Most Popular of 2015, No. 10: 5 skills of successful online faculty

According to the 12 online faculty interviewed, there are 5 specific skills and characteristics needed to be an effective online teacher and minimize burnout:

1. Time management: Management in responding to multiple e-mails is required by online faculty. Most universities with online coursework require faculty to respond to students within 24 hours, and online faculty are often required to manage student e-mails and questions with individualized attention and in a timely manner. Finding ways to do this on a daily basis is necessary for faculty, says Portugal.

2. Learning new technologies and software quickly: This involves learning new software and programs quickly and effectively so that there is little-to-no down time in the online classroom. Faculty are required to learn new online technologies on a regular and consistent basis, and online coursework often requires changes to the curriculum. Online systems also often need to be altered, removed, changed, and newly created. “Faculty need to be able to learn these new skills as quickly and effectively as possible so that students and teaching ability are not negatively impacted,” noted Portugal. “Learning online technologies quickly and adeptly is a fundamental and significant skill for faculty to possess.”

This skill will also help faculty develop a “comfort with an online environment,” which all faculty part of the survey said was critical in preventing job burnout.

3. Teaching strategies for individualized learning: Individualized teaching strategies may involve faculty using “progressive” teaching strategies that “address various learning styles with significant, specific feedback to each learner that is unique to each learner’s needs,” Portugal explains. “A one-size-fits-all approach to teaching does not address individualized teaching strategies.” Faculty should address students on an individual basis, meeting the student where he or she is, and working toward bringing each student to a higher level. This approach requires that faculty respond to each student according to his or her individual needs with individualized feedback rather than standardized feedback. All correspondence to each student should be created uniquely for each student based upon students’ comments, assignment submissions, e-mails, questions, and etc. 

This skill is also critical for online faculty, says Portugal, because flexibility and personalization are two of the main reasons why students sign up for online classes, as most online students have other significant obligations and need online faculty to understand their background and education goals.

4. Positive attitude: “While traditional faculty members who are engaged in face-to-face lectures have recognized online teaching as a new teaching method that reaches potential university enrollees, traditional faculty continue to remain doubtful regarding the efficacy of online learning,” says Portugal. “The suspicion and continued distrust of faculty toward online learning have been depicted in traditional universities’ preference to hire faculty who earned their degrees at traditional institutions. This preference for hiring faculty who prefer the traditional methods of teaching has the potential to result in a shortage of faculty who appreciate online learning.” Having online faculty, who can be most involved and fulfilled in an online environment, is imperative for the growth and success of institutions of higher education, she emphasizes.

5. Good organization: The nature of the online classroom requires more time in the preparation of instructional materials and evaluation of students’ performance than face-to-face instruction. Moreover, online instruction imposes urgency in reviewing and providing feedback to keep the online discussion and coursework active. Based on these responsibilities and work expectations, online instructors must also have competency in written instruction. 

“University administrators who intend to improve the delivery of quality education through online education must emphasize the development of these attributes to their hired online instructors,” says Portugal. “Other than providing training on the use of software and other related technology, administrators of online instructors may also consider the development of value-based training and development specifically in honing their patience and diligence in mentoring students with learning difficulties.”

(Next page: Factors that can lead to burnout and how to prevent them)

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