Online internships increase adaptability to teaching with technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dawn Towle

CREDIT FLVSFew would cast doubt on the need for technology in the modern classroom. A 2015 international study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows the student-per-computer ratio at 1.8 to 1 in the United States. A National Center for Education Statistics report, Beyond the Pencil, says 72 percent of schools use online student assessments. It is even an agenda item for many lawmakers. In the upcoming Florida legislative session, for example, multiple bills concerning virtual and blended learning will be on the agenda.

One of the newer challenges that accompany the benefits of education technology is that teaching tools are not the only pieces that have changed.

Think about how quickly technology changes, even at home. Teachers face the same evolution in the classroom. Field placement programs – internships – completed in a virtual setting are one way pre-service teachers can learn about technology integration, foster greater innovation and nurture growth for pre-service teachers, whether they plan to teach in the growing field of online learning or in a traditional brick-and-mortar school.

New Tools of the Trade

Interns in EPI, undergraduate or graduate-level, as well as graduate certificate-degree programs have the option to complete a field placement within a virtual school. The placement helps train pre-service teachers in effective online teaching strategies and technology integration.

During these programs, interns work with experienced teachers to learn best practices and teaching strategies used in online classrooms. Although teachers and interns may be separated by thousands of miles, they are in real-time communication virtually, using a presentation platform that incorporates web cam and audio.

Interns learn to implement many of the same teaching strategies learned in their education classes but modified to work in an online environment. The student database and the learning management system (LMS) work together to deliver content and monitor student progress during online instruction. One-on-one communication takes place by telephone and texting; while whole group instruction is taught with the use of a presentation platform.

More than Just Tech

Classroom management strategies are not discarded in an online environment; they just “look” different than those brick-and-mortar teachers might employ. In a virtual setting the teacher cannot quickly scan the room to see if students are off task. Online interns learn various strategies, such as using the LMS to determine how engaged a student is or determine their comprehension of the material.

And yet, while student engagement looks different in an online environment, the issues are something all must be ready to face. Even in a brick-and-mortar classroom students still use tablets and phones, however teachers must now learn to recognize if students are off task using social media instead of doing their assignment.

One of the newer challenges that accompany the benefits of education technology is that teaching tools are not the only pieces that have changed. The way millennial students learn has also changed. Studies show that millennials need to multitask in order to be engaged. While it may seem counterintuitive to have students using their devices so they are able to listen, it is a reality to which teachers must adapt.

Creating Stronger Teachers

The addition of the online field placement option creates another level of rigor that introduces interns to a new mentality, a vast variety of technology tools and the inability to become complacent. It gives interns a distinct advantage over new and seasoned teachers even if they ultimately decide to teach in a brick-and-mortar classroom or blended environment.

The online environment requires teachers to be prepared to change their teaching strategies at any time and to know their subject material through and through. For example, although interns at FLVS must demonstrate success of the Educator Accomplished Practices set forth by the state, they must also learn the FLVS curriculum and master the resources FLVS utilizes. In a brick-and-mortar classroom, teachers are often able to pace the material based on the week; online students are engaged in their courses 24/7 and work at their own pace. An intern in a virtual school might receive a call from a student with questions about module 1, and then immediately after, a different student could call with questions about module 12.

The result is that virtual interns come to the classroom as very content- and tech-savvy teachers, able to adapt their teaching strategies on the fly. Ultimately, when pre-service teachers learn to incorporate technology from the start, they will find it easier to integrate new technology as it changes in the future.

Dawn Towle is a college recruiter and diversity staffing coordinator for Florida Virtual School. Write to: