March 8th, 2012

Personality Matters When Teaching Online

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Online instructors are hired because they are judged as having the right combination of education, teaching experience, content expertise, and professional accomplishments. But once an instructor is in the classroom, these abilities and achievements can go only so far. There also must be a constant injection of personality.

The following are suggestions for conveying a positive, supportive, and enthusiastic personality.

Establish a friendly and inviting personality on day one of class. You have only one chance to make a first impression, and in the online classroom this is especially true—and important—as your personality on day one can be examined, experienced, and revisited throughout the course. Thus, any postings on day one that speak of you must convey that you care about the class, the students, and the subject, and that you are looking forward to the course and are eager to help your students.

Never confuse personality with teaching strategy. One can have the right—the best—teaching strategies ever created, yet a bland or dull online personality can make those teaching strategies nothing more than two-dimensional. Once those strategies are sprinkled with heavy doses of an upbeat and just downright nice personality, they truly come alive—and the students will react in a more engaged manner.

Sometimes you may need be an actor who wears the right personality.
Your everyday, “Hey, this is me” personality might not be the one that is right for online teaching, and that’s fine…as long as you can play the role of an online instructor with a great, enthusiastic personality for your students (as well as your online supervisors, support team, and colleagues). Students take their lead from you—the way you come across to them will determine just how engaged and motivated they remain throughout the course.

Use your interest in the subject to help build your online teaching personality. You were selected to teach your subject partially because of your academic and/or professional expertise and interest in the subject, so share it with your students. Beyond what has been prestocked in your course, you can add articles, pictures, essays, cartoons, interviews, YouTube (and the like) snippets, and factoids that add richness and depth to your subject. The students will immediately know you really are “into” the subject, and your excitement and enthusiasm for the subject will spill over to your students.

Control knee-jerk reactions. Students can write or do things that get us upset. And we can make egregious errors in our hasty reactions to these student mistakes and oversights that may not only cost us our students’ respect and rapport, but possibly our jobs as well. So hold back—take some time before you respond, and if you don’t have the time—such as in a live chat, a phone call, or a videoconference—always remember that your actions and reactions are not merely yours but also the school’s, and because you are the instructor you are always held to a higher standard than your students are.

Be careful of your vocabulary choice. Each of us has words we use on a regular basis; they are part of who and what we are, and they often simply pour out. But our online courses demand that we pay special attention to the words we write, the context of those words, and the perception of the message we are trying to get across. Once posted, our words will live on throughout the course, and thus we must focus on the vocabulary we choose.

Help your personality come alive with audio and/or audiovisual. Today’s technology allows us to get closer to our students—and lets our personalities really shine through. Skype, MP3, Twitter, Facebook, Jing, Adobe Connect, Prezi, Wimba, and other tools can take us to our students in an audio and/or visual way and thus allows students to see and hear an instructor who is excited, enthusiastic, caring, and dedicated to his or her students, the subject, and the course.

Errol Craig Sull has been teaching online courses for 17 years and has a national reputation in the subject, writing and conducting workshops on distance learning. He is currently putting the finishing touches on two online teaching books.

Excerpted from Teaching Online with Errol: Personality DOES Matter in Teaching Online! Online Classroom (Oct. 2010): 6,7.