We live in an unprecedented time with higher education being disrupted, as traditional classes are being moved online, at least for the time being. Whether or not this will continue for any length of time remains to be seen. This has occurred at an interesting time for the field of distance learning as many of the for-profit schools have closed, and the growth of new online schools has slowed. The number of online schools growing is limited, and competition comes from traditional schools offering online classes.
With a move of traditional classes to an online platform, there is a challenge for many educators to adapt to a virtual environment. Those educators who teach in this environment already, such as myself, are already accustomed to creating a virtual presence. However, while online teaching can be rewarding for those who can adapt to it, there are many demands for instruction in this environment, and it can be quite challenging at times. Whether you are new to online teaching or have extensive experience, you will find one of the most important measurements is the end-of-course student evaluation. You will also be evaluated by completion of the required facilitator duties, which typically includes participation in class discussions and feedback for learning activities.
To help you prepare for the requirements of online teaching, there are critical best practices you can implement to ensure you are effectively and substantively engaged in your class. These are the product of my work as an online educator, along with my work in faculty development, having been reviewed by the strictest of standards and applying these standards to faculty I’ve reviewed. You can use these best practices as a checklist for the development of your own online teaching practice, regardless of how long you’ve taught online classes.
Online Instructor Essentials
How you manage your time and the weekly schedule you create will ultimately determine how successful you are as an online educator. The two tasks which are going to take the most amount of time are class discussions and feedback. If you do not allow enough time for these tasks, and you fall behind, you are going to feel rushed when trying to complete what is required of you. The ultimate result is either going to be minimal participation, minimal feedback, or both. A feeling of being rushed may also show up in your disposition as well, if you become agitated when there is not enough time to complete the required tasks or deadlines are nearing. Your students will sense this, even in an online environment, as there are subtle cues which show up in the word qq online choices used in online posts and messages.
Something else to consider is the contract you agree to when you become a faculty member and accept a class commitment. You need to take the time to review the faculty expectations, especially if you are new to the school, to make certain you know all details about performance requirements. Should you have any questions, it is best to contact your Department Chair or supervisor. The most critical timeline requirements involve responding to learner questions, regardless of how posted or sent. You will likely receive audits and/or performance reviews, and when you do, use these tools as a means of self-development to help you to continue to learn and grow.
Making a Transition: From Traditional to Online Teaching
For those who teach in a traditional classroom and now must teach online, there will be a learning curve which will happen quickly. The first adaptation is becoming used to the technology platform or LMS, and discovering the technological tools which can enhance the learning experience. The most significant challenge for traditional educators, who are not used to teaching online, is interacting with learners who are not visibly present. The lack of visual cues can be overcome at times if a webinar is integrated into the class program. However, for most of the class, it is functioning without a live class and visual or verbal cues. Now the words posted become the primary form of communication and this makes it much more challenging to assess the intent or meaning of what is being stated, especially if a learner has challenges with academic writing.
What an online educator must eventually learn, often through time and practice, is he or she is the one who must keep the class engaged, not the course materials. If a learner is not actively participating or is not present in class, it is the instructor who must work to re-engage the learner, and do so within a timely manner, as a disengaged learner may soon become dropped from the course. This means learners are looking for, and often expecting, their instructors to be highly engaged and present in the course, and responsive to their needs. An instructor cannot log onto their class once or twice a week and hope this is sufficient. There must be ongoing and active involvement to sustain an online class, and work on the developmental of the needs of all learners.
6 Critical Best Practices for Online Teaching: Be Prepared
What follows are best practices you can implement now, regardless of the length of time you’ve taught online. If you have implemented some or all of them already, you can use it as a checklist to remind yourself of what’s important for your work as an educator.
Best Practice #1. Become the Support Your Learners Need
When learners enroll in a class, they are likely aware of their deficits already. When you begin the process of feedback and note those deficiencies, it may only serve to further confirm they are not capable of succeeding in their academic studies. This is why you must take a supportive approach to your feedback and the instructional approach used as you interact with your learners. Consider as well the fact you and your learners are separated by distance, or as I call it, the distance factor. Your learners are going to read what you post and share before you ever have an opportunity to explain it, which means everything you write needs to have a supportive tone to it. How you write, along with what you write, can and will determine the future of the learner, and the effort he or she will continue to make in your class. Find whatever way you can to be the support your learners need by taking time to read what they post and write, and acknowledge them as learners.