We are going to continuously add additional ideas about what we believe are the keys to online teaching effectiveness, but we will begin with just five categories and will go from there. As the Dean of an online university, these are the five most important “keys to online teaching success” I can offer based on the many hundreds of course evaluation surveys I’ve read and conversations I have had with online students. Please feel free to suggest additional teaching effectiveness tips that we should add to this resource.
Academic Qualifications for an Online Professor
Obviously, online professors need to be qualified and be subject matter experts in the subjects they are teaching. The precise definition of these qualifications varies from institution to institution, but generally speaking, there are some rules of thumb. One such rule of thumb is a completed Masters Degree is required to teach in a Bachelors Degree program and a Ph.D. is required to teach in a Masters Degree program. There are some exceptions for people with special qualifications. For example, some online universities will permit a person with a Masters Degree and a CPA to teach in an MBA program. There are many other exceptions to the rule, but generally, the rule applies to most situations. Some online universities also require professors to have 18 credit hours of coursework in the subject area they are teaching. This requirement is becoming more of the norm. However, a fair amount of latitude is allowed for what is meant by the term “subject area.”
Generally speaking, I have found little correlation between academic qualifications and the job performance of online professors. Most online universities view academic qualifications as a hurdle that must be met – a qualified or not qualified proposition only. I personally do not believe that superior qualifications are related to online teaching effectiveness. However, it is unlikely you will be able to get an online teaching job at an accredited online university program unless you can meet minimum academic qualification levels.
Experience – Professional v. Online Teaching
Like most any other job, it helps to have experience. At online universities, there are two categories of relevant experience. Previous experience as an online professor is one form of relevant experience. Some experience working with students virtually is a real plus and familiarity with the university’s learning platform (i.e. Moodle, Blackboard, etc.) is also beneficial. In my view, however, only a modest amount of online teaching experience is helpful. Experience in the magnitude of twenty course conducts involving several hundred students is not that more valuable than two conducts with twenty students.
Professional experience, in my judgment, is much more important for an online professor. Most online students are adults who have already started their careers. Of course, they are expecting to earn a degree, an important credential, but they also want to acquire knowledge and know-how that will allow them to perform their current jobs better or to secure a better job in the future. Online students want to know what works in their profession and in their industry. These insights are not always found in textbooks or from online professors without much relevant professional experience. This is why I prefer hiring online professors with significant professional experience they can use in discussion forums and other exchanges with students.
Communication and Facilitation Skills
Online professors must have great communication skills, particularly the composition skills associated with the Internet. Email and discussion forums are the principal ways online professors communicate with their students. We sometimes utilize communication tools like Elluminate, Skype, and Dimdim to hold virtual meetings with online students in groups and one-on-one. These virtual meetings require online professors who can lead and facilitate group discussions. Most online students report learning from other students as well as their professors, so it is not particularly desirable for online professors to give lectures during virtual meetings.
Facilitation skills are critical for leading an effective Discussion Forum. The online professor needs to ask provocative questions, then engage and encourage students to explore the questions from different perspectives and sets of assumptions. Discussion Forums should not always take the form of the online professor providing the “correct’ answer after a couple of students offer responses to the question originally posed by the professor.
Students do not expect or want online professors to repeat material that can be read in textbooks. Sometimes students do not thoroughly understand certain concepts or theories and need their professor to provide additional explanations and examples – but not in the form of a lecture. Skype or other VOIP tools can be used to hold these one-on-one meetings with one or two online students who need a little extra help.
Responsiveness of the Online Professor
After reviewing many hundreds of course evaluation surveys completed by students, one cause of dissatisfaction clearly stands out – lack of responsiveness. Online students want and expect quick feedback on the assignments they submit for grading and answers to the questions they ask of their professors. Remember, most online students also have jobs and family responsibilities, so they need to carefully manage their time. Their time management efforts can be seriously compromised when they are forced to wait for many days to receive a response from their online professor. Frequently, online students wait to begin work on their next assignment until they receive a grade for the assignment they have already submitted.
So, how quickly should online professors grade assignments and answer students’ questions? The standard most online universities strive to achieve is 24 hours. In reality, 24 to 48 hours is more the norm, but much longer than that can cause problems for students, online professors, and the university.
Online professors need to provide feedback to students that are not only fast but also meaningful. When an online professor assigns a poor grade to an assignment, the student expects to know why the grade was low and what they can do to improve their work next time. It is definitely not good enough to simply assign a grade and that is all.>
Meaningful feedback, helpful comments, and the sharing of relevant experience are some of the ways to separate quality online universities from the diploma mills. Online professors “add value” to the learning process through the quality of the feedback they provide. Simply grading assignments and occasionally providing a little feedback is definitely not good enough. This is one of the reasons why quality online universities hire online professors who possess substantial professional experience they can and will share with their students. Online students are generally quite capable of reading their textbooks and completing their assignments. What they expect from online professors are the insights into how the theories and concepts they are learning can be applied in the jobs and professions.