Highly Personal Online Instruction

Online learning normally carries a reputation for being highly impersonal. One may study within a class of 100 or more, making it impossible for a teacher to provide individualized instruction or assessment. What form should online learning take in independent schools? Four online learning providers gained attention at the NAIS annual conference last week, particularly during NAIS president Pat Bassett’s opening remarks and Bill Gates’ keynote address.

Global Online Academy
Online School for Girls
Stanford University Online High School
eSchool Network

In addition to high academic standards and inquiry-based instruction, these online learning organizations strive to maintain the highly personal qualities of independent school instruction and learning support. However, they do so using different methods.

In a joint white paper, Global Online Academy and Online School for Girls write:

Independent schools teach the whole child and our schools hold relationships sacred. Online independent schools are no different.

Our teachers communicate regularly with families and schools so students get the support that they need.

GOA and OSG offer fully online, mostly asynchronous classes. How do they build strong teacher-student relationships without synchronous class meetings? OSG and GOA teachers frequently send individual email messages to students, hold office hours, and schedule one-on-one Skype conversations. This degree of student interaction is only possible with small class sizes and a commitment to regular teacher-student interaction. Teachers also sustain presence through recorded video and discussion forum facilitation.

Stanford University Online High School

Stanford runs an accredited, independent high school through the Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY). Many students take a full load of online classes through the program, and some take selected courses to augment regular school attendance. Live, video-based, twice weekly, whole class seminar classes serve as the central instructional feature.

Participation in these sessions provides the full measure of what the OHS academic program has to offer and the abilities it fosters in its students.  In discussion seminar, students participate in fast-moving conversations, stake out, defend, and critique positions on their feet, and participate in the instructor’s modeling of inquiry in a discipline.

Stanford is piloting a higher-resolution version of the video platform with selected schools, intending to make the seminar experience even more immersive. Stanford believes in the central importance of the seminar-style discussion to the university-level class experience as well as the necessity of high-definition video to make this possible in an e-learning environment.

(quote source)

eSchool Network

This network is not a school, nor are its classes fully online. Rather, the network facilitates the development and sharing of electronic instructional materials for teachers to use in blended learning environments in their schools.

Resources in Digital Alexandria are intended for blended/hybrid classroom environments that combine “face-to-face” learning time with “online” learning time. eSchool Network is not a stand-alone school; think of us as a community hub. (source)

According to director Kevin Ruth, schools are integrating these resources at different levels, some using the online resources to enhance full-time classes, and others reducing the number of face-to-face instructional periods each week. The teacher-student relationship is supported primarily by maintaining face-to-face instructional time.

(quote source)


  1. Emily McCarren says:

    Great synthesis of this important topic, Richard. Relationships and maintaining and fostering those relationships that are so important to learning –but in new and innovative ways– is what makes these four projects that you describe so full of potential. And it really sets them apart from the rest of the online learning discussion. I didn’t know much about the last two, so thanks for sharing! Great to meet you in person this week!

  2. Richard says:

    Thanks, Emily. Good to meet you too, and let me know if you write about your GOA teaching experience online. I’d like to learn more about it.