Teaching in an online environment isn’t the same as teaching in a traditional classroom, and online instructors need special skills and approaches to be successful. For example, communication can pose a challenge in online-learning environments, because online educators can’t rely on visual cues as their colleagues can in bricks-and-mortar schools. Now, a new research brief from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) looks at this challenge in greater detail, examining how successful programs and teachers are ensuring effective communication.
The report, called “Examining Communication and Interaction in Online Teaching,” reviews existing research and what it has to say about the keys to successful online instruction. It also reviews various policies and practices for communicating with students and parents during an online course, and it looks at the delivery model, course development, pacing, communication methods, and teacher requirements for 10 leading online-learning programs.
Owing to the rapid growth in online schooling and the current environment of accountability surrounding K-12 education today, traditional colleges and schools of education will need to develop programs for virtual school teacher preparation, because “although online teaching shares much in common with traditional face-to-face instruction, it has its own unique set of skills and requirements,” says the report.
“While most universities and colleges have established programs to prepare their faculty to teach online,” the report adds, “school systems are just beginning to address this need.”
To help virtual educators and schools of education, iNACOL, with the endorsement of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), recently issued the National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, which are guidelines that form a research-based framework for effective online teaching. These standards are based on SREB’s earlier work, as well as standards from the National Education Association, Ohio Department of Education, and Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.
iNACOL’s report also discusses four main skills or duties that every online teacher must have or perform, based on a review of existing research:
1. Be able to facilitate interaction: Teachers must use eMail, frequent telephone conversations, and collaborative tools, such as threaded discussions and synchronous chats, to closely connect with students. When done correctly, online teaching actually “enables more individualized attention than is actually possible in the traditional classroom,” says the report. “Such an effective teacher would be seen as a motivator, a guide, a mentor, and a listener.”
2. Be highly responsive: Effective online teaching practices must include quickly responding to student and parent inquiries. The report says developing a disciplined approach to “keeping the lines of communication open” is a part of the daily routine of a successful online teacher.
3. Know web-based technologies: Teachers must know, and be skilled at using, web-based technologies that offer students opportunities for collaborative learning. Online-learning environments, through the use of web-based tools, “…can offer a more active, constructive, and cooperative experience than classroom learning,” says the report. “In addition to traditional teaching attributes and teaching with digital content, virtual school teachers need to be proficient at helping children acquire a skill set [that] includes autonomous learning and self-regulation.”
4. Be trained in both synchronous and asynchronous instruction: Synchronous instruction brings teachers and students together simultaneously in virtual spaces, which “implies that virtual teachers need to become skillful at using chat room and collaborative software,” says the report. Asynchronous instruction may be delivered without any specific timetable, “requiring teachers to become knowledgeable about offering postings online and discussion boards.”