A discussion of roles that an instructor plays in the traditional classroom does not seem to be an innovative focus in the educational field. Yet, such discussions continue because of the topic’s paramount impact on student learning. Discussions regarding the roles that an online instructor plays in a virtual learning environment are essential because teaching and learning via course management systems are completely different from that in the face-to-face setting and are still in their infancy, thereby requiring a great deal of exploration.
Roles of an Online Instructor: The Paradigm Shift
Traditional face-to-face meetings differ distinctively from online teaching (Coppola, Hiltz, & Rotter, 2001; Lim & Cheah, 2003) largely due to the following reasons. The former relies heavily on a specific location and time, whereas the latter is independent of time and location. The former mostly constitutes speaking and listening, while the latter is exercised primarily by reading and writing. The former makes an instructor and learners easily visible to one another, while the latter leaves the instructor and all learners in individual and invisible locations (Pelz, 2004; Sloan Consortium, 2006). The former expects learners to have a moderate level of self-regulation, whereas the latter requires learners to have a higher level of self-regulation (Pelz, 2004; Sloan Consortium, 2006). All the changes from the familiar to the unfamiliar explicitly generate a sizable barrier for online teaching and learning. Removing barriers to student success necessitates the online instructor to undertake a variety of responsibilities (Lim & Cheah, 2003; Morris, Xu, & Finnegan, 2005). Discovering what roles an instructor ought to play in a virtual learning environment is conducive to and vital in the successful facilitation of student learning.
During the Course Development stage, under the category of Pedagogical Efficacy, the instructor assumes four roles from those of gaining technological skills to those of getting the course ready for teaching. The instructor is responsible for acquiring necessary and useful technological skills and becomes familiar with the learned skills through practice. In the same stage, the instructor engages in research to decide the content of a course plan, which is in line with what Wilson, Varnhagen, Krupa, Kasprzak, Hunting, and Taylor (2003) found from their interviews of eight e-instructors. The researchers noticed that the information covered in virtual learning environments was not equivalent in amount to that in face-to-face meetings. One of the interviewees in the Wilson et al. (2003) study noted, “I went from about 13 individual classes or modules to about six modules.” Followed by the decision-making, the instructor lays out a course plan appropriate for the students’ learning needs. The reduction in content should not only be measured in quantity, but also be in quality. The environment set for learning should be responsive to students’ needs and their learning levels (Berge, 1995). Topics for discussions need to be meaningful and related to students’ experiences and interests to attract and maintain students’ learning and desire for an in-depth study of concepts and tasks (Lim & Cheah, 2003).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Reflective Practice: Refers to an e-instructor’s consistent behaviors in assessing the course by an ongoing, even daily, basis as well as at the end of a semester in order to motivate learners to succeed in learning.
Affective Promotion: encompasses endeavors and strategies made by an e-instructor in fostering students’ emotional involvement in e-learning and in setting up an emotionally supportive learning environment to facilitate student learning.
Pedagogical Efficacy: Refers to the growth and development of both faculty and students concerning academics-oriented knowledge and skills ranging from content-specific areas to technological skills through efforts exerted by an e-instructor.
Purposeful Commitment: Refers to an e-instructor who is committed to helping students become owners of their own learning by the instructor becoming visible through various means in the shared virtual classroom in order to support learning.
Meaningful Management: Refers to an e-instructor who manages a course in ways that may help ease students’ unnecessary frustration resulting from their being situated in a novel learning environment. This type of course management aims to promote students’ affective learning in the virtual classroom.
Knowledge Building (S): Refers to the e-students’ enhancement of content-bound knowledge and skills as well as their understanding of computer technology via various mechanisms that an e-instructor employs to guide students in an effort to achieve their mutual academic goals.
Knowledge Building (I): Refers to an e-instructor, who keeps professionally up-to-date through self-development and learning alongside students and who attains technological knowledge and skills by attending relevant workshops and by frequent interaction with a computer.
Purposeful Organization: Refers to an e-instructor who is committed to helping students become owners of their own learning, achieved when the instructor becomes visible through various means in the virtual classroom.
Instructive Preparation: Is related to avenues in which an e-instructor is engaged to make decisions based on information at hand as well as collected through previous experiences of working with students in order to help plan instruction suited to learners’ needs.