Cyber School Teachers: Establishing Relevance in the Classroom

Posted by PA Distance Learning on 5/24/17 9:43 AM
Christine Trudeau, Secondary Englishpa-cyber-school-blog.jpg

Student interest and engagement remains one of the most difficult tasks for any teacher.  Although teachers in the brick and mortar classroom experience this challenge, they possess the ability to address apathy or inattention with physical proximity and redirection, whereas, the cyber teacher cannot “see” their students’ behavior. 

Though a cyber school teacher can provide verbal redirection like a brick and mortar teacher, he or she cannot ascertain, to the same extent, if the student has reengaged in the lesson.  So what’s the solution? 

Providing students with relevance “can help students develop into engaged, motivated and self-regulated learners” according to Robin Roberson, doctoral candidate, former public school teacher and teaching/research assistant in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Oklahoma. 

While this may seem logical, straightforward and even simplistic, it proves much more formidable than it appears.  In order to foster learning, teachers must find ways to make learning relevant, or risk becoming irrelevant.

Although cyber teachers connect with their students via cyber-space, this does not guarantee a personal connection is being made with them.  However, establishing a feeling of personal connectedness via utility and relatedness can bridge the isolation and disconnectedness an online student might experience. 

To that end, the teacher must relate to his or her students as a human being (read more on this here).  Therefore, take the time to introduce yourself to your students by sharing some personal things, such as:  family members, interests, hobbies and pets.  By doing this, the students will begin to relate to the teacher as a person not just as their authority figure.  In addition, make a concerted effort to meet with students in a face to face hangout.  This interaction promotes a deeper personal connection between the student and the teacher.

Moreover, not only feeling personally connected to the teacher constructs relevance, but also, according to  the article, “Science Shows Making Lessons Relevant to Students Really Matters,” “Students need a personal connection to the material whether that’s through engaging them emotionally or connecting the new information with previously acquired knowledge”  (Bernard). 

Neurologist and former teacher, Judy Wills, states, “It’s necessary for learners to attach a new piece of information to an old one, or it just won’t stick.”  She goes on to say that in order for new information to be retained, the brain must have a network or neural pathway with which to connect or associate this new learning; otherwise, the student will have difficulty with retention due to the lack of scaffolding.  Lastly, studies published in the journals Nature; Science and Mind, Brain and Education give credence to this notion. 

Try these tips in your online classroom in order to make learning relevant:  “use suspense and keep it fresh, make it student directed and connect it to their lives and what they already know” (Willis, Faeth, and Immordino-Yang).  In order to create suspense, use pauses in your speech, use relevant posters or displays; hint at a new learning unit before announcing it to the class. 

In order to make it student centered, provide students with voice and choice.  Enable them to choose or design a lesson on a specific topic.  In order to create connections, provide students with the time to brainstorm with a K-W-L chart as a springboard for new learning. Have the students bridge concepts across subject areas.  Remember, cyber teachers have the power to make learning count!

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Bernard, S. (2010, December 01).  “Science Shows Making Lessons Relevant Really Matters.”
Retrieved May 18, 2017, from
Roberson, R. (2013, September).  “Helping Students Find Relevance.” 
Retrieved May 17, 2017 from


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