Distance Learning Through My Eyes

An educator shares how she teaches her online school students.

 

By Adora Svitak

As a student who goes to an online public school and a teacher who uses distance learning to teach, I know first hand what it's like to use 21st century tools in the classroom.

 

As a student who goes to an online public school and a teacher who uses distance learning to teach, I know first hand what it's like to use 21st century tools in the classroom.

As a student, I go to an online school, the Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA). As a teacher, nearly every day I connect with students around the world through video conferencing to teach them about subjects ranging from personal narrative to personal finance. From this standpoint, I experience daily the benefits of using distance learning in education. Distance learning helps excite kids, it makes education flexible, and businesses are already using it (so we're getting ready for our future now).

Schools try to equip kids to better deal with the business world, and the business world is using distance conferencing technology, too. I recently saw the movie “Up in the Air,” and those of you who saw it know that part of the plot­line centers on a company reducing employee travel in favor of web conferencing. Although the fictional company in the movie canceled its program, many businesses now use web and video conferencing heavily. Having students obtain such technological skills as early as possible, so that they are comfortable with and skilled at using them, is paramount.

Of course, school isn't all about job preparation – it's about genuine learning. Distance learning is something that I've found really effective when it comes to education. Some of my favorite moments come when I ask students after a session, “What did you learn today?” and they spout off lots of answers one after another, showing that they've truly learned a lot from the presentation. This gives me a huge amount of satisfaction, and it's also incredible to think that such a connection wouldn't have been possible 30 or 40 years ago. Even though I've presented to more than 400 schools through video conferencing, I get excited every time – and so do the students. I'll often connect and see students waving wildly at the camera, shouting “We're on TV!” It's even more electrifying to them when I inform them, in (jokingly) onerous tones, that I can see and hear everything they're doing. Distance learning helps create engagement, which translates to learning achievement.

When I teach via distance learning I have a questions-and-answers section. Inevitably, some curious student will always ask, “How do you go to school?” The answer has a lot to do with distance learning as well.

From Trend to Norm

For me, online learning such as I undertake at WAVA heralds a new trend in education: the growing amount of, and diversity in, online content. From content-streaming sites such as Learn360, Safari Montage and Discovery Education to curriculum providers and public online schools such as WAVA, learning isn't restricted to the schoolhouse anymore. Kids already use the Internet heavily for social media and gaming. By bringing learning online, educators open up new channels and platforms to reach students. My way of looking at it is this: Traditional education means bringing students to school. By exploring new technologies, you add the new dimension of bringing school to the student.

There's another motivation for bringing interactive distance learning to the classroom. Your students get a head start toward the future. Recently, I learned of a contest the White House created: an application to get President Obama to speak at your public high school. Contestants had to illustrate how their school was preparing students for the future. Although you might not be participating in this contest, it's imperative that you think about how you're preparing students for the coming years.

By exciting kids with distance learning access, you give us expertise with 21st century tools we'll be using in our careers. But most important, you give us the gift of constant learning inside the classroom and out.

A Poem by Adora: If I Were Thirty-Nine

If I were thirty-nine
I would get what's mine
Like Jury Duty and
   jail time,
If I were thirty-nine.

If I were thirty-nine,
I would run a school,
And tell the teachers
   what to teach
While I dived into a pool,
If I were thirty-nine.

If I were thirty-nine,
I would have
five children,
I wouldn't care 'bout
   how many eggs
   I need to scramble,
'Cause I'd be thirty-nine.

Apr 05 2010

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