In the 1980s, the educational researcher Benjamin Bloom (yes, the Taxonomy guy) posited teaching’s “2 sigma” problem. His research showed that students who received one-to-one tutoring scored 2 standard deviations (sigmas) higher on tests than students who received no tutoring.
Tutoring, however, was not affordable for most school systems. Thus was born the 2-sigma problem: How could school systems help students attain gains in knowledge (2 or even 1 standard deviation-sigma-improvement) but with less expensive, more scalable, group instruction?
Educational development programs have long struggled with their own variation of the 1 and 2 sigma problems as regards teacher coaching. While research shows that teachers who receive in-person coaching are more effective teachers than those receiving none (Kraft et al., 2018), in-person support is often far too human-resource intensive in many environments to be affordable.
Add to this issues such as a lack of qualified coaches, distance and geography, and in-person coaching becomes neither affordable nor feasible in many environments. And of course, now, amidst a global pandemic, in-person coaching is also impossible.
Technology to the rescue?
Enter technology. To get around our own variation of this sigma problem (with apologies to Bloom), many educational organizations have attempted to use technology as an alternative to in-person coaching.
This post, the third in a series on coaching, examines the most common type of technology-based coaching—virtual coaching—which is defined here as coaching via the Internet or cellular networks using a computer or smart phone.
This post outlines some examples of virtual coaching and, bearing in mind Bloom’s sigma problem, examines whether virtual coaching results in demonstrable gains in teacher performance.
Examples of virtual coaching
If you define coaching broadly, as I do, there’s a constellation of technologies that can be used to provide various types and levels of coaching to teachers—everything from using Google Docs to comment on lesson plans to game-like tools such as Discord to simulate activities. The table below outlines various technologies and the coaching tasks they support.