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Monday, November 05, 2007

VSS2007 - Informing Policy and Practice: Research on the Best Practices of Virtual School Teachers

This was a session delivered by Meredith Dipietro of the University of Florida. It was based upon interviews with twelve teachers from a single virtual school (and not the Florida Virtual School according to the presenter).

I was a little surprised to see that the room was full and a number of people were standing in the back (I know this because I came in late and had to sit on the floor for the first hour). I say surprised because historically the research-based sessions have no had the same level of interest as the practitioner-focused sessions.

The session itself was interesting. The presenter put forth a model for Dimensions of Pedagogy which contained three components:
  1. Facilitating Connections
    • connecting with students
    • connecting students with other students
    • variations
  2. Experiential Context
    • structuring experience
    • observing environment
    • variations
  3. Coaching Content Interactions
    • knowledge giver to knowledge guide
    • meeting student needs
    • variations
What I found interesting was that as I listened to the presenter I kept wondering to myself what am I hearing here that is unique to the virtual school environment? I can buy the argument, which the presenter was partially selling, that the virtual school environment is set-up in such a way that it facilitates this kind of pedagogy more easily - essentially the notion that the way in which virtual schooling is designed and delivered forces teachers to adopt this kind of pedagogy (while the traditional classroom doesn't necessarily force teachers to do it, but also doesn't stop good teachers from doing).

While I don't see this as a problem, I do have problems with the people that are trying to sell good pedagogical practices that are unique to the virtual school environment - and I'm not sure where this presenter was on this issue (although she did use the phrases "unique tools of their medium" and "unique practices associated with virtual school teaching"). Granted, I should note that during the question and answer she did say that she believed that there were few differences between pedagogical content knowledge and technological pedagogical content knowledge (i.e., good science teaching is the same thing as good science teaching with technology). So, I'm still unsure.

In my opinion, good teaching is good teaching. The tools are different in a virtual environment than the traditional classroom, but the way in which you conduct a good discussion in the classroom is very similar to how to conduct a good discussion on a discussion board. A well delivered lecture in person uses the same pedagogical foundations of a well delivered lecture in a synchronous or asynchronous environment. But that's just my opinion...

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