Is Special Preparation Needed for Teaching K-12 Online? Yes!

By Dr. Kathleen J. Tate
Program Director of M.Ed. in Teaching, American Public University

Teachers and Teacher Education Today

Have you peeked into a graduate teacher education course lately? If so, you will readily notice some differences in courses compared to those from even a few years ago. One of the biggest changes is the increasing amount of graduate students who are teachers in virtual K-12 schools, rather than traditional face-to-face schools. According to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) (2012), 40 states now have virtual schools or state-led initiatives and 30 states, including Washington D.C., have statewide full-time online schools. Though there are some commonalities between teaching face-to-face and online; teachers and students in teacher education programs need to be prepared to effectively meet the needs of the new 21st century virtual K-12 student.

21st Century Tools and Expectations

Whether teaching virtually or face-to-face, K-12 teachers must be equipped to understand and model technological tools; and teach and assess using technology. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) provides National Educational Standards (NETS) for students, teachers, administrators, coaches, and computer science educators. The NETS standards focus on the following benefits:

  • Improving higher-order thinking skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity;
  • Preparing students for their future in a competitive global job market;
  • Designing student-centered, project-based, and online learning environments;
  • Guiding systemic change in our schools to create digital places of learning; and
  • Inspiring digital age professional models for working, collaborating, and decision making (ISTE, 2012).

To prepare K-12 students to function successfully in an increasingly interconnected global and digital society, both face-to-face and virtual teachers must be comfortable and knowledgeable with technology. So what are examples of technological considerations and tools? The ISTE standards serve as a guide for these answers. The five NETS for Teachers standards include:

  • Standard 1: Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity;
  • Standard 2: Design and develop digital age learning experiences and assessments;
  • Standard 3: Model digital age work and learning;
  • Standard 4: Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility; and
  • Standard 5: Engage in professional growth and leadership.

Let’s look at examples for some of these standards.

NETS for Teachers Standard 1: Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity

Teachers must use technology to prompt higher order thinking and creativity. K-12 students need opportunities to use digital tools and resources to explore authentic, real-world problems individually and collaboratively. In face-to-face and virtual schools, K-12 students can interview people or experts in the face-to-face or virtual community about health, political, or science issues and present multimedia reports on the results using PowerPoint, Prezi, or animation tools such as Xtranormal. When learning about persuasive writing, students can create Glogs or podcasts to persuade peers or community members about environmental issues. Glogs were introduced by Glogster in 2007. They are interactive posters that may include text, visuals, music, and videos and can be shared through the Glogster network (Glogster, n.d.).

Technology used in these ways motivates students to engage in learning and attends to their diverse needs by helping them both process and express information through varied modalities. As students collaborate to complete projects, they can use wikispaces for discussion and document sharing; and they can use virtual mind mapping tools to help organize their thoughts and information in concrete ways. These experiences will help students throughout their K-12 and university journeys, and later in professional roles.

NETS for Teachers Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments

Teachers are expected to design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning that uses contemporary tools and resources. The technological tools should demonstrate personalization by meeting the needs of diverse learners. Teachers might ask face-to-face or virtual K-12 students to create blogs with graphics to convey what they learned about a topic or solving a problem. For students with special needs and writing challenges, teachers might have them occasionally express their knowledge verbally using a tool such as Audacity. Many schools use classroom responders, or clickers, to gather real time assessment information from students. Simulations are becoming increasingly available by companies, which can provide detailed assessment information to students and teachers.

NETS for Teachers Standard 4: Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility

Teachers need to be familiar with digital citizenship. This means that teachers need to teach and model safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology. K-12 students should have equitable instructional opportunities via technology; learn how to credit sources and protect their own work (i.e. copyright and intellectual property considerations); and interact responsibly with others in the virtual world using digital etiquette and cultural sensitivity.


So, back to the original question: Is Special Preparation needed for Teaching K-12 Online? Absolutely! Teachers and those training to become teachers must be more tech savvy than ever before. It does not matter if they are in face-to-face or online K-12 schools; the national expectations for teachers and K-12 students are the same.



Glogster. (n.d.) What, why, and where is Glogster? Retrieved from http://www.glogster.com/what-is-glogster

International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). (2012).
Fast facts about online learning.
Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/press/docs/nacol_fast_facts.pdf

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). (2012). ISTE and the NETS.

Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/STANDARDS

About the Author:

Dr. Tate holds a Ph.D. in Elementary Education, M.Ed. in Special Education, and B.A. in Soviet & East European Studies. She has been with APUS since July, 2011, and is an Associate Professor and Program Director of Teaching. She has over 15 years of experience as an elementary special education teacher and professor at both brick and mortar and online universities.

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