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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Virtually Real: Distance-Learning Educators Go the Distance When They Go Offline

Online teachers bring new energy and expertise to the traditional classroom.
By Tamar Snyder
This is a multipart article. Click here to go to the beginning.

Call them "trans-classroom" teachers. A growing number of educators are migrating between the traditional classroom and the virtual one. And they bring to online learning a heightened professionalism.

Virtual educators return to classroom teaching with renewed vigor and enhanced teaching methods, says Susan Lowes, director of research and evaluation at the Institute for Learning Technologies, at Columbia University's Teachers College. They also view student participation as key, and encourage wallflowers and even slackers in the back row to speak out.

"Teachers are no longer satisfied with asking a question and only getting two to three responses," Lowes says. Just as every virtual student is expected to contribute to discussions, teachers who have taught online expect to hear from every student in the 3-D world.

In the virtual classroom, teachers aren't able to judge how well students understand the material by scanning confused expressions. So many have learned to clarify directions and provide more detailed instruction -- skills that stick with them when they return to classroom teaching.

In the traditional classroom, according to Lowes, trans-classroom teachers ask probing follow-up questions. Instead of meaningless assignments and busywork, they assign journals, and they end sessions with a reflective question. They also lecture less, preferring to act as facilitators of knowledge.

"They realize now that there's a lot of wasted time in face-to-face classrooms," Lowes says of online teachers. "Online classrooms have taught them to be more efficient."

Tamar Snyder is a writer in New York City who specializes in education, personal finance, and careers.

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