In 2020, we published a 10 report series summarizing the findings of all of the research we’ve conducted to date. Nearly 100 resources were included in this review, and collectively they provide valuable insights for researchers and practitioners on many aspects of online teaching and learning, such as:
- K-12 online best practices
- Online student motivation
- K-12 blended teaching and professional development
- K-12 special populations
This blog series is meant to accompany these reports and further explore the practical implications of those years of research.
Since its establishment in 1998, Michigan Virtual has served Michigan educators and has paid special attention to educator professional development, K-12 online teacher preparation, on-site mentors.
Our research in these areas has focused on topics such as:
- Online field experiences for pre-service teachers
- Evaluations of K-12 online teachers
- The roles and responsibilities of on-site mentors
These matters as well as resulting implications and best practices are further explored below. For more information on any of the topics below, please see the full research reports on teacher preparation and professional development and on-site mentoring.
Preparation for Teaching Online
At the time of publication of the reports, and still to some degree, teacher preparation programs by and large are not preparing educators to teach fully online courses. Clearly, not all teachers will teach fully online as face-to-face enrollments account for a significant majority nationwide; however, emergency remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated a need for teachers to have at least minimal familiarity with online course platforms and effective practices.
While there is some coverage of blended learning in teacher preparation programs, the quality and focus of this content is highly variable and often not explored in depth.
As there is little preparation for teaching online in teacher preparation programs, online course providers most often implement their own training and orientation for new teachers. These programs vary greatly in terms of content, intensity, quality, and duration. Professional development has also emerged to help fill this need; however, the focus, quality, and intensity of these training programs are highly variable.
When selecting professional development programs to instruct educators on online teaching effective practices, those that use widely accepted national standards such as the National Standards for Quality Online Learning are likely more robust than alternatives.
The Importance of K-12 On-Site Mentors
We know that building strong and trusting relationships with learners is essential for effective mentoring. However, K-12 online learners indicated that they often turn to on-site mentors for instructional help when instructors are not immediately available.
Knowing this, it is important for mentors to have proper training in supporting online students academically as well as socially and emotionally. Mentors need not be experts in all academic fields, rather they must be trained in effective strategies for supporting learners and know where to direct learners who need additional subject matter expertise.
Anecdotally, we understand the importance of on-site mentors for K-12 online learners in building supportive relationships with students and helping them navigate and complete their online courses. However, there needs to be additional research into the full effect high-quality mentoring can have on student outcomes—particularly around how to scale high-quality mentoring as we know that oftentimes mentors are given very high numbers of online students to oversee.
Teachers play a critical role in instruction regardless of if the instruction is face-to-face, fully online, or somewhere in between. Training for working effectively with remote students is critical now more than ever and should, at the very least in a small way, be part of traditional teacher preparation programs.
Additionally, online teaching creates a need for an on-site mentor to provide real-time, proximal support for online learners. These individuals, while not officially responsible for instruction, are often the first line of support for students struggling with content in their online course. Online mentors need not know all subject areas but should know instructional support effective practices. They should also be able to connect students with individuals who are content experts, whether it be facilitating communication with the online teacher or connecting students with teachers in their face-to-face school.
Effective teaching and instructional support are critical to success in online learning. However, too often, online learning is seen as “fringe” and not widespread enough to demand focused attention. Despite this, the pandemic has demonstrated that online learning should be a critical component of education at all levels.
Archambault, L., Kennedy, K., DeBruler, K., Shelton, C., Dalal, M., McAllister, L., & Huyett, S. (2016). Examining teacher education programs and field experiences in k-12 online learning environments. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/examining-teacher-education-programs-and-field-experiences-in-k-12-online-learning-environments/
DeBruler, K. (2016). iEducator 21st century digital learning core: Program design and reflection. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/ieducator-program-design-and-reflection/
DeBruler, K. (2018). The role of online teaching in Michigan teacher preparation programs. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/the-role-of-online-teaching-in-michigan-teacher-preparation-programs/
DeBruler, K., & Kwon, J. B. (2017). iEducator 21st century digital learning corps: iEd blog network analysis. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/ieducator-21st-century-digital-learning-corps-ied-blog-network-analysis/
Borup, J., Chambers, C. B., Stimson, R. (2017). Helping online students be successful: Parental engagement. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/helping-online-students-be-successful-parental-engagement/
Borup, J., Chambers, C. B, & Stimson, R. (2018). Helping online students be successful: Student perceptions of online teacher and on-site mentor instructional support. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/helping-online-students-be-successful-student-perceptions-of-online-teacher-and-on-site-mentor-facilitation-support/
Borup, J., Chambers, C., & Stimson, R. (2019a). K-12 student perceptions of online teacher and on-site facilitator support in supplemental online courses. Online Learning, 23(4), 253-280. http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v23i4.1565
Borup, J., Chambers, C., & Stimson, R. (2019b). Online teacher and on-site facilitator perceptions of parental engagement at a supplemental virtual high school. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(2). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v20i2.4237
Borup, J. & Stimson, R. (2017) Helping students be successful: Mentor responsibilities. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/helping-online-students-be-successful-mentor-responsibilities/
Borup, J. & Stimson, R. (2019). Responsibilities of Online Teachers and On-Site Facilitators in Online High School Courses. American Journal of Distance Education, 33(1), 29-45. https://doi.org/10.1080/08923647.2019.1554984
Kennedy, K. (2015). Recruiting, training, supporting, and evaluating online teachers: A cross-case analysis of teaching infrastructure across virtual schools. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/recruiting-training-supporting-and-evaluating-online-teachers-a-cross-case-analysis-of-teaching-infrastructure-across-virtual-schools/
Kwon, J. B., DeBruler, K., & Kennedy, K. (2017). iEducator 21st century digital learning corps: iEd effectiveness. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/ieducator-21st-century-digital-learning-corps-ied-effectiveness/
Linton, J. (2018). Exploring preparation and support for K-12 online teachers. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/exploring-preparation-and-support-for-k-12-online-teachers/
Smith, S. (2018). Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Report. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/teacher-evaluation-and-effectiveness-report/