September 20th, 2013

What Online Teachers Need to Know

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The majority of us teach the way we were taught growing up (Southern Regional Education Board, 2009). This presents a challenge for online faculty, who most likely received their education in a traditional, brick and mortar school. Online instruction is much different from face-to-face instruction. Over the past nine years, I have discovered four basic elements that contribute to being an effective online teacher.

1. Presence

  • Online instruction might be more convenient, but it takes much more of your time than on ground learning. An online course requires continuous interaction throughout the week.
  • Your presence is not required on a specific day or time but continuously to keep the learner challenged and engaged. The key is to find creative ways to enthuse the student to participate in the learning environment daily.
  • Students are expected to be engaged in the online learning environment but it doesn’t happen automatically. If you want your students to be engaged, you must model the type of behavior you seek.

2. Communication

  • In the online environment, communication is the key. The first thing to understand about communication is that the effect of the communication is not always what is written in black and white. You must read between the lines.
  • Good communication requires attention to detail and a reiteration of what the student has stated or asked. This helps you understand the communication and provides effective communication with the student.
  • Exceptional facilitators are open to many different avenues of communication. This is not limited to email and could include text, Skype, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and telephone contact information.
  • Avenues of communication have no effect if you do not respond. Respond to all communication within a 24-hour period (more quickly if you can).
  • Post your information and office hours in a highly visible place within the Learning Management System (LMS) so students know when and how they can reach you if they need a question answered.
  • Students do not have the benefit of your nonverbal communication. You must consider your words very carefully and think about how the student will perceive the words. Avoid using slang or any comments that might be misconstrued. Use positive words and tone to develop a trusting student/teacher relationship.

3. Discussion

  • Most online platforms have a discussion board. Online facilitators must understand that this is where the heart of the learning happens.
  • Exceptional facilitators must have a frequent and active presence in the discussion. It is recommended that you respond to at least three student responses to the discussion assignment on four different days during the assignment week.
  • When you ask students questions, it is important to validate the student’s answer with a confirmation post. Without doing this, you alienate the student and do not place value on their opinions and responses.
  • You should never reprimand a student in the discussion area. These comments should be expressed with your constructive feedback during grading or through a personal email.
  • Arrive in the discussion each week before the students, interact with the students throughout the week, and provide a discussion wrap-up.


4. Constructive Feedback

  • Grading is another teachable moment. Take the time you need to make constructive feedback to your students. This should include positive as well as negative comments. Sandwich your negative feedback between positive comments for maximum effect!
  • While grading, you should address the student by name when summarizing the overall quality of the assignment. You should also provide a grading rubric with comments with points earned to show the student how you derived their grade.
  • Timeliness of grading is necessary. A reasonable guideline to follow is to grade all assignment no later than five days after the due date.
  • Communicate to students how they will be graded, when they can expect you to return the assignments, and your policy for assignments turned in late.

A final note
Higher education institutions offer many different types of professional development to their online instructors. Webinars, workshops, and formal online courses are a few of the methods used to train and develop online teachers (Kolowich, 2010). One of the most effective types of training I have found is to enroll in an online course yourself. This will give you the opportunity to experience what it feels like to be the learner, and will no doubt reinforce the importance of presence, communication skills, engaged discussion, constructive feedback.

References:
Southern Regional Education Board [PDF file]. (2009, March). Retrieved from http://publications.sreb.org/2009/09T01_Guide_profdev_online_teach.pdf

Kolowich, S. (2010, November 10). Teaching online professors … online. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/11/10/pearson#ixzz2GHTr4Id9

Dr. Patricia Pelletier is the Academic Chair of the Department of Educational Studies at Kaplan University.