Why Teachers Are More Important Than Ever in Online Learning

Dr. Kathryn Kennedy has over 15 years of experience in online, blended, and digital learning in PreK-12, higher education, and beyond. Her work is focused at the intersection of research, practice, and policy. She owns and operates her own consulting firm that is currently helping inform PLTW’s current and future teaching and learning experiences. 

PLTW Core Training launched on June 1, enrolling more than 5,000 educators (and still climbing!) who are excited to earn their certification in one of 29 trainings. Designed and developed as an engaging and interactive online learning experience in response to the pandemic, PLTW Core Training also provides educators with a model of how they could teach their own students in a distance learning situation. PLTW Core Training also thrives with an important piece to the quality online learning environment puzzle - teacher presence. 

While teacher presence has been defined in a number of different ways in research and practice, one of my personal favorite definitions goes beyond the idea of teaching as a set of behaviors or standards to follow. Carol Rodgers and Miriam Raider-Roth talk about teacher presence as “a state of alert awareness, receptivity, and connectedness to the mental, emotional, and physical workings of both the individual and the group in the context of their learning environments, and the ability to respond with a considered and compassionate best next step...presence as self‐awareness, presence as connection to students, and presence as connection to subject matter and pedagogical knowledge.” 

No matter the education level – PreK-12, higher education, corporate, etc. – teacher presence, in addition to other educational supports, is so important in any environment but even more so in online and blended learning.

Learners need support. In PLTW Core Training, support is built in. As mentioned in a previous blog post focused on Support Structures Play[ing] a Vital Role in Online Learning – and most important, there is at least one Master Teacher, most of the time there are two. Master Teachers are the icing on the cake for the PLTW Core Training experience. They offer support to educators as they journey through the PLTW curriculum. They provide guidance on best practices in labs and classrooms. They share the triumphs and challenges from their own experiences so that their cohorts of educators can be prepared for what they will encounter with their own students. They serve as subject matter experts on equipment and supplies. And so much more.

During the start of design and development of PLTW Core Training for this summer, PLTW conducted an assessment to understand the network’s needs related to training while shifting to an online learning offering. Overwhelmingly, the main concern was not having access to a Master Teacher to learn from, with examples shown below. 

“What makes PLTW Core Training so valuable is the intense work with experienced Master Teachers and other experienced PLTW teachers.”

“It is hugely valuable to have one of the Master Teachers or a classmate be able to look over my work and help me solve a problem.”

“The content that PLTW provides is great. What sets the training apart is the knowledge of the Master Teachers and how they implement the program.”

Educators know the power of teacher presence in any learning environment, whether online, in-person, or somewhere in between. PLTW Core Training delivers on the need for teacher presence.

As we enter summer, and as our society is slowly opening back up, schools are still unsure of what their reality will be in the fall given potential resurgence of COVID-19. Despite the many unknowns, one constant are those organizations like PLTW that are focused on supporting schools, educators, and their students. PLTW is currently in the process of developing such supports. We know for sure that these supports will include guidance on teacher presence for distance and blended learning.  

PLTW’s blog intends to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.