Research corner

`The nature of teacher engagement at an online high school' by Borup, J, Graham, C R and Drysdale, J S

British Journal of Educational Technology, 455: 793-806,

September 2014 (Wiley)

Reams have been written about massive open online courses (Moocs). These internet-based programmes, often led by universities, were heralded as the end of higher education - before people quietly admitted that this wasn't the case at all and they were sorry for making such a fuss about the matter.

But what about online schools? The number of students enrolling in online learning is growing. Although no name has been agreed for the phenomenon at present, we here at TES would like to humbly offer our own suggestion of "massive open online school education", or Moose.

And now three academics have looked at how teachers can successfully engage with students in such Moose-based endeavours. They used the Open High School of Utah (OHSU), an online charter school with 381 students in grades 9-12 (aged 14-18), as the basis for their research. Of the 21 teachers there, 11 were selected to take part in two, hour-long interviews. From this, the academics extrapolated information about teachers' roles in online learning.

Most teachers who had previously had face-to-face teaching experience said they were afforded more opportunities to interact individually with students in online courses. In addition, students preferred to interact with their teachers via text-based methods rather than audio or video options.

The academics concluded that OHSU was able to achieve good course outcomes because teachers were provided with a pre-prepared curriculum, allowing them more time to interact with pupils. However, they said it was difficult to engage reluctant learners.

And the secret to good online teacher engagement? It is not a million miles away from good offline teacher engagement. The research splits the answer into six distinct parts: facilitating discourse with students and parents, designing and organising learning, nurturing, instructing, monitoring and motivating.

Sarah Cunnane

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