Inside the Classroom

5 Questions to Increase Student Success in a Digital Classroom

To increase student success in a digital classroom, teachers are expanding their tool kits to include new and creative ways to pinpoint student needs and coach them to graduation. Here, we identify five common concerns of educators and get their best advice on how to address these issues. Luckily, there are some unique benefits to digital and blended classrooms that can help educators guide students to identify and accomplish their end goals.

1. How do I help students recognize the difference between falling behind due to a lack of effort and a lack of understanding?

“Teaching is not just standing in front of the board and just executing a lesson. It’s also understanding and getting to know your student, and really developing a strong relationship with that student to make sure that they’re successful.” —Aleigha Rosser, Director, Atlanta Virtual Academy

Teachers constantly work to identify why their students are struggling in class. It could be that they’re not paying enough attention, they don’t understand the material, or they have personal factors affecting their work. While technology alone cannot identify the circumstances around why a student is having difficulty, it helps teachers to more easily identify and address struggling students’ concerns.

As Callie Tuck, a teacher at Classical Academy in California, says, “it’s a lot less grading because the assignments and quizzes are auto-graded.” She can also “look at the standards and see how students are doing and what percentage of students are meeting the standard.” Therefore, her time is freed up to sit with students and review a quiz together to ascertain if the question wording is tripping them up, or if it comes down to the actual content of the lesson. By quickly and easily identifying which students are struggling, teachers can work one-on-one with those students to understand why they are having difficulty and pinpoint what interventions will help.

2. What’s the best way to maintain student–teacher communication and build relationships?

Finding the time to truly connect with every student in a class is a daunting task, especially for teachers who have hundreds of students. However, with so much of the content covered by the digital curriculum, teachers no longer have to spend their time standing in front of the class, and can instead use their time to work directly with students.

“Without the ability that we have from an online program like [Edgenuity®], there would be no way I could have a one-on-one conversation with every kid in my class every single day.” —Becki Smedley, Math Teacher, Quest Academy

Denise Manganello, a district administrator at Seneca Valley in Pennsylvania, shared that she meets with her team of educators every week to look at the data available and see what’s going on with the kids at “a granular level.” She continues, “We have it so nice in the digital world because data is not subjective, and it’s largely collected for us. So we as a group get together and identify trends for each individual student. We also assign a cyber-education advisor, so every student has one point of contact who can inform our communication committee meetings and provide more personal communications to the student.”

3. How do I celebrate student accomplishments in a digital classroom?

Educators know that different motivational techniques may resonate with different students, and interacting with students in a digital classroom is no different. Most teachers agree, to be truly powerful, the praise must be specific. Recognizing a student is much more meaningful when the reason behind their accomplishment is made clear, and it helps the student (and others reading or seeing it) to want to repeat (or emulate) that behavior. Lastly, it’s important to highlight not just the all-star students who are constantly succeeding, but also acknowledge those who have worked hard to see even minor improvements. As Mikell Beus from Quest Academy in Utah points out, recognizing the effort is more meaningful than the outcome.

Some ways to celebrate student success in online learning include:

  • Sending a personal note home. Consider using a card or even a stamp that focuses on something you know they like.
  • Emailing the parent. Direct communication from a teacher regarding his/her student’s performance can have a huge impact.
  • Creating a “student of the week” recognition. Many schools find success in highlighting a student of the week. Maybe they completed a course, an impressive number of assignments, or improved their grades.
  • Texting students with “good job” or “I’m proud of you.” We all know how much students love their phones!

4. How do I help students stay engaged?

We’ve all heard the term “digital natives,” and we expect kids to be comfortable with a phone or tablet in their hands. But capitalizing on that trend while also working to increase student success in a digital classroom can be tricky. Luckily, some teachers have found the addition of technology into the classroom helps increase engagement.

“Because of the technology, because it was engaging for kids, it really did allow me more freedom to do the things that I wanted to do.” —Erica Genis, Math Coordinator, Amphitheater School District

Educators say that the ability for students to self-monitor with education technology has been impactful. Instead of waiting for a report card, they can see their progress right in the system, and so can teachers and parents. Those external motivators can step in to help when the student is struggling or give praise for being on-track or ahead. Furthermore, the sense of accomplishment students feel by seeing their to-do list shrink often makes them work for hours longer than planned, says one high-school student.

5. How do I use data to help me identify and address individual student needs?

One of the major benefits of technology is the time it provides teachers to work one-on-one with students to personalize their learning. For example, math teacher Jendayi Nunn dives into the data to see every answer the student submitted. “That helps me figure out exactly what the student may miss,” and drill down to address the underlying deficiencies.

“Digital learning allows us to personalize the learning for students based on the needs that they have demonstrated.” —Wanda Creel, Chief Academic Officer, School District of Lee County

Assistant Superintendent Lisa Riggs of Gresham Barlow School District in Oregon loves how her teachers can identify students who are behind on a concept and insert different activities into the lesson to supplement instruction. With the bulk of the instruction burden off their shoulders, educators can focus on enhancing the student’s experience and understanding. Whether that’s giving struggling students additional resources to grasp a concept, or allowing excelling students to do project-based learning on an interesting topic, in a traditional classroom environment, time and resources for these supplemental activities are often limited.

What techniques do you use to increase student success in a digital classroom? Share them with us on Twitter or Facebook.

About the Author


Emily Kirk

After growing up in the Phoenix area, Emily escaped the heat to study in Flagstaff where she graduated from Northern Arizona University with a BA in Art History. She went on to work and study at The University of Phoenix, earning her MBA. After volunteering to teach English in Chile for a semester, she worked in sales and marketing for a major ocean freight carrier. Throughout her career, Emily has also taught ballet, so she is thrilled to be part of the Where Learning Clicks team where she can combine her love of teaching and business acumen to help transform classrooms.