Online Teaching? Different? Yes!
Q. A reader asks "I have been a teacher at a traditional high school for almost 20 years, but recently I have been thinking about becoming an online teacher. What are the biggest differences? What are some of the challenges and changes I can expect to face?"
A. Your biggest difference between traditional high schools and online-teaching at the college or university level is changing your role and behavior. Up to now, you've run your classroom, been the authority figure, gave and graded the assignments and set the rules.
However, switching from teacher to facilitator and from "directing students" to "motivating participants" can be challenging, too. You also need to learn to handle a class with a possible age range from young teens to grandmas and grandpas--all while searching for effective teaching materials for 15 or 20 individuals with widely varying skill levels and pre-class preparation.
Fortunately, many colleges and universities recognize the challenge and offer special training before they turn you loose on an online class. Often, they'll require you to teach an on-campus class successfully for them before they'll assign you to an online one.
Time commitments can also be tough. For an online class, your school almost certainly expects you to log into the course website every day, except for weekends, and answer all e-mails waiting for you; there's no chance for face-to-face explanations of assignments in an online classroom. Instead, you'll have to write explicit, concise directions that participants can understand and handle. Can you write content that appeals to adult learners' mindsets? You'll need to.
You must meet all school and course deadlines. You've got to be fast at turning your class into an online community. You'll grade promptly within school-set time limits, offer individual feedback, keep the class on target to avoid stragglers, and motivate learners to complete the course.
How do you respond to superiors? Can you take directions from a department chair or dean you've never met or seen? Do you understand quickly what's wanted and provide it? Are you highly disciplined? How flexible are you at adapting to new technology? Learning computer skills? Typing quickly and accurately? Discovering different psychological ways to motivate learners?
Yes, you're right to expect changes. Dr. Cynthia Whitsel, adjunct professor at University of Maryland University College, who's taught online for 18 years, says you need to be the "guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage." But online teaching--which may be the job in your future and the means to keep you in teaching rather than risk layoffs in a fragile economy--can be challenging, rewarding, and wonderfully satisfying.
Best wishes for an exciting future! Enjoy!