Online instructors weigh in on what should come first in online learning, what admin could better support

online-instructor-perceptionThere are a lot of cooks in the kitchen when it comes to online learning best practices, especially from think-tanks and interested admin looking to expand an institution’s offerings…but what do the actual instructors say is important? And are these expectations being met?

According to The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, a survey reached out to hundreds of instructors from 20 universities in Taiwan—which hosts one of the best research universities in the world and is one of the fastest growing adopters of online learning–on what they perceived were the most important skills to master for online teaching, and whether or not they actually acted on those skills during teaching.

The survey, which aimed to measure the difference between what e-instructors believed was important versus what they actually put into practice, showed that some perceptions of skills needed mirrored what was implemented in class, but many differed drastically. The reasons? Lack of administrative support and lack of training.

The authors of the report say that it’s important to look at what online instructors believe is important versus what they actually implement, since the success of online learning hinges on the skills of its teachers; unfortunately, not a lot of research currently exists on the beliefs of instructors about, and their roles in, online learning.

“This [area] which has been seldom addressed [reveals that]…A gap exists between ideal and practical roles of e-instructors in higher education,” explain Chiungsui Chang of Tamkang University, and Hun-Yi Shen and Eric Zhi-Feng Liu of National Central University. “Role perceptions and role-based practices of e-instructors in higher education differ significantly in terms of teaching experience.

The authors hope that the findings of the survey can have a global impact, shedding light on what e-instructors believe is critical for online learning success, and the barriers to current implementation.

(Next page: The interesting findings)

Overall results

Interestingly, Taiwan has a national e-Learning Service Certification program, which identifies 27 benchmarks (distilled from the most popular strategies employed by colleges and universities) considered essential to ensure excellence in online instruction. These benchmarks were they divided into eight criteria: Learner support, faculty support, curriculum development, instructional design, instructional process, organizational support, technology, and assessment and evaluation.

Researchers used these eight criteria when developing the survey for the 277 instructor participants from 20 universities in Taiwan. It’s important to note that all instructors surveyed have experience teaching online courses; however, that experience level differs drastically.

[More on the methodology can be found in the report.]

According to the survey, e-instructors consideredcontent expertise” and “instructional design” as the two most important skills to have. However, in actual practice, e-instructors ranked content expertise and “administrative management” as the top two most implemented skills.

Though the e-instructors ranked “administrative management”—which comprises carrying out the pedagogical tasks related with course management, including establishing rules and regulations, student registration, and record-keeping—as the fourth most important skill to have, they ranked this skill set as the second-highest in actual practice.

“This may indicate that e-instructors spent considerable time on administrative work while they taught online courses,” note the authors, “due to the shortage of institution administrative supports (i.e., technical support for the online platform or teaching assistant).”

Also interesting was how e-instructors ranked learning assessment. According to the e-instructors, assessment ranked third in perceived importance; yet, it places fifth in practice.

Furthermore, ‘learning facilitator’ was scored lowest in perception of importance, while it ranked fifth in practice.

“Today’s e-instructors face a growing demand from students to offer a more flexible, technology-rich course delivery and they also face the pedagogical challenges to design [and assess] these innovative learning environments,” said the report’s authors; which is why it’s critical to address these issues in professional development programs.

Training and experience

The survey found that perceptions and practices associated with online learning by e-instructors with a half year to four years of experience in online teaching were significantly different than those with more than four years of experience.

“…e-instructors with more than four years of experience…paid relatively more attention to other aspects of online instruction, such as instructional design, rather than facilitating learning,” states the report; perhaps due to more experienced e-instructors ease with online teaching.

Finally, though no significant difference existed in e-instructor perceptions among those with different training support, those with more training implemented instructional design, learning assessment, technology use, and research development practices higher than did those with little or some training.

These findings reveal that “administrators must be aware of the fact that instructional and technical training and support are important influential factors in online teaching,” emphasize the authors; “…[and] routine training programs are not sufficient for the development of e-instructors.”

Instead, the authors suggest “continuous engagement” in professional development that specifically focuses on facilitating student participation (what faculty identified as their greatest training needed in online learning environments), instructional design, and critical reflection.

For the full findings of the survey, which also include female versus male perceptions and implementation practices, as well as differences in these areas due to faculty rank, read the full report.

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