of Online Teaching
no word in the language I revere more than 'teacher.' My heart sings when
a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I've honored myself
and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher." --Pat
Conroy, Prince of Tides
“Teacher” is indeed
an honored title. For this
reason, it is essential that all teachers, elementary, secondary,
undergraduate, graduate, face-to-face, or online, be aware of the
intrinsic power of their role and are self-reflective about their
practices. Teachers must have a
well-thought-out philosophy of teaching, based on what research has
revealed as best practices, to guide them as practitioners.
This is especially true in the online environment.
Online teachers need to be more focused on students and their needs
because they lack the luxury of physically interacting with students one
on one. (Palloff and Pratt, 2003)
philosophy is at the heart of what I think, feel, and do while teaching
either face-to-face or online. It
also encompasses what I want my students to think, feel, and do as a
result of being in my classroom. I am constantly aware that I must
serve as a role model of the kind of learning I strive to encourage among
What is this learning of which I speak?
“My definition of learning is eclectic in nature as I draw on
several learning theories, taking parts from each to make a meaningful
whole. It has been developed from formal study of learning theories such
as constructivism, behaviorism, developmental theory, neuroscience,
brain-based learning, learning styles, multiple intelligences, right
brain/left brain thinking, and social cognition. I have combined the
knowledge gained from the study of these theories with my own experiences
as a learner, facilitator, and observer of learning.” (Dell, 2002)
“Key components of my
definition of learning:
To facilitate this kind of learning, I must
act not only as an instructor, but as an instructional designer as well.
My classroom, either brick-and-mortar or virtual, consists of a
caring community of learners who work collaboratively and support each
other’s learning. In a
typical unit or course of study, my learners spend about one-third of the
time acquiring what I refer to as "essential skills."
The remaining two-thirds of their time is spent in the process of
construction of knowledge, the creation of relevant learning product, and
the processes of reflection and self-evaluation.
The common thread that guides my selection of instructional theory
is that of congruence to constructivism, collaboration, and the
integration of instructional technologies. I never lose sight of the fact that the purpose of
instructional theory is to help people learn better.
Therefore, just as my beliefs about the process of learning are
eclectic in nature, so are my practices as an instructor and instructional
The new paradigm in instructional design
parallels the changes in thinking regarding the process of learning.
Key characteristic of the new paradigm as presented by Richey
(1997) include constructivism, cognitivism, problem-based learning,
hypermedia/ multimedia performance technology, electronic performance
support systems, and systematic thinking.
The most important factor triggering the need for changes in
instructional design theory is the societal shift from the industrial age
to the information age (Richey, 1997).
“There is greater need for methods of instruction that allow for
much greater customization of the learning experience and much greater
utilization of information technology, fellow learners, and other
resources for learning” (Reigeluth and Moore, 1999, p.51).
Apparently in agreement with Reigeluth, Moore and Richey, Jonassen
states, “Since knowledge cannot be transmitted, instruction should
consist of experiences that facilitate knowledge construction” (Reigeluth,
of the most crucial factors an instructor and instructional designer must
address in the new paradigm is the uniqueness of the culture or climate
associated with the community of learners for which one designs and
instructs. The need for
customization requires that instructors and designers develop styles of
communication, instruction, and collaboration that are in harmony with the
distinctive "voice" of the target community. Gayeski (1998)
states, "One size does not fit all.
Many organizations are looking for an off-the-shelf system to
'automate' or 'standardize' the design and development of learning
materials. Although certainly such software and hardware can and have been
developed, they may wind up producing 'cookie-cutter' outputs."
Many course management
systems, such as WebCT and BlackBoard, have built-in collaborative
learning systems to support communication, document sharing and
asynchronous conferencing systems. Successful
customization of these systems, however, is dependent on appropriate
Explain to the students the importance of collaborative group work.
Make it a requirement and not an option. Many distance-learning
students tend to prefer to work alone, but allowing them to do so reduces
the likelihood of a meaningful distance learning experience.
Form groups that are heterogeneous with respect to gender, age,
ethnicity, learning styles, abilities, and experiences.
Groups of 2 - 4 learners are best.
Instructors and designers should consider the purpose of the group
and the cooperative structures that will be used as they determine the
number of team members.
Allow time for icebreaking and team-building activities.
Icebreaking and team-building activities allow learners to begin to form a
sense of community. The
activity may be a specific team-building structure or may simply encourage
students to introduce themselves to the group.
Give clear instructions and guidelines regarding not only the
assignments, but about the method and tools of communication that will be
used. Start simple to give
students time to understand the structures and methods of communication.
Set reasonable goals and provide a place for the group to interact.
Many course management systems provide areas intended solely for
this purpose. The tools
available, such as group asynchronous discussion boards, live chat, and
interactive whiteboards, vary with the system chosen.
Supervise the group’s progress and be available to prompt or
assist groups that are having difficulty. Your “presence” will help to ensure participation by all
members. Be prepared to
intervene and mediate conflicts of an interpersonal nature without taking
sides. Suggest that the group
explore alternatives and reach consensus.
Design evaluation criteria to include peer evaluation.
This rewards extraordinary team members while at the same time
penalizes non-contributing members.
Provide a place for team to share their work and learning products
with the larger learning community. Many projects can be posted on a web site or added as an
attachment to a discussion thread.
It is through
communication, interaction, and collaboration with students that they
understand my goals for them. I
believe the primary role of a teacher has little to do with conveying
information to students. It
would be egotistical of me to see my students as empty vessels waiting to
be filled with my perceptions of the world.
Instead, I believe teaching is encouraging students to take
responsibility for their own learning, rousing their intellectual growth,
and fostering a love and pursuit of life-long learning.
"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." ~Alvin Toffler
I do this by placing
emphasis on the application of concepts and processes acquired in the
courseroom to real world situations.
I use technology as a tool to support learning, encourage
self-sufficiency, to promote the creation of useable products, and to
establish skills that will be needed throughout the learner’s lifetime.
When students can transfer
new learning to the real world, it indicates to me that meaningful
learning has taken place. This
meaningful learning translates not only into new skills and information
but into an uplifted spirit as well.
Nothing elevates the spirit as much as learning how to learn.
find that students who engage in reflection are more likely to transfer
the learning from the course room to the real world. Reflection is not a skill all learners have mastered.
Instructors must guide learners though the process of reflection
until it becomes a natural part of the learning process.
I require a reflection statement from each learner in every course
that I teach. I do this
because these statements provide valuable insight into the learners’
thought processes. Additionally,
reflection statements benefit the learner as they review and think about
the entire course content. It
helps then to see how the “parts” connect to make a “whole” and
their learning can be applied.
One the most important tools I have for
implementing my philosophy in the online environment is the syllabus. The
syllabus is typically the first communication between the teacher and the
learner. It makes the first
impression. It should
therefore provide clear instructions about weekly assignments, major
projects, goals, and expectations. The more detailed the syllabus the
better the student will understand the mechanics of the course.
Students learn to turn to the syllabus for answers regarding the
nuts and bolts of the course rather than the instructor.
This encourages self-sufficiency.
I create a course atmosphere that
encourages group interaction and the sharing of ideas.
I ask students to make personal introductions. I find that if I share information about myself, the learners
are more open to sharing information about themselves. My manner, both in the classroom and when interacting with
individual learners, is one of respect, understanding, and encouragement.
I see personal interaction
with learners as one of the most important characteristics of quality
online teaching. Knowledge of my students as people is vital to the
development of a good rapport with them. I make myself available
outside the classroom by encouraging students to communicate with me
through email when they have a need.
All interactions are intended to convey an unconditional respect
for the individuality of each learner.
have a willingness to listen and answer any questions.
In the online environment timely feedback is crucial.
It helps to reduce the feeling of isolation that some online
learners experience. I periodically ask for learner feedback and have the students
evaluate me as an instructor. I
continually strive to improve my teaching practices and to grow as a
feedback is essential to this process. With every class that I teach, I learn a little more about my
learners, the content, and myself. The
most important lesson that I have learned through teaching is that I
receive as much as I give.
Distance Learning ’98: Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Distance
Teaching and Learning, Madison, WI, August 5–7, 1998. ERIC Document