However, a successful virtual school experience does take a bit of adjustment and navigation, especially when a student first makes the transition. If you’re a new online school parent or you’re considering making the switch, it helps to have a checklist of best practices that can prevent or resolve some of the most common online school challenges:
Tip 1: Create a school schedule— and stick to it.
Most students in the U.S. live by a pre-determined, fixed school schedule that’s managed along the way by various adults: They have Mom or Dad hurrying them out the door to the bus down the street, bells ringing that let them know it’s time to go to the next class, teachers telling them what’s due tomorrow, and homework time in the evening that’s likely supervised by a parent.
Things are a little different in virtual school, where students encounter more of a collegiate type of environment. It’s still school, but it’s a school setting that offers a lot more opportunities for independence and flexible scheduling. This means that online students have to exhibit a higher degree of self-management in order to be successful.
That’s why we suggest that you sit down as a family before the start of each semester and create daily, weekly, and monthly school schedules. Here’s an example of some of the questions you’ll want to ask yourself when you do:
What time do I need to get up every morning to achieve all of the things I need to do, including classes, assignments, and non-school activities?
What days/time slots will be my dedicated times to “go” to school or work on assignments?
If I want to participate in live classes, rather than archived sessions, when are those live sessions scheduled?
When do I schedule breaks – times to eat lunch or dinner, or get up and stretch and take a break from the computer?
When am I going to be away, either because I’m spending time with my family, traveling, or participating in non-school activities?
Tip 2: Speak up if you’re falling behind or have a problem.
At iUniversity Prep, we equip all of our students with a toolkit of resources that help them prevent and troubleshoot problems—it’s part of an overall atmosphere that sets students up for maximum success. But even when students have this level of support, the transition to online school still takes time and effort, and it’s inevitable that students and parents will run into a problem or two along the way. When those problems are brought to our attention sooner rather than later, we can usually come up with lots of ideas and solutions that help get things back on track.
In other words, the online school experience isn’t meant to happen in isolation. It’s perfectly acceptable to raise your hand (or for your child to raise his hand) and ask for help if your child is falling behind, or if either of you is having trouble figuring something out. In fact, it’s expected. Just know that “raising your hand” looks different in online school – it’s a phone call, an instant message, a text or an email. And speaking of types of communication, that brings us to our next tip:
Tip 3: Develop responsive communication habits.
In online school, most communication between students/teachers and teachers/parents happens in one or more of five communication modes – email, virtual classroom, phone calls, text or instant message. So we recommend that you get in the habit of checking and responding to school email, phone calls, texts and IMs in real time, every weekday during the school year. Good communication habits reduce the chances that something will slip through the cracks or that you’ll miss out on important information.
Tip 4: Minimize distractions.
Be on guard when it comes to what we call “Weapons of Mass Distraction” for your child. Does she have a way of getting sidetracked by online activities like YouTube videos, chatting, and Instagram? If so, be proactive and establish some boundaries before the school year even begins, like “only when you’re finished with school for the day”, or “only on weekends”. If those boundaries don’t work, you may need to get tough and block or remove overly tempting websites and apps altogether.
Tip 5: Become a Super Charger.
Since connectivity is key to online school success, it’s important to make sure that your child isn’t losing potentially productive time because his laptop’s dead or he doesn’t have WiFi access. This is especially true if your child travels or moves around a lot. To avoid lost productivity, I suggest that you:
Get in the habit of charging all devices, especially laptops and tablets, every single night.
Invest in an extra laptop battery – the increased cord-free time it gives you is well worth the expense.
Ditto with a power cord or charger. Keep your extra one in the car so that you’re always prepared for an emergency.
Investigate your options for turning your smart phone into a mobile hot spot or purchasing a portable hotspot device. That way you’ve got a backup if your WiFi goes down, or if your child finds an unexpected opportunity to get some work done when he’s away from his usual “classroom”.
Tip 6: Keep your computer optimized for high performance.
This means making sure that you’re getting all operating system and software updates and removing “junk” on a regular basis. It also means staying digitally organized.
In traditional school, most students have school binders that help keep papers and work organized. It’s just as important to stay organized in online school, but the process looks a little different. We suggest that you create a system of folders for each class to save and file all of your work. At our school, we have our students keep a digital “binder” that provides both desktop computer files and filing that’s backed up “in the cloud” to make sure that important information is safe and organized.
Tip 7: Take regular breaks.
When we get focused on computer work, it’s easy to lose track of time, especially when a deadline is looming.
That’s why online educators recommend that online students set an alarm to remind them to get up every couple of hours and stretch or take a short walk. The physical activity will counteract the effects of prolonged sitting, the break will give the eyes some relief from looking at a computer screen, and the shift in focus will help your student recharge and return to work refreshed and ready to learn.
Tip 8: Get involved.
Since most online students go to school at home, it’s important to combat isolation by getting your child involved in activities that happen outside the house. City sports leagues, churches, and community organizations all offer great extra-curricular options that are worth investigating. Also, don’t forget about the opportunities that might exist within your online school community. In our school, for example, there are many opportunities to meet face to face and virtually for social and academic events throughout the month.
Tip 9: Stop and breathe.
Just like it happens in bricks-and-mortar school, online students are bound to hit rough patches once in a while. When these problems are related to technology, they can seem especially frustrating. If you find yourself dealing with your child’s meltdown (or having one of your own), don’t panic. Instead, take a break, take some deep breaths, and remind yourself that things will eventually get better.
And most importantly, ask for help. At iUniversity Prep, teachers and office staff are only a phone call or email away with support, tips, and strategies that help you get back on track.
Tip 10: Celebrate choice.
Today’s students and families enjoy choices when it comes to public education. The key to knowing which school choice is right for your child lies in an honest assessment of your child’s and your family’s abilities and needs, and in asking the questions that lead to an informed decision.
Although a growing number of families are choosing online public school in Texas, the notion that a child will complete all of her studies at home on a computer is still a novel and confusing one for many people—and that means that sometimes you’ll encounter unsolicited opinions about the viability of the online school choice. When that happens to our parents, we remind them that they’ve chosen a school environment that they believe best suits their child’s needs, and that’s managed by educators who believe that offering excellence in education every day, without barriers, is non-negotiable. And that’s certainly something to celebrate!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Kaye Rogers received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration with a minor in Statistics from the University of North Texas. She earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Tarleton State University. A life-long Texan, she has taught math and science in public schools and also in Spain. She has worked in public education for over 18 years where she is committed to innovation and choice for families. She has opened three choice schools and is currently the Director of Virtual Learning at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD where she oversees their state-wide virtual school and blended schools program.
Learn more about iUniversity Prep and see if online learning is right for your child. Check us out at www.iuniversityprep.org or give us a call at 817-305-4895.
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