Michigan Virtual Research on K-12 Online Teacher Preparation, Professional Development, & On-Site Mentoring

Mentor helps student
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.
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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:

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. 

Final Thoughts

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/

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Kristen DeBruler

Kristen DeBruler

Dr. Kristen DeBruler received her doctorate in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology from Michigan State University. She taught in the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program at Michigan State University for three years. Her work focuses on K-12 online learning policy in Michigan and nation wide as well as understanding online learning best practices.

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Limited Course Capacity

We’re sorry to inform you that we have reached capacity for several of our Semester 1 and Trimester 1 courses. You’ll notice when attempting to enroll students in our Student Learning Portal that some courses are unavailable. While we are no longer accepting new enrollments for these courses at this time, many courses continue to remain open for enrollment.

With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.