COVID-19 Educator Help Desk

Suggested student to teacher ratio in online learning

  • 1.  Suggested student to teacher ratio in online learning

    Posted 04-29-2020 16:17
    Some of our schools have asked for guidance on the best practice for student / teacher ratio in online learning environments.

    Does anyone have access to research that sheds light on the recommended ratio for elementary and secondary?




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    Mark Archon
    Director
    Office of the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools

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  • 2.  RE: Suggested student to teacher ratio in online learning

    Community Champion
    Posted 04-29-2020 20:08
    Great question, Mark - thanks for posting it.

    I'd say the reality is that how many students a teacher learning to do online instruction can handle is a function of (1) how tech-savvy that person was to begin with, (2) how much preparation the school/district was able to give the teacher before schools closed their buildings, (3) how flexible that person is with how students show mastery of what's taught, and (4) whether the teacher is also having to spend time tracking students who have been given every incentive not to do anything.

    On that last front, plenty of districts and schools have set the policy that students' grades at the time of going to shelter-in-place are okay to keep even if no further work is done. I'd argue in a longer discussion why that's not ideal, but I understand the logic. Nevertheless, if in place, it's the dominant incentive for many, many students.

    That said, it would be better to identify students who take that as an option, making them part of a group that the teacher doesn't have to spend extra time tracking down while they try to get other things figured out. Part of the school administrative team would then focus on regular, largely low-level check-ins with those students who opted to keep the grades they had, just to make sure they are okay. Responding to check-ins could be a requirement for keeping those grades.

    Your question was for research that points to a number, but I don't think any research would properly factor in our current circumstances, particularly with regard to how prepared teachers were for what we are now doing.

    I hope that's useful! I'm happy to have a longer conversation.

    In service,
    Rushton

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    Rushton Hurley
    Nonprofit Executive Director
    Next Vista for Learning
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  • 3.  RE: Suggested student to teacher ratio in online learning

    PLN Leader
    Posted 04-29-2020 20:54
    Mark, that's a very real issue for many around the country. I would agree with Mr. Hurley and his comments on the variety of circumstances making it a difficult question to answer. For a university setting, the research points to 15-18 being the top number for an online setting. I'm not aware of research on younger students. But my guess would be lower. I've taught online at the masters level and see a huge difference between a class of 20 and one of 28.

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    Suzanne Becking
    Associate Professor
    Fort Hays State University
    skbecking@mail.fhsu.edu
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  • 4.  RE: Suggested student to teacher ratio in online learning

    Community Champion
    Posted 04-30-2020 06:13
    Great question, Mark!
    We've been thinking a lot about this, too, especially as the fall outlook still remains so uncertain. Just like in our face to face classrooms, students benefit the most from contact time with teachers and smaller classes allow that more easily.

    Looking at some of the models for online schooling, however, the opposite seems to be true. Some full time online instructors have upwards of 300 students that they are responsible for in a given semester. Nearly impossible to provide the kind of support we know is best for kids, especially those who are less independent (either through age or other factors), don't have as much access to technologies, or simply struggle with sitting at a computer and completing work on their own pace without the connections to their peers or teachers.

    Unfortunately, I haven't found a lot of research on this area, and like Rushton mentions, in the midst of a global pandemic, some of those factors don't get considered as much as they could or should. I think it's smart to be thinking about this and what models we could put in place to be fiscally responsible (because that will become more of an issue as states are forced to slash budgets), do what's best for kids, and keep all our educators in a position to teach and support students.


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    Allison Thompson
    Director of Technology
    St. Gerard School
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  • 5.  RE: Suggested student to teacher ratio in online learning

    Posted 04-30-2020 07:10

    Hi Mark,
    Good question. Here are two resources that may help:

    1. There is a study out of Canada by Michael K. Barbour
    2. A webinar from Michigan Virtual entitled, Class Size and Teachers Load: The Effect on Students' Online Learning Outcomes
    ~ Chris

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    Christine Voelker
    K-12 Program Director
    Quality Matters
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  • 6.  RE: Suggested student to teacher ratio in online learning

    Posted 04-30-2020 09:33
    Hi, Mark,

    Good question.

    I did not find any scholarly research or articles that discussed this topic.  I will do my best to simply speak from my personal experiences with distance learning.  First, there are many factors that would play into an appropriate ratio.  For example, if the teacher is simply reading a story to her class than it would stand to reason that the ratio of student to teacher may be greater.  However, if the teacher plans to engage in discussion with her class or do something like a live demonstration, I feel this lessens the ratio.  Another factor to consider would be the grade level and or age of the students.  High schoolers would probably be more likely to have a greater stamina and attention span to tend to and participate in a Google Meet or Zoom like session; whereas, 1st graders may struggle more for an extended period of time.

    My personal opinion (and this would be the same in the classroom) is that if you can make the group size smaller it will be more impactful on the learning outcomes.  Hope this helps.

    Marcy

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    Marcy Brugger
    Dist. Technology Integration Specialist
    Elmwood 322
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  • 7.  RE: Suggested student to teacher ratio in online learning

    Posted 04-30-2020 11:47
    This is totally not researched based, and solely based on my experience. I find that it varies based on grade level and comfort level of the teacher. For our kindergarteners we had them schedule 10 minute 1:1 sessions with the teacher until they were all comfy, and then upgraded to very small groups of 4 and had the students share something. The next time we did half class and asked the students to bring a snack while the teacher read a story. Gradually adding more students until rules were established (ex: mute your microphone, be respectful, raise your hand when you have a question, use the chat, thumbs up if you're ready/understand, etc...). I know it sounds silly, but same applies for all ages, establishing rules is very important to effectively teach!

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    Alana Winnick
    Educational Technology Specialist
    LHRIC/SWBOCES
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  • 8.  RE: Suggested student to teacher ratio in online learning

    PLN Leader
    Posted 05-01-2020 17:40
    Good question with some excellent responses. On average university instructors described their online courses as highly interactive with the actual class size of the online course around 23. Which begs the question, "Is there a relationship between online courses' actual class sizes and their actual level of interaction?" A UMass Amherst study discussed student-to-student interaction but we now have an entirely new set of variables entering the equation. Smaller classes are often perceived as allowing teachers to focus more on the needs of individual students. 



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    David Lockett
    STEM Teacher
    Bok Academy
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