The Role of Instructor in Virtual Environments: Enhancing Action Learning in Higher Education

The Role of Instructor in Virtual Environments: Enhancing Action Learning in Higher Education

Icarbord Tshabangu (Leeds Trinity University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9691-4.ch003
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The use of online technologies to advance educational goals at every level has come a long way and continues to impact the traditional outlook of many higher education institutions as they seek to remain relevant in the 21st century. This chapter briefly touches on the background of virtual learning and the philosophical values embedded in online learning. While the use of technology has become ubiquitous, the value of human activity cannot be underestimated hence this chapter explores in depth the role of the instructor as an enabling factor in virtual learning environments. The focus for discussion has therefore been on key pedagogical areas seen as hinging upon the skill and professionalism of the instructor. Enhancing action learning in virtual classrooms has been identified as a key tool in advancing critical thinking; nourishing students' learning experiences; ensuring higher achievement, and minimizing isolation and students' disaffection in online settings.
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Online education has over the years gradually moved from the periphery of pedagogical practice to the mainstream. Such developments, coupled with ubiquitous use of educational technologies have necessitated the need to continually examine online pedagogy’s place in education so as to posit useful strategies that enhance educational practice. The goal of this chapter is to;

  • Explore the challenging role of an instructor in virtual learning environments, particularly in higher education.

  • Shed some insights on the need to provide enhanced action learning, critical enquiry, and leaner engagement.

  • Consider the instructor’s personal efforts within their team, the application of reflective practice, dealing with isolation, and advancing students’ progress.

Being mindful that there are no simplistic solutions in virtual learning environment, due to a host of possibilities, propositions are nevertheless made concerning strategies that might be useful to an online instructor in navigating various challenges so as to become an effective practitioner.

Philosophical Values

As an online instructor in higher education it is important to understand the philosophical underpinnings upon which active learning and learning online is predicated. There are post-structuralist values (Travers, 2001) that could be associated with online learning and these are seen as residing in skepticism about most institutional arrangements or forms of order including conventional forms of learning. Online platforms emerged as a marked departure from traditional forms of learning and have steadily gained prominence in the last two decades, since the late 1980s. Founded on the notion of social justice (Rawls, 1971), there is also a global realisation that virtual learning environments open new alternatives for learning to those students who do not have access to conventional educational structures and forms. The virtual learning environment therefore tends to complement the social justice agenda as espoused in the United Nations Education for All agenda; the Widening Participation in higher education initiatives (UK Department for Business Innovation & Skills, 2015) and the Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that ‘everyone has the right to education’ (UDHR, 2015). Since education is not only a right but a passport to human development the virtual learning environment contributes in the opening of doors and the expansion of opportunities and freedoms, fostering peace, democracy and economic growth as well as improving health and reducing poverty.

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