I’m at the iNACOL Virtual School Symposium in New Orleans. I hope you’ll come to our panel discussion (4:30-5:30) on Interventions for Struggling Students in Online Courses. You can also visit our website to catch up with our new projects.
As you know, my experience as an online teacher is in writing. I teach an undergraduate business writing course, which is fairly unique because it is conducted 100% online. It’s a semester-long synchronous class where we meet once per week. For the most part, and this is a non-empirical assessment—students tend to excel in this course or fail—no in between. In my observations as a teacher, there are some skills I’ve observed in students, which can help them succeed at the college level.
These skills are very important because roughly one college student in four is now taking at least one online course and one in 20 students is taking an online course at the K–12 level. That’s a lot of students. As the number of online college courses grows, so too does the variety of courses available online—from math, freshman seminars, and even my course—which is writing. The skills K-12 online schools might expect to export, so kids can be successful in college are time management, critical thinking, and the ability to engage productively with teachers, other students, and course content.
Time management is the ability to manage your courses, you extracurricular activities, your LIFE, and it’s very important to school success. Time management is key—trust me, I can tell when students produce writing assignments 15 minutes before the synchronous class. Like most college courses, writing is an exercise in critical thinking, and critical thinking cannot be rushed. So, time management—it’s important, and students need it.
Which brings me to critical thinking—not only is it time-consuming, but it’s also brain-resource intensive, where emotion, memory, and motivation are required to achieve results. Critical thinking is a process by which learners assess information and integrate it with what they already know.
K-12 students taught to assess and integrate information are able to understand right away whether it is credible and useful. Then, they are able to tuck it away in their brains and file it with what they already know, so they can access it when they need it.
Now, it could be argued of course that college is supposed to teach the critical thinking skills of assessment and integration in every course, and that’s true. But, it helps a student tremendously if they have been challenged with critical thinking in their K-12 school. For example, in my writing course, we study research and specifically research using the internet. We do an activity where we examine various internet sources of information and compare and contrast their credibility and discuss how to evaluate various sources. Students generally enjoy this exercise, but it is especially valuable to them when I’m building on information they already have. If they have some critical thinking under their belt already, they can really engage with the topic right away. They can assess the information, and integrate it in to what they already know. But, what’s really important is if they can use these critical thinking skills to increase their engagement with course materials. So, critical thinking is a skill we’d love to see in higher education students.
Engagement—and this is related somewhat to critical thinking, the ability to engage in a meaningful way with course content, the teacher in a course, and other students is a skill college teachers like me would like to see exported to higher education. If students engage with course content in their persistence in getting answers to their questions and engage with teachers and students by building personal relationships, they tremendously enhance their higher education success.
I know we talk a lot about engagement with respect to how teachers can better engage learners and how content can be structured to engage learners, but some of the responsibility for engagement can be borne by the student in their efforts to build and nurture relationships with students and teachers. In fact, studies have correlated high school achievement with stable and productive relationships among teachers and students—so engagement in relationships is important. It’s a big deal, and a student’s persistence in getting answers, digging deeply into a topic, and ability to build productive relationships with others will be key for their success as students in higher education.
Successful undergraduate students use many skills and strategies they learned during their K-12 education. Some skills they will find especially helpful—skills they can polish and perfect during their K-12 experience and then export to their higher education experience are time management, critical thinking, and ability to engage in the learning experience.