Digital Directions - Spring/Summer 2012 - (Page 46)
Making the Online Connection
t a time when a growing number of researchers examining virtual education have questioned the effectiveness of online learning programs targeting students at risk of dropping out, Leslie Fetzer hopes to show skeptics just what is possible. Fetzer, an online biology teacher for the North Carolina Virtual Public School, works exclusively with troubled students who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities or struggle with academic motivation. She’s also the instructional leader for biology teachers in the 2-year-old NCVPS Occupational Course of Study program, a blended, team-teaching model for students with special needs in which each student has an online instructor and a face-to-face instructor for each course. And she teaches fully online credit-recovery courses to students in grades 10-12 at NCVPS, which delivered courses to just over 19,000 students last spring. Fetzer is the 2012 National Online Teacher of the Year, as recognized by the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta and the Vienna, Va.-based International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Digital Directions Staff Writer Ian Quillen interviewed Fetzer in March, shortly after the nine-year teaching veteran and third-year online teacher won the award.
Whenever we talk to online teachers or administrators, we always hear that it’s most important for teachers to be good teachers first, and master teaching online second. You appear to be proof of that. But how did you make the migration to virtual instruction?
FETZER: I learned really quickly that the most important thing is to grab students’ attention, to make them excited and want to learn, to build relationships with them. And so, I would do whatever it took. I would read books that they were reading, watch movies that they were watching, and listen to music that they were listening to. So when I actually heard about the opportunity to teach online, I jumped at the chance, mostly because of the tools I knew I would get to use in the classroom. And then I realized that teaching online really afforded me the opportunity to get to know my students even better and to personalize the instruction for them even more than I was able to in the classroom.
This interview with the 2012 National Online Teacher of the Year, Leslie Fetzer, is a Digital Directions exclusive. The aim is to present writers, thinkers, and educators who bring fresh perspectives about what education, and educational technology, should or might look like in five, 20, or 50 years. You are invited to suggest names of people for interviews. Send suggestions to
to face and online part time for, oh, probably a little bit less than a full year before I decided I was going to take the jump and do this all the time.
You have said that you left your previous career as a medical writer, in part, because it wasn’t interactive enough. Did you worry about how a natural extrovert would transition to the virtual classroom?
FETZER: It’s funny, because I say that I was in front of the computer all day long as a medical writer, and really, that’s what I do now, but it’s so different. There’s an entire community online. It’s a community not only with your students and the relationships that you form there, but with the parents, with the stakeholders of the schools, and with my coworkers and colleagues. We have an electronic learning community, and we grow and share with each other. It’s very much a community feel.
How long did it take to figure that out?
FETZER: Not long at all. I would say during the
training period. And I did do both. I taught face
Do you feel like it’s more challenging to teach science online than an English or humanities course, as some suggest?
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Digital Directions - Spring/Summer 2012
Digital Directions - Spring/Summer 2012
DD Site Visit
Bits & Bytes
Lessons From Higher Education
Recognizing Online PD
Ready or Not
Digital Directions - Spring/Summer 2012
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