In our classroom there was a lively discussion about the role of the instructor in an online classroom. While I have never pictured myself as an instructor in an online classroom (I don’t think I have enough subject matter knowledge to fill the position), it was interesting to think of the challenges and advantages involved with being an online tutor. As a distance education student, it also helped me to empathize with my own instructors.
One aspect that seemed to be universally agreed upon was that the role of an online instructor is that of a facilitator. The instructor is not in the classroom to act as the ‘fountain of knowledge,’ but rather as someone that provides the necessary materials, questions, and projects necessary to engender student participation and learning. Not only this, but in distance education “participation is not likely to happen unless it is well planned and instructors have training to facilitate it” (Moore and Kearsley, 2012, p.114). Therefore, an instructor must not only facilitate learning by being extremely well prepared, but they must also have the technical know-how to deliver the material in a meaningful way.
Another tricky aspect of being an online instructor is being able to exercise flexibility in lesson execution and trying to establish a ‘human’ tone. I imagine that teaching via distance education must often feel very rigid; if a discussion topic isn’t leading students to the right ideas, an online teacher may have to create a new discussion board or try to provide timely feedback online (a difficult task). A face-to-face teacher can simply re-frame the conversation with a new question or idea. This goes along with Moore and Kearsley’s (2012) idea that an instructor must be able to write in a conversational tone in the absence of face-to-face interactions. Communicating strictly through text is very difficult, especially when trying to convey emotion. It becomes even more difficult when all interactions are to be considered academic.
Needless to say, the instructor has a very challenging role in distance education. I think that the concept that an online education is somehow easier (both from the student and teacher perspective) is false. If anything, it is more challenging.
Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance education: A systems view of online learning. USA: Wadsworth-Cengage Learning.