoted, committed, and hardworking professionals.
School districts are doing their best to adapt to this new learning world. Although great effort is being made to reach their students, the remote learning being provided by districts is in most cases very different to the digital learning provided by a full-time online school. This shouldn’t be a surprise.
Ohio Connections Academy has been operating as a public K–12 virtual school since 2005 and has many staff members with an excess of ten years of online teaching experience. We have come a long way since 2005 in terms of what we understand about high quality digital teaching and learning. We have learned optimal ways to engage students and families in both synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Of course, we’re still seeking new and better ways to innovate and use feedback to gather data to inform and improve our practices. The learning platforms have become much more sophisticated, and our staff members continue to use their dedication to lifelong learning to study and incorporate practices that enhance the digital learning student experience.
Our full-time online model is done in a Learning Management System (LMS). Teachers, parents, and students have 24/7 access to a dashboard in our LMS to view attendance, grades, and performance. Our students communicate with their teachers and classmates in a secure online system. The LMS guides students through structured lessons for all of their assigned courses. Our teachers receive rigorous training throughout their tenure here at Ohio Connections Academy. Our skilled teachers are able to individualize and personalize the self-paced lessons to ensure all students learn at their own pace. We address student learning in a variety of modalities. This includes the use of virtual manipulatives in math and virtual reality simulations in science courses.
Our staff has strict guidelines to frequently contact students and families. We also conduct synchronous learning sessions with students several times a week. Teachers provide one-on-one or small-group tutoring sessions in a live format where students can share a screen and show what they know in real time. There is no risk of “zoom bombing” due to our students learning in a protected firewalled system. Support staff assist our teachers by, among many things, sharing best virtual teaching practices, reviewing data, and ensuring student engagement.
There has been investment in our platform and research to continually improve our practice. It has been a challenging environment for us to rise above the chatter surrounding e-schools in Ohio. I am hoping this will be an opportunity to elevate the conversation about digital learning and focus more on the policies and practices that work best for students.
Many teachers around the state are making Herculean efforts to reach their students, and for that, we’re all deeply thankful. But they also need the tools to succeed. To that end, we at Ohio Connections Academy are happy to provide advice and best practices such as these for districts, schools, and parents as they continue their journey in providing remote learning. In Ohio, we’re in this together.
Marie Hanna is the Superintendent of Ohio Connections Academy, a public online charter school that serves K–12 students from all over the state.