“Everybody is their own island”: Teacher disconnection in a virtual school


  • Abigail Hawkins Brigham Young University
  • Michael K Barbour Wayne State University
  • Charles R Graham Brigham Young University




virtual schooling, K-12 online learning, online teaching, teacher-student interaction, disconnection


Virtual schooling is a recent phenomenon in K-12 online learning. As such, the roles of the online teachers are emerging and differ from those of the traditional classroom teacher. Using qualitative interviews of eight virtual high school teachers, this study explored teachers’ perceptions of their online teaching role. Teachers expressed a sense of disconnection from their students, the profession, and their peers as a result of limited interactions due to significant institutional barriers. Researchers discuss the implications of this disconnection as well as future avenues for research.

Author Biographies

Abigail Hawkins, Brigham Young University

Abigail Hawkins is a Senior Manager, Instructional Design with Investools from TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. She designs and develops investor education for face-to-face, virtual, and hybrid learning experiences. Prior to that, she was a senior instructional designer with Adobe Systems Inc. Her research interests include K-12 online learning, blended learning, learning analytics. In 2011, she completed her Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology from Brigham Young University (Dissertation title: “We’re Definitely on our Own”: Interaction and Disconnection in a Virtual High School). Prior to that, she earned her Master’s in the same field from Indiana University. Abigail has authored several articles and book chapters on the subject of K-12 online learning.

Michael K Barbour, Wayne State University

Michael Barbour is an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where he teaches Instructional Technology and Education Evaluation & Research. He completed his Ph.D. in Instructional Technology from the University of Georgia. Originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, Michael’s interest in distance education for rural students began after accepting his first high school teaching position in a regional high school in a rural community of approximately 3,500 people. Having been educated in an urban area, Michael was troubled by the inequity of opportunity provided to his rural students and began a program to offer university-level social studies courses over the Internet to students at his own school and other schools in the district. Michael has since worked with numerous K-12 online learning programs in Canada, the United States, and worldwide, as an online teacher, course developer, administrator, evaluator, and researcher.  His current research interests focus on the effective design, delivery, and support of online learning to K-12 students in virtual school environments, particularly those in rural jurisdictions. Michael currently resides in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Charles R Graham, Brigham Young University

Charles R. Graham is an Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University, with interest in technology-mediated teaching and learning.  Charles studies the design and evaluation of blended learning environments and the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning. Charles has authored articles in over two dozen journals. He has also published work related to online and blended learning environments in edited books, including Online Collaborative Learning: Theory and Practice, Blended Learning: Research Perspectives, The Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, and the AECT Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. Charles also co-edited the Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs which contains thirty-nine chapters with examples of blended learning in higher education, corporate, and military contexts from around the world.  His research publications can be found online at: http://www.mendeley.com/profiles/charles-r-graham/



How to Cite

Hawkins, A., Barbour, M. K., & Graham, C. R. (2012). “Everybody is their own island”: Teacher disconnection in a virtual school. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(2), 124–144. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v13i2.967



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