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Online Teacher of the Year selected

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Online instructor Melanie Laber excels in the virtual classroom
LANSING – Melanie Laber teaches trigonometry, geometry and pre-algebra to students in Detroit, Paw Paw, Traverse City and Houghton. She was recently named Michigan’s Online Teacher of the Year.

Laber is an online instructor for Michigan Virtual; she teaches in a virtual classroom for schools all across Michigan. The course content and instruction all happens over the Internet, with students logging in to follow lessons and complete assignments, and Laber interacting with students through e-mail and discussion rooms.

In addition to her online teaching responsibilities, Melanie has also developed online mathematics professional development courses for Michigan educators and helped to author many Michigan Virtual math classes. Laber excels in the virtual classroom. That is why she was chosen as the second Online Teacher of the Year by Michigan Virtual, a division of Michigan Virtual. Michigan Virtual has trained nearly 450 online instructors like Laber since it was launched nine years ago.

“Online instructors are a critical component to effective online teaching and learning,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of Michigan Virtual. “Just like in face-to-face teaching, online instructors must be engaging, knowledgeable and available. Melanie is all of these things and more, and she represents the very best in what is a new and growing field. She truly believes all students can learn and does a remarkable job of developing rapport with students she never gets a chance to meet in person.”

Online learning is expanding dramatically in Michigan and nationwide. Michigan Virtual has seen its course enrollments climb from 100 during the 1999-2000 academic year to more than 16,000 during 2008-09. National estimates for online enrollments have jumped from 40,000 to 50,000 in 2000 to about 1 million last year, according to the International Association for Online Learning (iNACOL).

“Online learning has become an integral instructional delivery model since the state adopted the nation’s first online learning requirement for high school graduation, as part of the Michigan Merit Curriculum in 2006,” said Michael Flanagan, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “I am a firm believer that online learning will continue to transform our public education system and ultimately expand learning opportunities for students of all abilities.”

“Technology is changing the way students learn. As educators we must embrace this change to meet the needs of our learners,” Laber said. “Students are able to store and retrieve information quickly which means that we must nurture students’ critical thinking and collaboration skills so that they are able to make sense of the amount of available information. The online setting breaks down barriers that exist in the face-to-face classroom. It provides the opportunity for students to take any class imaginable and succeed because of the plethora of available resources.”

Like most of the contracted Michigan Virtual instructors, Laber teaches in the face-to-face environment as well as online. In addition to teaching for Michigan Virtual on a part-time basis, she teaches math classes at Hartland Middle School in the Hartland Consolidated School District in Livingston County.

“By embracing new educational technology, Melanie is changing the way math is taught in our schools and helping Michigan produce the skilled, educated workforce needed to compete in today’s global economy, said Governor Jennifer Granholm.

The presenting sponsor for the award dinner was AT&T, a company with the stated mission of supporting events that benefit education. “Supporting education has been a major focus for AT&T for more than a century, and education is our key philanthropy focus. We are driven to help students succeed — in school, in the workforce and in life,” Roger Blake, Regional Vice President, Government & Education, AT&T, said. “We strengthen our communities by providing good jobs, donating our time and talents, supporting underserved populations and promoting education programs that create economic opportunity.”

Laber was one of five finalists for the Online Teacher of the Year Award. The other finalists were Kathy Morris, a business education teacher at Superior Central High School and an Michigan Virtual online instructor in employability skills; Chris Kaiser, a doctoral student in education at Michigan State University and Michigan Virtual teacher in world history and geography; Jim Wheaton of Ann Arbor, an Michigan Virtual instructor in math; and Jim Koyish of Fremont, an Michigan Virtual instructor in web design, game design, business ethics, career planning, employability skills and technology.

Laber and the other four finalists were honored during an awards banquet in at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing December 1. The dinner was attended by educational leaders from around the state, and sponsored by AT&T, Microsoft and netTrekker, a leading educational search tool.

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About Michigan Virtual

Michigan Virtual™ (formally known as Michigan Virtual University®) provides online courses for Michigan students, professional development for educators and is the parent organization of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute®. As a nonprofit organization with more than 20 years of experience, Michigan Virtual is Michigan’s leading voice in online education. Visit us at michiganvirtual.org.

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