The Virtual Student: A Profile and Guide to Working with Online Learners

The Virtual Student: A Profile and Guide to Working with Online Learners.  (2003).  Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass, 2003.  178 pages.  Reviewed by Kathleen D. Carroll, M.Ed.

The Virtual Student is an essential resource for online educators working with students in higher education and training settings. The authors offer an overview of the key issues of student online learning and provide a practical guide to working with online students. The book covers a broad range of topics including learning styles, multicultural issues, evaluation, retention, and the challenging problems of plagiarism and cheating.

The book is divided into three sections: a profile of the virtual student, tips to working with the virtual student, and resources for both faculty and students.  In the preface, Palloff & Pratt (2003) state, “although we talk about the learner as the focus of the process, we too have focused on the instructor.  The learner has somehow been left out of the equation” (p. xiii-xiv).  They explain the purpose of The Virtual Student as an effort to focus on the online learner and how educators can best understand their needs and work with these students.

Part one of the book profiles the virtual student, discussing who the virtual student is; the student side of online learning communities; learning styles; gender, culture, lifestyle, and geography; and what the virtual student needs.

Part two of the book provides a guide to working with the virtual student: the inherent issues, concerns, and strategies.  Sub topics include designing good student orientations; time and commitment; assessment and evaluation; legal issues; attrition, retention, and group size; and student-centered learning or best practices for online teaching.

Finally, the book includes a “toolkit” for a successful online student.  Palloff and Pratt (2003) highlight both faculty tools and student tools.  For example, in the faculty tools section, the authors provide sample course guidelines; whereas, in the student tools section, they list self-assessment questions.

Primarily, The Virtual Student is an excellent guide to use or book to assign for School for Family and MWR new instructors in training for the blended, online, or virtual teaching.  The text provides valuable, concrete resources and examples for faculty.  Palloff and Pratt (2003) discuss in length important components to included such as:  syllabi and course evaluations.  The authors provided examples of course guidelines, expectation letters, and grading rubrics than any online instructor could utilize.  This book would also be useful for administrators training to supervise online instructors.

Secondarily, this book could be helpful to individuals considering enrolling in online coursework.  The student toolkit provides self-assessments and checklists for online learners to evaluate their readiness for online learning, time management, and communication skills. This content can be shared by administrators or instructors to help students maximize their success. The Virtual Student is well-organized, thorough yet concise, and relevant in content and scope especially for the MG Robert M. Joyce School for Family and MWR Virtual Classroom courses.

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