The Art and Science of Teaching Online for K-12 Educators

by Ana Felce

With remote learning more prevalent than ever before, instructional technologies have never been so important.

Teaching online effectively is more than just using technology to carry out lessons in a digital environment. It also means understanding how to use digital tools and where they fit best within your lessons or curriculum.

Here’s what you need to know about the art and science of teaching online, from online teaching and learning expert Kathleen Fletcher-Bacer, Ed.D., professor and director of Azusa Pacific University’s Online M.A. in Educational Technology.

Tools to Support, Not Replace, Your Teaching

As new educational technologies are introduced, there’s a learning curve for both students and teachers. This includes figuring out how to adapt to remote learning and is especially true when using technology to interact with each other and trying to model face-to-face learning.

Fletcher-Bacer described one of the hurdles you and your students might face when introducing new technology in the classroom. “There is always a period of adjustment until a tool or technology becomes ‘transparent,’” she said.

Imagine driving a different car for the first time or trying to operate a new mobile device. Technology becomes transparent when you no longer have to think about how the interface works in order to achieve your goals.

“You will be amazed at the depth of learning you will be able to achieve as transparency begins to take place and you are no longer thinking only of the mechanics of the interface,” Fletcher-Bacer said. “This is true of any new technology that is first introduced.” Remember that the next time you are adopting a new online technology and keep working toward the point of transparency. Arriving there helps everyone focus on the task at hand—learning!

Employ Online Teaching Strategies

Just like in a physical classroom, it’s important to build trust and a sense of security in a digital classroom. Be present during (and outside of) class for student questions and concerns, showing that you’re there to support their learning.

Teaching online requires that you provide content in chunks to make lessons easier to grasp. With smaller elements of content to digest, students can review each chunk at a pace and manner that best suits their individual learning needs. Not only do virtual learning environments allow them to review the content as they’re able to, but they also provide students time to reflect.

Consider using frequent assessments to better track your students’ success, offer support, and adjust your delivery where needed. And when planning your content, pay attention to the activities and times of your synchronous sessions. Being together in the same space online is effective, but it isn’t the same as being together in the same classroom.

“Each student is in a different physical space with different support and circumstances,” Fletcher-Bacer said, so it’s important to design classes that adapt to and present the best material for online learning.

According to Fletcher-Bacer, well-designed virtual learning environments:

  • Offer individualized pathways to accommodate diversity of learning
  • Capitalize on built-in “rewind” or “replay” options—like watching a lesson more than once, pausing at a difficult concept, or having multiple attempts on certain assessments—transferring knowledge at the learner’s own pace
  • Provide equal opportunity for your learners to engage and have a voice
  • Offer flexibility to choose the time and place of learning
  • Curate the very best materials to present to your learners

Choosing Tools for the Online Classroom

With so many options available for your online classroom, you may wonder how to decide which tools and technologies will work best for you and your students.

One concept taught in APU’s educational technology program and learning and technology programs is the Triple E (Engagement, Enhancement, and Extension) Framework, which guides educators on how to evaluate new technology tools and when to use them. With this framework created by Liz Kolb, you can better determine how well different tools engage students, enhance their learning, and extend learning goals. Check out Kolb’s website and book, Learning First, Technology Second in Practice: New Strategies, Research and Tools for Student Success, for more ways to evaluate technology before you adopt it.

“Now more than ever, educators are asked to design curriculum and teach in digital environments that rely on technology for delivery,” Fletcher-Bacer said. APU’s M.A. in Educational Technology is well-suited for any educator who wants to thrive in and help shape environments where technology is used to empower learners.

If you’re an educator who wants to learn more about how to use educational technologies and remain adaptive, explore Azusa Pacific University’s educational technology program and discover strategies to boost learning outcomes in any digital environment.