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Future Course: The Art of Online Teaching

Speaking of alternative career paths, Time has an interesting profile of a Colorado science teacher who, after being laid off from her classroom job, took a position with an online high school. She is now part of what's clearly a burgeoning industry: According to data cited in the article, 30 states now allow students to take courses entirely online, and some 2 million K-12 students "participate in some form of online education."

"Steady growth," the article continues, "has meant there's a pressing need for virtual teachers, some of whom never set foot in a classroom."

But for some educators, online teaching—at least in its current state—may take some getting used to. The teacher in the article, Jane Good, seems to spend a lot of time trying to track down students who haven't logged in to the course platform. She also has to do a good deal of hand-holding to help her students and their parents set up and access the course software and components. (Interestingly, Good notes that parents tend to be more actively involved in online education, in part because it takes place right under their noses, so to speak.)

Pedagogically, Good says one of the biggest challenges she faces in the online environment is gauging how well her students are picking up the material she's teaching—that is, without the benefit of seeing their body language and hearing their tone of voice. "In a classroom you can look at kids and know pretty quickly whether or not they understand what you're saying," she said. "We don't have that advantage [online]." You get the sense that online instruction can feel at times like teaching in a vacuum. (As someone who regularly moderates webinars, I can relate.)

The article quotes a professor of education technology as saying that, to be effective online, "Teachers need to figure out how to deliver lessons when they don't have real-time interactions with students." But it's not clear whether any particularly effective solutions have been identified or developed at this point.

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