Teachers who are passionate enough to set up a school online, or course offering, certainly deserve applause! It’s such a challenging task and it shows that you are in it for the long haul! (But if you haven’t considered the long haul, it’s probably better to get out now…) Unfortunately, having the will to set up an online school is not going to get it up on its feet as quickly as you imagine. Let’s start by considering a few types of virtual school options. Then, choose the one that suits your needs for both ease of operation and professionalism.
Experience vs. Needs
Are you computer illiterate? Are you an avid blogger? Do you already operate a website hosted on blogging software like Wordpress (which is what my Online Academy is based on)? Or are you a code-ninja and could build another facebook with your free time? Everyone falls within these categories and could equally follow the advice offered in this article. Not only is your programming background important to consider, but also your needs. Even if you were a keyboard-cowboy, do you really need the most wiz-bang virtual school out there? Maybe a blog on Weebly would do just fine for you!
We’ll start with the different types of virtual school environments and then put an experience level next to each one; levels 0-10.
Levels 0-1 probably call themselves ‘computer illiterate’. No blogging experience. They got on facebook sometime in 2010…
Levels 2-3 are familiar with basic tools for expressing themselves on social networks, personal sites, and shopping sites. Most likely, they are bloggers who may post regularly on a blog that is hosted in places like Blogger, Typepad, or Wordpress… (http://kittenblog.wordpress.com) and probably know what “plugins” and “widgets” are.
Levels 4-6 are bloggers or publishers who host a blog on their own rented server… (http://kittenblog.com) May have familiarity with tools such as Dreamweaver, Frontpage, or other webpage building software.
Levels 7-8 are literate with HTML, PHP, and/or other coding languages that open-source blogging software are often built with. They can find what they need if they don’t know how to code it. They have the prerequisites of Levels 2-6.
Levels 9-10 are code-ninjas, which probably don’t need to read this article for it’s technical suggestions; however, implementation is a dish best served… prepared!
Before visiting my suggestions below, and making a decision on which ones to use, it’s a good idea to keep in mind your needs. So, if you have the luxury, talk to your in-person students first! Are your students expecting a hot-flashy site? Would they be happy with a simple, free blog not hosted by yourself? Would they prefer to see you validated as part of a community of teachers? Do you want to serve professionals and therefore, require a more powerful system? Do you want to accept payments on your site or simply wisk them off to paypal with an email or button? Do you want to create memberships? … the list of considerations goes on and on, so consider them before reading anymore… it’s ok., we’ll wait.
Modern Tools to Build a School or Course
Welcome back! The modern Internet, as of 2011, boasts a incrementally vast swath of new tools that often start as “forever free”. The trick is to find solid tools that don’t sell off and completely lose their “forever free” status. (Dimdim!… grrrr) So, take a look at the following list (with levels of computing ability), to decide which could be the right solution to meet your needs!
NOTE: If I wouldn’t use it, it’s not listed here.
Blogging platforms (Going the Basic Blog Route):
Wordpress.com (Level 2-3) is king of the blogs simply because of Wordpress.org (Level 4, see “CMS” below). Your standard blog in a box, with lots of optional plugins to create as simple or complex a blog as you like!
Weebly.com (Level 2-3) became popular in recent years and continues to increase functionality by partnering with other apps for things like forms, calendars, maps, social media, polls, e-commerce, etc. The list goes on! Highly suggested for keeping life simple and fun. UPDATE: ‘Weebly for education‘ has been released, although I haven’t tested it yet. I’m sure it has the same functions.
Edublogs.org (Level 1-2) surfaced in 2008 and seems to have a great following of public school teachers. In most cases teachers will use their edublog to supplement their in-person courses. The community is full of teachers of all subjects. It doesn’t extend as well as Wordpress or Weebly, but could be perfect for newbies.
Content Management Systems CMS (Want Something Bigger?):
Joomla.org (Level 4-6) is another common platform upon which your imagination is the limit. Highly functional with many quality themes for all purposes, both casual and professional. Very popular among pro-bloggers.
Social Networking platforms:
Edmodo (Level 1-2) was born in the middle of Web 2.0, meaning it’s full of social stuff! Many teachers who use Edublogs probably also consider using this. It can serve as a CMS for your lessons, grades, library, etc. There is little control over the design, but you’ll have a functioning social network for your lessons. If you want more control, implement BuddyPress (Level 5 – see above) on top of Wordpress.
Facebook Groups (Level 2-4): Log into your facebook and setup a group for your lessons! It is easy to start, but adding functions and apps can be a little frustrating. (Facebook programmers must have come from Microsoft) This is a good place to locate yourself if you plan on advertising in Facebook, so that’s why I’ve suggested it. Otherwise, most updated social networking platforms are fine.
Competitive Educational Marketplaces:
I have personally setup accounts in all three of the following venues, so I make the following suggestions based on my experience only:
Although these seem to be good places to offer courses to students who are willing participants, you will find yourself on your knees sooner or later. A couple teachers are successful, but most do not succeed in these pools of mediocrity. When anyone can join as a teacher, the quality of education suffers and the price becomes dirt cheap over night. If posting your lessons in a marketplace still interests you, here are a few relatively popular ones to date. Buddyschool (Level 1-2) Edufire (Level 2-3) and WizIQ (Level 2-3)
Advertising in these marketplaces may be tempting, but you’ll probably find that it only benefits a few people at the top… Perhaps the best idea is to use a blog or website to offering your course, then spread the word by yourself and through your networks. You can even tell students that you teach in-person! See part 2 of this article for tips on spreading the word about your new course or school.
After deciding how and where to set up your school, how exactly do you get students?
How will you gain their trust?
What can you do to transform potential students into paying customers. (I know I said it, ‘paying customers’ but it’s true.) Not only does a school need income to run smoothly, but the psychology of paying for education is a vital motivating factor for all learners.
Continue to Part 2 to find out how…