As someone who taught elementary school for 6 years, I was very excited to spend a few hours with Kristin Kipp, the Online Teacher of the Year.  Kristin teaches 11th and 12th grade English at Jefferson County Colorado’s Virtual Academy.  She previously taught in a traditional school and now loves teaching fully online.

I am most curious about her day-to-day interactions with other teachers and her students.  She says she “lives in Blackboard.”  However, while the bells and whistles of online learning attracted her to teaching, it is clearly the students who keep her hooked.  As many teachers do, Kristin fills with enthusiasm when describing her students who might not otherwise graduate without the Virtual Academy – those with medical issues, those who had family obligations, and those training to be elite athletes.  In fact, students led her to online teaching.  She left the classroom to be an Instructional Coach and missed teaching.  One of the ways that Kristin shares her belief in her students is by making it clear to them that online learning is not easy and that her standards are high for each one of them.

Kristin learned about online teaching in many ways.  She actually first developed a course, and this activity taught her all about the tools within the Blackboard Learn platform.  Then, she took a course through PBS on how to facilitate online learning which taught her about online pedagogy.  Finally, she spends a lot of time in her courses trying things out, figuring out ways to create differentiated lessons, design interactive assignments, and ensure her students get to know her.

Kristin says about her teaching style, “I don’t lecture well.  I never stand up and talk, even when I was teaching in a traditional school.  I believe kids learn by doing.”  To get across material now, she incorporates 2-min podcasts, written mini-lessons with core concept descriptions, and lots of activities that require practice. Kristin selects the hardest concept of the week to describe during her weekly webinar with her students, when she can answer questions and show students how to approach the new topic.

As far as debunking myths about online learning, Kristin wants people to know that online learning is not isolating.  She believes her students need to interact with quality content, with her, and with each other.  She designs each lesson with these interactions in mind.  Kristin herself is closer to the virtual academy faculty than she was when she was teaching in a building.  She interacts and collaborates with fellow teachers on a daily basis, and gets together with them once a month.

I left my time with Kristin fascinated with a much clearer picture of what it is like to teach a fully virtual course.  And yes, for these courses, there clearly still needs to be a dedicated, skilled, highly qualified teacher, even if she/he is not standing directly in front of the students every day.

Here are a few outtakes from my interview with Kristin:

What are some misconceptions about online learning?

What is one of the favorite activities you’ve done with your students that you have gotten value out of and they have enjoy participating in?

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