Virtual Internships

With the motto "Any time, any path, any place, any pace," Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is a Web-based public school catering primarily to students in middle and high school. Earlier this year it introduced an internship program in which six pre-service students from education programs at the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida worked with six experienced FLVS teachers to learn how to deliver classes online.

"Because it was the first of its kind of program, we didn't have a model to lean on about how it works," says Brian Marchman, instructional leader with FLVS. The interns started by going through the same four-day training orientation that all new hires attend to learn about the proprietary learning management system FLVS uses as well as the school's course design, pedagogy, and culture. From there, the pre-service students had a quick ramp-up, which involved participating in the welcome calls teachers give new students, monthly calls teachers have with parents, and Webinars that are part of the classes. The interns also provided feedback to students under supervision of the in-service teachers.

Along the way, the interns picked up skills unique to online teaching. For example, classroom management isn't about keeping a group of 25 or 30 students focused on the work, explains Marchman. "It's about goal-setting, having a future focus, and then keeping in tune with goals for an entire course, broken into goals from week to week and day to day. Our teachers are very good with helping students become self-disciplined."

Likewise, the in-service teachers were exposed to emerging technologies being used at the universities. "Because of age of the interns, who are closer to our students' ages, there were lots of suggestions and recommendations made by interns about how to reach out to students and engage them in emerging technology," Marchman says. "That was an unintended by-product for the master teachers."

The success of the program has led FLVS to want to expand its internship offering throughout the state university system in Florida and beyond. "While a teacher can now be endorsed to teach English or math, they could also be endorsed for online teaching," says Marchman. "Historically, it has been, 'Hey, it's here! Come and get it!' to we're going to reach out and engage the previously disengaged and view our students as volunteers. They chose to come to us. We have an increased responsibility to be totally engaging with our courses and our teachers."

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About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.