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The headline from the Chronicle caught my attention today: Online Learning May Slightly Hurt Student Performance.

The story reports the findings of a a recent study Northwestern University education professor David N. Figlio that posits that students perform better with face-to-face instruction, particularly Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students. But the Chronicle story also points to contradictory findings by the Department of Education that suggests that online learning is preferable over live instruction. In other words, the jury's still out.

But results like these -- good or bad -- always make me think about the importance in equipping teachers with not just the skills to be able to run the technology in their classrooms, but also the pedagogical training so they know how to best teach online.

It's a big shift to be able to engage and teach students who aren't sitting in front of you. And arguably, the online teacher has to take on more responsibilities than just teaching. The online teacher is responsible for the course content and administration, but also oftentimes, the course technology itself. (I will note here, of course, that all teachers -- despite their virtual or material presence in a classroom -- find themselves having to take on more and more of a tech facilitator role.)

There are a lot of things to take into account when trying to determine online learning is "better or worse" -- teachers' skills and comfort with the online pedagogy, the technology tools themselves, students' abilities to access and use the tools and learn the information.

And with increasing pressure for schools to move part of their course offerings online, it's important that we make sure that it's viable -- just as good, if not better than face-to-face instrcution.

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Audrey Watters


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