This book is part of the The Handbook of Resources in Middle Level Education series. Editors Eisenbach and Greathouse bring together 25 authors who write 14 chapters organized into five sections: Overview, Preparation, Community, Strategies, and Diverse Populations. The editors set out to have authors who have middle level backgrounds as professors, clinical professors, doctoral students, non-profit directors, and virtual instructors, many having professional experiences in more than one of these areas, to share their research, resources, tips, strategies, words of guidance, and stories in working with middle level students within the online classroom setting (p. xiii).
The authors provide research and stories. For instance, Rice and Skelcher (Chapter Two) identify four areas promoting middle school level intellectual development: building community, promoting engagement, fostering relationships, and supporting learner agency. Stevens and Rice (Chapter Five) sketch key components for blended learning environments (e.g., working in middle level professional learning communities [PLCs], understanding middle level learners, and activating school-based and district support) and what administrators and teachers can do (e.g., provide planning time, guarantee technological infrastructure, and create spaces for sharing students work). Wendt, Rockinson-Szapkiw, and Harrell (Chapter Six) furnish salient content for virtual classrooms, including creating presence (e.g., welcome messages and instructor modeling and intervention) and asynchronous and synchronous technologies in the virtual classroom. Shockley, Orellana, and Chicas (Chapter Eleven) apply cultural relevant pedagogy to virtual and blended classrooms, examining diverse content where students perspectives, local and global viewpoints, and social justice themes along with counternarratives promote and stimulate communication.
The authors encourage the reader with words of guidance, if not subtle cheerleading. Smith (Chapter Four) challenges the reader: Creating high impact opportunities for virtual educators will require fully rethinking and re-envisioning teaching leadership and professional learning (p. 63). Eisenbach, Greathouse, and Kirk (Chapter Seven) develop the notion of caring, suggesting, Unlike the traditional classroom, in which the teacher has opportunities to see and identify when they met a students need, virtual educators must often look a bit deeper to see if they addressed a students expressed need (p. 133). Duvall and Duvall (Chapter Eight) study mentoring and highlight that Structuring the feedback in the specific way (i.e., acknowledgement, specific strategy, and shared story) builds trust and makes the student realize that the teacher is actually reading his or her response and providing personalized, relatable feedback (p. 142). Bernstein and Mosenson (Chapter Ten) tackle motivation and learning, noting, Teachers can present content through many mediums in a virtual classroom: videos, multimedia, text, and Web 2.0 sites. In deciding which approach to use, it is important to think first about the learning outcomes of the course (p. 172). Navigating such considerations propels potential collegial collaborations.
The authors contribute resources, tips, and strategies. For instance, Gallavan and Maiden (Chapter Twelve) state, Teachers are encouraged to evaluate educational apps for their classroom noting the engagement, appropriateness, design, motivation, and accessibility as developed by Educational Technology and Mobile Learning (2017) (p. 212). Wendt and Beach (Chapter Nine) address resources like Google Docs and describe content area strategies such as mathematics (e.g., BetterExplained) and social studies (e.g., PBS.org, Edutopia.org), among others. Furuness (Chapter Three) writes, Any strategy teachers might use for face-to-face management or engagement likely has a digital substitute. For example, teachers who use small group discussion or literacy circles can implement virtual forums that make sense to the task (p. 52). It would be interesting to document implementing middle school literacy circles in online virtual environments and delineate the interactions, twists, and turns such sense-making tasks entail.
The editors attain their goals and meet their objectives. There are threads of research, resources, tips, strategies, words of guidance, and stories weaved throughout the text. Yet, at times I found myself wondering what about the virtual learning and teaching discussed in the text was specific to Middle Level Education? The issues and concepts raised are ones my colleagues and I deal with at the graduate online level and would likely be found at various levels of educational virtual environs. Community permeated many chapters, including Chapter Fourteen, where Epps identified education team members as administrators, educators, parent/guardians, related service professional, and academic counselors (p. 234). One could further add students, mentors, other community members, etc. It would have been interesting had the editors chosen community as the initial section of their handbook to then promote the meaning-making potential that might occur with the salient elements presented in the other chapters.
Selwyn (2016) calls on the profession to change the conversation about public understanding of technology and education by repositioning all students, educators, and parents as the subjects (rather than the objects) of digital education (p. 156). A challenge remains that all community stakeholders need to be repositioned to, in Selwyns terms, discuss and determine what digital is and what it should be (p. 156). The resources found throughout the text and in the appendix offer a treasure-trove of possibilities. Nonetheless, it takes time to review, implement, and use applications within instructional design and among numerous stakeholders of various professional learning communities. Time is a salient commodity and additional probing of how middle level stakeholders deal with the issues raised in this text would have been beneficial. I will add this text to my compendium on virtual education; mindful of Means, Bakia, and Murphys (2014) contention that There is a huge gap between the kinds of learning environments we have the scientific and technological capabilities to design and what is typically provided in online courses (p. 179). There remains much to do.
Means, B., Bakia, M., & Murphy, R. (2014). Learning online: What research tells us about whether, when,
and how. London, England: Routledge.
Selwyn, N. (2016). Is technology good for education? Cambridge, England: Polity.