Many of today’s veteran teachers remain a part of the generation(s) who grew up without smartphones or Wi-Fi. We learned in classrooms where the overhead projector was cutting-edge technology. Now, we are working in a world where our students are constantly exposed to the most advanced technology. Thus, we work tirelessly to keep our classrooms relevant, in the ever-changing, always-evolving digital age.
As a virtual instructor, classes are a mix of asynchronous and synchronous learning where lectures and lessons are programmed conveniently into a student’s course. The virtual instructor uses synchronous web sessions, email, phone text, and instant messaging to reach out to students for tutoring and supplemental lessons. While this type of learning may not have been the norm when I was growing up, students of today are used to learning this way through their blended-learning environments or even by doing web searches on their smartphones.
One of the challenges facing virtual teachers, and all teachers really, is how do we make real-world connections from digital learning with students who do a lot of living in the virtual worlds of Facebook and Snapchat?
Making Connections through Projects and Supplemental Assignments
Some students may see their virtual class assignments, projects, and papers as a means to an end; however, like in traditional education in the brick-and-mortar classroom, teachers must seek to give these projects, assignments, and essays context and meaning, thus helping students to make a real-world connection.
For example, you may have an assignment where students need to create a public service announcement on an issue that they feel passionate about like the environment, racism, prejudice, poverty, or ending drug usage. Integrating real-life issues into the curriculum allows students to make a connection to the outside world with the assignments that they create virtually.
“Face Time” with your Virtual Instructor
Because a lot of work done in the virtual classroom is asynchronous, it is important to include moments of synchronous connection with your students, whether via chat, text, phone, or other similar platforms. Skype, Blackboard Collaborate™, and Jigsaw are all platforms that allow for teachers and students to speak face-to-face about their courses, which creates more rapport between students and teachers as well as a deeper connection to classroom content.
If you’re unable to speak with your students face-to-face, a phone call or text can also be an effective way to bridge the gap and create meaningful connections.
Applying Skills to the Real World
Finally, it’s important to remember that our world is becoming increasingly digital and a certain amount of digital literacy will help students succeed in higher education and the workplace. Many standardized tests and college entrance exams are transitioning to online formats. The proper technology exposure will also give your students an advantage when they enter the modern workforce. Knowledge of and familiarity in virtual learning platforms, social media, and other advanced technology is a growing asset in our ever-changing world.