Role of Online Teacher1
A fairly common misconception about online learning is that in the online environment the teacher is less important than in the classroom. While there are online learning courses that are intended to be “teacherless” (or with a reduced teacher role), in general teachers remain central to the learning process in the online virtual classroom.
Anyone familiar with technology in the 21st century—recognizes that the role of the teacher is changing. The teacher and school system (including education materials such as textbooks) can no longer be the only conduit of information to students—there is simply too much good information available. The nature of learning (and working) is changing due to the explosion of available information via the Internet and new ways of managing and accessing information. The focus of education must continue to evolve from just passing information along to developing better thinkers and learners.
The online teacher’s role can be broken down into several categories:
- Guiding and Individualizing Learning: The online teacher is guiding student learning in the online course. There are many ways in which this can be accomplished:
- creating and facilitating group discussions
- developing group projects
- making constant adjustments to course resources
- responding to students’ questions and concepts that they are finding most challenging
In most programs there is a face-to-face mentor available to work as a partner with the online teacher on these tasks. Depending on the situation, this mentor may be someone at a traditional school that the student attends or may be a parent or relative if the student is located at home.
- Communication: One of the main roles of the teacher in a student-centered learning environment is to be available regularly and frequently in order to provide guidance. For this reason many online learning programs have requirements for how often teachers must log in to their classes and how quickly they must respond to student emails. Some programs also require and/or facilitate communication by telephone or online synchronous methods such as online office hours. Online teachers recognize the potential communication advantages and drawbacks of the online environment. The advantages include the increased comfort some students feel in participating in an online discussion board and the ability of teachers to record everything said in class. Disadvantages include the inability of teachers to observe non-verbal cues to determine a student’s level of comprehension.
- Assessing, grading, and promoting: Both online and traditional classroom teachers are responsible for tasks such as creating and grading tests, labs, and homework assignments; providing overall course grades; and determining whether the student is ready to move on to the next unit, course, or grade level. While the technology may automate some grading functions and the student’s face-to-face mentor may provide input, these crucial assessment decisions remain the professional teacher’s to make.
- Developing the online course content and structure: The task of developing course content will vary greatly from program to program. Many programs use course content developed by vendors or other online learning programs. In some cases, this task is completely removed from the online teacher, while in other cases the online teacher still has some of these responsibilities as there is an expectation for the teacher to customize or enhance the course. (See also Course Production area in Curriculum Section)When programs develop their own courses, it is typical for a team of subject matter experts, instructional designers, and web programmers to work together to create the course. The teacher might be one of the subject matter experts involved in course creation or may have no responsibilities related to course development.Within course creation there are several differences between an online course and a traditional classroom course. These include:
- Material Delivery: Except for synchronous instruction, little course material can be delivered via the equivalent of a classroom lecture. PowerPoint-style lectures can be developed and delivered with audio as one part of a course but this is not an ideal use of the online environment. In synchronous instruction, course material is delivered via the equivalent of a classroom lecture and group discussions.
- Content Availability: In an online course many types of content are available, including pre-developed digital content. This content is increasingly being developed by publishers, digital content companies, and non-profit organizations.
- Content Development: The online environment allows for capturing the development of the course and individual content elements in ways that are not available in a classroom. Many online learning programs have instructional designers or design teams that develop courses together in a more formal way than most traditional classrooms use.
References for footnotes can be found on the resources page or click on the footnote number for a direct link.