SITE 2011 - “Everybody is their own Island”: Teacher Disconnection in a Virtual School


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Hawkins, A., Barbour, M. K., & Graham, C. (2011, March). “Everybody is their own island”: Teacher disconnection in a virtual school. A paper presented at the annual conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, Nashville, TN.

Virtual schooling is a recent phenomenon in K-12 online learning. As such, the roles of the online teachers are emerging and differ from those of the traditional classroom teacher. Using qualitative interviews of eight virtual high school teachers, this study explored teachers’ perceptions of their online teaching role. Teachers expressed a sense of disconnection from their students, the profession, and their peers as a result of limited interactions due to significant institutional barriers. Researchers discuss the implications of this disconnection as well as future avenues for research.

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  • How many of you have heard of K12 online learning. Virtual high schools or even elementary schools?Virtual schooling is a relatively recent phenomenon in K-12 distance education (Cavanaugh, Barbour, & Clark, 2009). Spawned by federal legislation and funding, goals of educational equity, dreams of cost reductions, and research supporting its effectiveness (Barbour & Reeves, 2009), virtual schooling has, in a short amount of time, spread across 48 states (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, & Rapp, 2010), reached an estimated 1,030,000 students (Picciano & Seaman, 2009), and penetrated to all grade levels (Watson et al., 2010). In as little as fourteen years, virtual schooling has become a viable alternative in the United States K-12 educational landscape.
  • The context of study was the same for all of the articles: Utah’s Electronic High School.It was established in 1994 and is one of the oldest and largest in the US.Several aspects of EHS make it distinct among virtual schools:Self-paced (students proceed at own pace with little or no interaction between students).Supplemental (vast majority of students us EHS to supplement their either brick and mortar or home school curriculum)Open Entry: start and stop at any time. Not tied to any calendar. Again impacts interaction.There are high student ratios: 1:233.With ranges from 2 (apenglish) to 3024 (financial literacy)Curriculum: 66 unique courses at time of study across 11 disciplines
  • Utah’s Electronic High School…Oldest and largest in U.S.Singular in natureSelf-pacedSupplemental (primarily)Open-entry/open-exit modelHigh student-to-teacher ratiosDiverse curriculum and student body
  • Steady increase in completion rates as the program ages
  • SITE 2011 - “Everybody is their own Island”: Teacher Disconnection in a Virtual School

    1. 1. “Everybody is their own Island”: Teacher Disconnection in a Virtual School Abigail Hawkins, BYU; Michael Barbour,WSU; Charles Graham, BYUSITE 2011
    2. 2. K-12 online learning....Really? States with virtual schools/online initiatives, full-time programs, or both 2,000,000 students Kindergarten > HS 1997: 3 States 2010: 48 States Keeping Pace with K12 Online Learning, 2010 2
    3. 3. Research Question1. How do teachers perceive their role as online teachers? 3
    4. 4. Background Literature Relative little research in K-12 virtual schooling Shifting teacher roles Davis (2007) Ferdig et al. (2009) Teacher Teacher Designer Course Facilitator Site Facilitator Instructional Designer Local Key Contact Mentor Technology Coordinator Guidance Counselor Administrator 4
    5. 5. The CaseUtah’s Electronic High School… Oldest and largest in U.S. Singular in nature  Self-paced  Supplemental (primarily)  Open-entry/open-exit model High student-to-teacher ratios Diverse curriculum and student body Webcam 5
    6. 6. Dimensions of EHS None
    7. 7. Completion Rates: All enrollments 35 30 High attrition rates 31.1 25 % completion 20 19.8 15 10.5 11.3 10 5 0 2005 (n=802) 2006 (n=4493) 2007 (n=32,065) 2008 (n=47937) years
    8. 8. MethodsComponent DescriptionParticipants… 8 teachers 4 disciplines (Math, Science, English, Social Science) Equal class sizes (62-985 students) Avg. years teaching F2F: 18 Avg. years teaching online: 6.9 Part time (exception 1 full time EHS employee)Data Collection… Case method Intensity sampling (high and low completion rates) Semi-structured interviewsData Analysis… Theme analysis Constant comparative method 8
    9. 9. Findings: Teacher Roles 9
    10. 10. Disconnection from students Well the difference with them again is: I see them; I interact with them; I shake their hands; I know their name; I know their face. A lot of them I know their sad story behind some this. At EHS you just can’t do any of that. It’s nameless. It’s faceless.  Brian, Science Teacher 10
    11. 11. Disconnection from profession ….a lot of the times the role you just get to grade the papers. And then just answer questions. But as far as like being, I almost want to say a mentor because you can see that student you can talk to them right then, it is definitely different that way. Almost like, here’s professor’s assistant. Here is a bunch of papers, and you just kind of grade it.  Carl, Science Teacher 11
    12. 12. Disconnection from peers One thing that I like is about teaching in the classroom is I get to know faculty, and you get to bounce off a lot of ideas and things on them. And I don’t notice that with EHS. I don’t feel like I am necessarily a part. I just feel like this little individual who is doing their little thing.  Mark, Social Science Teacher 12
    13. 13. Implications for Practitioners1. Create a space in the LMS for non-academic interactions2. EHS model limits teacher role. Allow for more quality and frequency of content- based interactions3. Create a space for a virtual staff room for teachers 13
    14. 14. Future Research Do students feel that the lack of interaction is detrimental like teachers do? Do students feel a role change and fragmentation in online learning like teachers? 14
    15. 15. Questions Abby Hawkins Sr. Instructional Designer, Adobe Systems Inc Michael Barbour Assistant Professor, Wayne State University Charles R Graham Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University
    16. 16. References Davis, N. (2007, November). Teacher education for virtual schools. Unpublished manuscript. Paper presented at the annual Virtual School Symposium, Louisville, KY. Retrieved from 7.pdf Ferdig, R. E., Cavanaugh, C., DiPietro, M., Black, E. W., & Dawson, K. (2009). Virtual schooling standards and best practices for teacher education. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 17(4), 479-503.