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Online learning in K-12 can be transformative. A personal reflection on this experience by one student with advice for parents and students.

My inbox is flooded with messages from businesses and organizations letting me know how they are responding to COVID-19.  This morning one email began with: “These are bizarre and unpredictable times.”

I couldn’t agree more. However, one thing that is not bizarre or unpredictable is that relationships matter in learning, work and life. When students know we care and we can connect with them in meaningful ways, it makes all the difference in the world.      

With schools, students and families facing the reality that their school experience will be radically different for the foreseeable future, I have been thinking about my youngest daughter’s online experience during her senior year of high school.

In earlier blog posts I reflected on her fourth-grade parent-teacher conference as well as the fear and anxiety she faced in heading back to school when entering high school.  

Now, granted, her senior year of high school as an online student was a choice she made, not something that she had to do. Largely because of my own lack of experience with online education at the time, I recall having reservations about her making this choice. 

As it turned out, her senior year was transformative. As an online learner, she became a stronger more independent learner. I witnessed her more engaged with her instructors than in any previous years of her high school career. 

Wanting to see if what I recalled and what she remembers is at all the same, I asked her a few questions and was pleased to discover that her experience with online learning was as impactful as I recall.

What did you like about online learning in high school?

  • I loved being able to learn at my own pace. Even though I did have assignment deadlines, I could move ahead and complete assignments in advance if I wanted to—which was awesome! 
  • Choosing to take online classes in my senior year was also great preparation for college. Even though my college courses were in-person, there is a lot of independent learning and studying that you need to do on your own time. Having an online learning experience helped me improve my time management skills.  
  • Having been a pretty average high school student, I learned to take greater ownership of my learning and grades through my online classes. This sense of ownership that I developed then continued in college where I became a straight-A, dean’s list student. 

What advice would you give to a high school student? 

  • Manage your time and stay on top of your syllabi. You really need to make sure you stay on track and meet your assignment deadlines/due dates.
  • Have a dedicated space to work from that is comfortable and free from unnecessary distractions.
  • If something isn’t clear or you need assistance, ask your teacher for help.  They may not be in front of you in a classroom, but they are there for you virtually and appreciate your reaching out so that they know exactly what you need and how they can help.  

How can parents help support their students? 

  • For some students, moving to an online format may be challenging. As parents, it is important to monitor your student’s progress but remember also to give them room to figure things out for themselves. Some students may adapt to the change in learner styles more easily than others. Allow time for students to figure out what works for them as they transition.  

What were your relationships like with your teachers?

  • My interaction with my online teachers and school counselor was completely virtual.  They were responsive and provided me with the one-on-one attention I needed. The online classroom provided flexible channels for dialogue and engagement with my teachers.
  • Overall, my relationships with my online teachers greatly facilitated my learning and experience as a student. I knew they cared about me and my success as a student. 

My daughter certainly benefited from selecting an online learning program that had an established practice. Many educators today may be stepping into the online instruction realm with little experience of which to speak.  Teachers, students and parents may have reservations and feel apprehension. 

The fact remains, though, that my daughter wholly embraced this experience, with all the novelty and change that it offered, after twelve years in a traditional educational setting and she was able to thrive like never before. She learned that she could learn in a new way and that learning, in and of itself, better prepared her for her future.  

Perhaps most importantly, she learned how to advocate for herself, both in selecting this option and in engaging her teachers for help when she needed it. She learned how to build powerful relationships in the virtual world, yet another critical skill for this age in which we live.  

So, as we look ahead at some seemingly “bizarre and unpredictable times,” let us consider that a strong dose of optimism, open-mindedness and a commitment to stay connected may be healthy complements to this reset.      

Mary Docken

Mary Docken is vice president, outreach at Intellispark. Mary has extensive experience in education having served as director of admission at two colleges in the Midwest as well as director of college counseling at Mounds Park Academy in Saint Paul, MN. before joining Naviance in 2006 which was acquired by Hobsons in 2007.