Book – Online Teaching in K-12 (May 2016)

Online Teaching in K-12

Models, Methods, and Best Practices for Teachers and Administrators

Edited by Sarah Bryans-Bongey and Kevin J. Graziano
Foreword by Norman Vaughan

“Offers strong guidance for leaders and educators shaping the future of K–12 online education by providing practical, research-based approaches for high-quality, effective online instruction.”

—Susan Patrick, president & CEO, iNACOL

Online Teaching in K–12is the essential hands-on reference and textbook for education professionals seeking success in the planning, design, and teaching of K–12 online courses and programs. This skillfully edited book brings together more than two dozen experts and practitioners to present an array of innovative models and methods, successful programs and practices, useful tools and resources, and need-to-know information on diverse aspects of online teaching and learning.

Organized in three parts—Foundations, Supporting Diverse Learners, and Implementation Strategies—Online Teaching in K–12will be welcomed for its clear and timely coverage geared to supporting teachers, administrators, professional trainers, colleges, and schools in their quest for excellence in online primary education.

“A timely and thorough compendium focusing on theoretical frameworks, student diversity, and strategies for teaching and learning implementation in the K–12 space … a must read for educators who are using online components in the classroom or wondering where to start.”

—Melissa Layne, editor-in-chief,
Internet Learning, American
Public University System

Contributors to this book include the editors, as well as:

  • Kat D. Alves
  • James D. Basham
  • Richard Allen Carter, Jr.
  • Diane Carver
  • Lesley Casarez
  • Elizabeth Dalton
  • Lori Feher
  • Xavier Gomez
  • Kendra Grant
  • Michael J. Kennedy
  • Jacqueline Knight
  • Michael Kosloski
  • Kim Livengood
  • Andrew Miller
  • Rolin Moe
  • Steven C. Moskowitz
  • Luis Pérez
  • Linda Polin
  • Mary Frances Rice
  • Wendy J. Rodgers
  • John Elwood Romig
  • Christopher Rozitis
  • Gregory Shepherd
  • Chery Takkunen-Lucarelli
  • Dianne L. Tetreault
  • Norman Vaughan
  • Heidi Weber

Read more:

The following is an excerpt of the chapter I wrote for this book:

Two Teacher’s Tech Tales: Online Content


Teachers can easily and successfully create online content for students at all grade levels. Content that both supports curriculum goals and develops technological skills and understanding at the same time. In this chapter, elementary teacher Heidi Weber examines ways virtual classroom environments and digital discussions can be used with students. Ways to link content online for easy student access are also considered. High school science and computer teacher Christopher Rozitis describes how to successfully build content for online teaching.



As educators, we are preparing students for futures we haven’t even imagined yet. Technology permeates every aspect of our lives so it is essential that we expose and train our children to be as competent with technology as we can. In Curriculum Based Technology Reframed, Judith Harris, Punya Mishra, and Matthew Koehler (2009) write “the flexible use of tools becomes particularly important because most popular software programs are not designed for educational purposes…effective teaching requires developing an understanding of the manner in which subject matter—specifically, the types of content-based representations that can be constructed within and across disciplines—can be changed by the use of different technologies. Teachers must understand which technologies are best suited for addressing which types of subject-matter, and how content dictates or shapes specific educational technological uses, and vice versa.” (399-400) Technology is a tool that enables us to be more efficient and productive in our lives. Embracing technology as a tool for learning is therefore critical; the more we know, the more we impart on our students. Teachers can easily and successfully create online content for students at all grade levels. Content that both supports curriculum goals and develops technological skills and understanding at the same time. In this chapter, elementary teacher Heidi Weber shares how teachers can create and utilize content for younger learners and Christopher Rozitis, high school science and computer teacher, explains how to successfully build content for online teaching.

High School – Ten Years of Experience

by Christopher Rozitis


I began online teaching ten years ago, after ten years of teaching in the classroom. It was an exciting time for me to be on the cutting edge of online learning, even though students in British Columbia and other parts of the world had been completing K-12 courses via correspondence for over 100 years. I started with two online classes. One had only PDF files, while the other had poorly formatted HTML files with inadequately made graphics and no videos. Neither one of these classes motivated or engaged the learners, thus completion rates were generally low. In what follows, I will share with you the tools I have used to transform my online classes into an engaging space for learners, where completion rates are much higher.

Course Tour Video

The first thing that I offer in my classes is a course tour video (CTV), which has reduced dramatically the number of questions from learners about the course structure. The CTV should give an idea of how the course will be run and where to find course materials. It is helpful to create a checklist of things you wish to cover in the CTV, including, where content and quizzes can be found, how to complete the assignments, how to complete a discussion, how to sign up for exams, and how grades are calculated. Including information about yourself as the instructor for the course will help to personalize the CTV and humanize the learner’s experience. The length of the CTV should be no more than ten to fifteen minutes. Having a timeline of topics covered in the CTV will be helpful when a learner asks a question regarding the course, allowing you to reply, for example, “your question will be addressed at time 2:20 of the course tour video.”

Using screen-capturing software is an efficient way to create a CTV for online courses. Screen-capturing software allows you to record screen activity into a movie format. There are a number of different screen capture video programs available, many of which are free to try before purchasing (e.g., QuickTime, screenr, jing, Snagit, or screencastify). Once you have made your screen capture video, you can then import it into a program, such as Camtasia, that will allow you to add annotations, transitions, animations, media and special effects.

To ensure learners watch the CTV, some instructors have opted to include a mandatory online quiz following the CTV. To be able to view the rest of the course, for example, students must receive 100% on the quiz. Questions on the quiz should reflect information that has been covered in the CTV, such as course structure, where to find assignments, and how to contact the instructor.

Learning Objectives and Assessment

Though it may seem obvious, prior to creating course structure, content, or assessments, one must consider the learning objectives for the course. The learning objectives will not only help you streamline your course content and assessment, it will tell learners what they will be able to do by the end of each lesson. They should be written in a format that is observable and measurable. In order for your assessment to align with your assignments, Dougherty (2012) suggests you should strive to do the following with your learning objectives:

  • Teach literacy skills in all content areas.
  • Teach students to comprehend and critique a variety of texts and ideas.
  • Write prompts that ask students to write or orally explain in response to reading.
  • Include speaking and listening as a means of comprehending and communicating.
  • Expect that students will use and write language to communicate appropriately for an audience and a purpose.
  • Require evidence from texts and credible sources.
  • Create opportunities for students to use and manage technology to learn and produce their own products.
  • Write instructional plans that document and plot the teaching that transforms an assignment into learning. (13)

Mapping Course Content

Using a course map or table can facilitate your organization of learning objectives, assessments, and content or learning activities (Pollock  2013). This table would have 4 columns: the first column for the module or unit number; the second column for the learning outcomes; the third for assessments; and the fourth for the course content or learning activities.

Discussions or Forums

Discussions or forums contribute significantly in an online class. Within an online class there are three types of interactions: student-student, student-teacher, and student-content (Moore 1989). Discussions and forums can be used for these three types of interactions, enabling enrichment and a place for learners to increase their knowledge, as well as preparing learners for the encounters of online learning and creating opportunities for student collaboration. The following are some suggestions I found useful when setting up discussions:

  • Remind learners that forums are a cooperative group effort and an essential part of the class.
  • The subject line in a discussion is important. Ask the learner to put something that is appropriate and catchy. This will attract other learners to read the post.
  • Restrict the learners from viewing other learners’ posting until they post their own.

Conrad and Donaldon (2012) have developed a Phases of Engagement model that provides instructors with a strategy for increasing collaborative engagement. The following are examples from each of the phases.

Phase 1. Connection – This activity should be fun and non-threatening. An example would be a social icebreaker. The icebreaker should require creativity and foster openness. Here is an example of a Phase 1 activity:

Introduce Yourself

One of the most important aspects of an online course is the interaction between learners. Online discussion provides a great opportunity for you and your fellow learners to get to know each other. Ask learners to write and post their self-introduction, including their educational and science background, as relating to the topics of the course. Also, have them include a response to ALL of the following:

  • Draft one or two specific goals you want to accomplish by the end of the course.
  • Consider and describe how this course can contribute to your career goals.
  • Discuss your excitement, challenges, or apprehensions as you begin this course.

Ask the learners to respond to at least two other postings with thoughtful, insightful, and helpful responses.

Phase 2. Communicate – Learners are put into pairs to facilitate a structured interaction that requires critical thinking, reflection, and sharing of ideas. Here is an example of a Phase 2 activity:

News of the Week

Learners work with a partner to acquire a course-related news item. You should have different pairs post a news item each week. Do not allow the same news items to occur more than once. This will ensure that students read previous news items. This partner activity contributes to the overall course environment by getting new ideas flowing among learners (Conrad and Donaldson 2004).

Phase 3. Collaborate – The instructor creates small groups by combining pairs from the previous activity. An example would be a progressive project, where other learners critique their partner’s work. Here is an example of a Phase 3 activity:

Progressive Project

Each learner is given a different topic. Learners post their projects in the discussion area. Other members of the group would provide a critique. The critiques should include: (1) I like the fact…(a compliment); (2) I wonder if…(a constructive criticism); (3) A good next step might be… (take the project to the next step). The learner then uses the critiques to make changes to the project prior to submitting the project for marking by the instructor. Conrad and Donaldson (2004) note that this activity works well in an asynchronous online environment.

Phase 4. Co-Facilitate – These group projects transfer learners to the responsibility of enabling their own learning. The activities are learner designed and led. An example would be student-driven generated course content. Here is an example of a Phase 4 activity:

Course Vocabulary Bank

The objective of this activity is to summarize the course content terms while encouraging learners to use their thinking, interpretation and creativity. Learners sign up for terms they wish to develop. The definitions should include text, images, and video. Posting the definitions in the discussion/forum area will allow for critique from other learners. Conrad and Donaldson (2012) indicate that these types of activities strengthen the understanding of the course concepts. Learners are giving back to the course and not just receiving.

The above examples are just a few that can be incorporated into your online classroom. I find most of the learning in my classes occurs within the discussions. Williams and Lahman (2011) have shown that online discussions foster active learning behaviors and increase learner outcomes. Another tool that increases learner outcomes is multimedia. This following section considers what you should and not include in each piece of multimedia.

Multimedia In Your Classes

Images, animations, video and audio are important components within an online classroom. These multimedia items can be found in the content, quizzes and forums. Richard Mayer’s (2009) book, Multimedia Learning, outlines 12 principles for creating multimedia that improves learning. The first five deal with reducing the amount of irrelevant processing in multimedia learning.

  1. Coherence Principle: Learning is improved when irrelevant or unneeded words, pictures, sounds, music, and symbols are excluded from a multimedia presentation.
  2. Signaling Principle: Learning is improved “when cues that highlight the organization of the essential material is added” (108). For example, during the CTV a list of topics that will be discussed are presented at the beginning of the movie.
  3. Redundancy Principle: Learning is improved more “from graphics and narration than from graphics, narration, and printed text” (118). See the section on Students Creating Learning Objects for an example of my process, in, which my students are taking graphics and making them into movies with narration.
  4. Spatial Contiguity Principle: Learning is improved when matching words and pictures are presented near to each other. For example, when creating closed captioning for movies it is better to have the closed captioning on the movie rather than on separate text file.
  5. Temporal Contiguity Principle: Learning is improved “when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously” (153). When I first started teaching online physics, ten years ago, the online course had images with separate audio files. Now these same pictures have been changed to animations with the audio presented simultaneously.

The next three principles are for managing critical processing in multimedia learning.

  1. Segmenting Principle: Learning is improved “when multimedia is presented in user-paced segments” (175). If you are creating complex content such as fractions, then learning is improved when there are multiple animations versus one large animation. For example, separate animations would be made for addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication.
  2. Pre-training Principle: Learning is improved when the names and characteristics of the main concepts are previously known. For example, knowing the names and functions of each part of the heart would precede a lesson on how the heart plays an important function in the circulatory system.
  3. Modality Principle: Learning is improved when a picture has spoken words. Going back to my first physics class, many of the images included text to explain the concept; however, changing the image to an animation with narration improves learning.

The next four principles foster generative processing in multimedia learning. Mayer (2009) defines generative processing as “cognitive processing aimed at making sense of the material and includes organizing the incoming material into coherent structures and integrating these structures with each other and with prior knowledge” (221).

  1. Multimedia Principle: Learning is improved when pictures are added to words. For example, when a student is struggling with finding something in the online course, I will create a screen capture image and add captions (text) with the proper steps to finding the content.
  2. Personalization Principle: Learning is improved when multimedia includes conversational words. For example, when explaining the circulatory system, use words such as ‘your’ heart, instead of ‘the’ heart.
  3. Voice Principle: Learning is improved when narration is provided by a human voice. Some people do not like the sound of their voice when they hear a recording of it, therefore decide to use the computer- or machine-generated voice. However, if others are going to use the multimedia with narration, then it should have a human voice.
  4. Image Principles: Learning is not necessarily improved with the instructor’s image on the screen.

Course Automation

Online high school teachers prefer to automate when they can. This will allow more time for student-teacher interaction. The following are some of the items that I automate in my course.

  • A welcoming email, explaining the course and an introduction to myself.
  • Quizzes that are self-marked.
  • Reminding students they have not logged into the course in the last two weeks.
  • When an assignment is submitted, I let them know that it will be marked within the next couple of days. I also let them know what to do next.
  • Learners must get 80% on an online quiz before the next one is made available.
  • Learners cannot submit an assignment until I mark the previous one. This stops students from submitting the whole course at once and making the same mistakes over and over.

The next section looks at a project that I have been perfecting over the last seven years. The project has students participate in creating learning objects that are then embedded into the course.

Students Creating Learning Objects

When you are hired to teach an online course, it is likely that you will be given a course with existing content, which may or may not be up to date. Some schools have instructional designers and others do not. The school that I am working at does not have instructional designers, so I built an assignment where students can help create the learning objects (LO). Churchill (2007) describes a LO as being (1) an instruction or presentation object (2) a practice object (3) a conceptual model (4) anything digital or nondigital. Students can help redo images, change images to movies, add to the course glossary and even help create practice questions. The following are the steps I follow when students are creating learning objects that are going to be used in a course:

  1. The teacher decides which LOs need to be created and makes a list. Also, the teacher should provide their expectations for the LO.
  2. The teacher provides a different LO for each learner to create. I suggest giving the LO to the learner after they have completed approximately half of course. I find that students at the halfway point of the course will complete the whole course and therefore you will not have to continually edit your list of LO.
  3. Learners create and then submit the LO into the course Discussion/Forum area of the course. I suggest that learners give feedback to at least two other classmates. I ask learners to use the following format for feedback:
  • “I like the fact that…” (Complement).
  • “I wonder if…” (Constructive criticism).
  • “A good next step might be…” (Go big).
  1. Based on feedback, learners revise their LO.
  2. Depending on the LO, I will then ask the learners to present their project live via a web conferencing tool.
  3. Learners revise their LO for a third time and submit their work for marking.
  4. Teachers put the LO into the course for other learners to use.

I have found that students take great pride in their work, especially when others are going to view it. Mochon and Norton (2012) attribute this to the Ikea effect. The Ikea effect has learners attribute more value to a LO they have created.


Exams and quizzes are methods through which to determine the proficiency of the learner. Exams can be written face-to-face (F2F) or online. I have my students in my academic courses complete both F2F and online quizzes. My non-academic classes are project based and do not have any F2F exams, however they do have online quizzes. Having online auto-graded quizzes provides immediate feedback to the learner and subsequent understanding of information. The online quiz should include questions on the lower end of Bloom’s taxonomy (knowledge and comprehension), allow the learners to write the quiz as many times as they wish, and give the maximum amount of time the learning management system will allow. To help the learner, feedback should be provided for every quiz question. F2F exam questions should include more questions that are at the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy (evaluation, syntheses and analysis). I suggest that the questions on F2F exams should be in similar format to the assignments that are submitted for marking.

Moving the midterm earlier in the course helps with learners completing online courses. Engle, Mankoff and Carbrey (2015) found that learners were more successful at completing an online course if they had completed the midterm exam. I have found that moving the midterm one unit earlier has increased completion rates in my online high school science classes.

What’s Next…

When I first started teaching 20 years ago I was making webpages with HTML coding, then came along programs such as Dreamweaver that would allow users to create web pages without coding. When I first began teaching online, the courses were strictly PDF files. I added interactivity with the use of the learning management systems (LMS) tools and HTML coding. In the last few years, I have been using Articulate Storyline to take my courses to the next level. Storyline (as well as Captivate and Tumult Hype) allows you to build engaging interactive content that has layers, triggers and states. Using these types of products allows the content to be personalized and dynamic. The learners can click, hover over or drag objects. Currently, within the LMS, the instructor is able to determine if the learner has finished, pass/failed, scored and how much time they have spent on an activity. The next step, is to allow learners to expand from the LMS, demonstrating that they are able to reach the course learning objectives. Tin Can application programming interface (API) is the modernization of SCORM. Tin Can API allows the new tools to communicate and work together. Tin Can is able to capture data outside the LMS about what the learners are doing and bring it back to the LMS for the instructor to see.


Distance education uses the Internet as a predominant tool to share knowledge. Online K-12 courses have been available in the USA since 1990 (Barbour 2010) and in Canada since 1994 (Barker, Wendel and Richmond 1999). A key role of the online educator is to edit and create content, assignments, and learning objects. To ensure instruction is efficiently delivered and targeted to online learners (Morrison, Ross, Kalman and Kemp 2011), online educators must be flexible, dynamic, and organic (Irlbeck, Jones, and Sims 2006) in both their design and delivery of course materials. This chapter described strategies from two online educators, experienced in creating effective content for the online K-12 environment. As we saw, creating content for learners can be as simple as uploading or typing in material already being used in regular face-to-face classrooms. For young learners online content doubles as a training ground for even the most basic skills such as logging in, using passwords and keyboarding practice. Teacher-created content at the elementary level also allows teachers to introduce students to digital citizenship, setting a foundation for life. At the high school level, creating effective content and assessments depends on having a clear set of learning objectives, and a clear sense of how the online learning environment affects student learning. If you add a drop of water to a cup of tea — does it make a difference? It does. This concept transfers to creating online content. Every little piece of content counts, whether it be useful or distracting.



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Barker, Kathryn, Wendel, Terrence and Richmond, Murray. . Linking the literature: School effectiveness and virtual schools. (1999). Retrieved from

Churchill, Daniel. Towards a useful classification of learning objects. Educational Technology, Research and Development. 55.5 (2007): 479-598.

Conrad, Rita-Marie and Donaldson, J. Ana. Continuing to engage the online learner: More activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2012.

Conrad, Rita-Marie and Donaldson, J. Ana. Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012.

Dougherty, Eleanor. Assignments matter: Making the connections that help students meet standards. Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2012.

Engle, Deborah, Mankoff, Chris, and Carbrey, Jennifer. Coursera’s introductory human physiology course: Factors that characterize successful completion of a MOOC. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 16.2 (2015): Retrieved from

Harris, Judith, Punya Mishra, and Matthew Koehler. Teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge and learning activity types: Curriculum-based technology integration reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 41, no. 4 (2009): 393-416.

Irlbeck, Sonja, Kays, Elena, Jones, Deborah, and Rod Sims. The Phoenix rising: Emergent models of instructional design. Distance Education, 27(2), (2006) 171-185. doi:10.1080/01587910600789514

Mayer, Richard.  Multimedia learning (2nd ed.). New York. NY: Cambridge University Press.

Mochon, Daniel, and Norton, Michael I. The IKEA effect: when labor leads to love. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22.3 (2012): 453-460. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2011.08.002

Moore, Michael. (1989). Three types of interaction. American Journal of Distance Education, 3.2 (1989): 1-7. doi:10.1080/08923648909526659

Morrison, Gary, Ross, Steven, Kalman, Howard and Jerrold Kemp. Designing effective instruction (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

Pollock, David. Designing and Teaching Online Courses
QEP/Docs/DesigningandTeachingOnlineCourses.pdf, 2013.

Williams, L., and Lahman, M. (2011). Online Discussion, Student Engagement, and Critical Thinking. Journal Of Political Science Education, 7.2 (2011): 143-162. doi:10.1080/15512169.2011.564919

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