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.
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Developing an online course based on an existing face-to-face course requires more than learning how to use the technology and loading the material into the learning management system because, as Catherine Nameth, education outreach coordinator at the University of California-Los Angeles, says, “not everything will transfer directly from the face-to-face environment to the online environment.” This transition requires the instructor to rethink and reconfigure the material and anticipate students’ needs.
The beginning of an online course is a critical time in which the instructor establishes expectations, sets the tone, and helps students navigate the course. Here are some points to consider for the time leading up to and including that first week:
Years ago at a faculty meeting Larry Ragan, PhD, director of Faculty Development for Penn State’s World Campus, was trying to soft-sell the idea of performance expectations for online faculty. He didn’t want the discussion to be misinterpreted as an indictment against their teaching style, but he also saw an opportunity to share proven practices for improving the online teaching and learning experience. Finally a senior faculty member grew tired of the tip-toeing around the subject and said, “If you don’t tell us what is expected, how will we know what to do to succeed?”
In a follow-up to the online seminar “Creatively Engaging Online Students: Models and Activities,” Curt Bonk, professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University, offered the following response from a participant who asked, “What is your favorite method to increase interactivity in an online class?”
Our courses are rolled out to online students with assignments scheduled for each week. Some of these assignments are relatively easy, meaning there will be weeks that are “light” in terms of scheduled assignments, while others will be “killer” weeks because of especially difficult assignments and/or a large number of assignments. While you need to prepare students to do all the assignments, it is especially important that you pre-assist them for those killer weeks. If you don’t do this, their anxiety can markedly increase, their involvement in and enthusiasm for the course can decrease, and you can lose them altogether.
In a recent conversation, an online teaching colleague complained that her school had wrongly listed her as “adjunct instructor,” rather than “adjunct professor,” in its faculty roster. “That term ‘professor’—it means so much more than merely being an instructor,” she complained. Au contraire, I countered: ultimately, titles—and one’s accomplishments—count for little throughout any online course one teaches and never equate to long-term respect.
Teachable moments, those special times when students are most ready and willing to learn, are traditionally considered unplanned opportunities. But should teachable moments be treated like unexpected gifts or can they actually be set in motion with a little advanced anticipation and planning by the instructor?
In my classroom-based courses I have always valued discussion as a powerful learning tool that provides students with opportunities to explain their reasoning and understanding, learn different perspectives and points of view, and re-think and possibly revise their own conceptions based on careful reflection of potentially disparate viewpoints. As I prepared to teach my first online course five years ago, it was only natural that discussion would be a part of it.
Students with disabilities are drawn to online courses for many of the same reasons as everyone else, but it’s often the anonymity that makes learning