The Way We Work
August 26, 2013 by Julia Camenisch

Leslie Fetzer's passion for helping students succeed has driven her to innovate on the cutting edge of education: online classrooms. This award-winning teacher rarely enters a traditional classroom; instead, her main office is her computer desk — at her home in Holly Springs, NC.

Much of Fetzer's work is with students struggling with disabilities, and she believes that the freedom and flexibility online education provides helps make a difference in their lives.

"In 2010, I was challenged to help develop online courses for students with significant disabilities," she recalled. "There were many that said, 'They can't learn this content and they certainly can't learn it online.' It has been the most rewarding thing in my career to help students prove these naysayers wrong."

Fetzer has found that online teaching provides a variety of options and resources that aren't typically available in the classroom, which she can use to reach her students. "Teaching online is a great equalizer. I can adapt my instruction for each student so that when one student logs in, they have personalized feedback and content pieces — different than the next student in the class — that is adapted to meet their learning needs."

Fetzer is convinced this type of education model could transform the classroom of the future. And she isn't alone. As the realm of virtual education continues to grow — and with many qualified teachers struggling to find work in the traditional classroom – more and more education professionals are finding new online avenues to harness their love of teaching and reach students around the world.

Tutoring across the miles

Fetzer is convinced this type of education model could transform the classroom of the future. And she isn't alone.Ona Green has been a math tutor since college. Even though she was a music major, she took a math tutoring job on a whim and discovered the joy of sharing her passion for math while helping struggling students unlock "impossible" math concepts. "I got the tutoring bug!" she laughed.

But it wasn't until a chance conversation that Green discovered a new teaching outlet: online tutoring. "A friend told me that she was doing this thing called oDesk. And she made money on it! I looked into it, thinking I might find a job here or there and discovered that there were tutoring jobs."

Since that time, she’s worked with students across the United States and even around the world. "I've worked with students in Kentucky, Florida, Columbia and the United Kingdom." Green's tool of choice is Skype and a virtual whiteboard on which both she and her students can draw.

The most rewarding part of the job is when students finally "get" the math concepts she’s been teaching them. "All of a sudden, they say, ‘This is so easy! How come my teacher didn't teach it like this?'" Green said. "That’s fun to see."

Developing curriculum virtually

As an instructor at Ozark Technical Community College in Missouri, Tiffany Ford discovered that the Internet offered a new outlet for her love of teaching. "As I moved up in my department [at the College], I began to have more responsibility towards the curriculum and what we were teaching. I found that I was really interested in that process. [It] is very intriguing."

When Ford learned about virtual work, she realized that there was a wide market for her course development skills. Using the oDesk platform, she began accepting contract jobs developing courses for both online and offline classes.

She now does a little bit of everything in the process. "Sometimes a client just needs test banks or has lessons with no way to assess them. I have completely developed full course packages for some clients and others have just needed certain pieces to get the whole thing put together."

For other educators who are interested in this type of work, Ford has some advice. "[Put] together a portfolio of some of your previous work so you can show your skills. Also, learn how to use some of the software packages for communication. Many clients want to be able to talk face to face and have collaboration meetings so you need to know how to do that."

Requirements: Love to teach

As Fetzer, Green and Ford have discovered, cloud technology is opening up new job options for educators who want to make a difference — and these virtual teaching jobs are on the rise. Evergreen Education Group projects that the number of students attending school online full time will increase 43 percent by 2015.

Ford summed up the possibilities: "People like myself that are willing to put their skills out there are not going to find a shortage of students to teach or teachers that need services like curriculum development. There is just too much potential for everyone to get involved."

What do you think the future holds for virtual classrooms? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.