Q&A: What to look for in a good online teacher

Question: I've got a chance to choose between the same online class taught by three different teachers. What should I look for in a good online teacher?

Answer: You mean besides if he or she's an easy grader?

Just kidding. Seriously, though, investigating a few specific qualities can help you figure out if a particular teacher may suit your learning style: clarity, communication, compassion and change.

Clarity

In the traditional classroom, teachers who don't write clearly can get by if they can speak clearly, or if you're willing to keep asking questions until you get an answer. Given the asynchronous nature of most online classes, and the missing body language, you're a lot better off if your instructor is clear: what's due, when is it due, and what are you supposed to do.

Communication

Many online schools require teachers to respond to questions within 24-48 hours. If they do, then there's the question of how well they communicate. If you asked three questions, do your teachers answer them all? If you asked a clumsy question, did they try to figure out what you were talking about?

Compassion

When you're online and confused, you can feel alone. If that happened in the traditional classroom, at least you'd know that everyone was having the same problem. In an online environment, a good teacher will reassure you and help you through any issues that may arise.

Change

Several online schools require their instructors to teach standardized courses and give standardized assignments. These courses can include assignments with computerized grading. And the computer can be wrong and the assignment might not quite fit. An assignment might refer to page 44, which was the right page in the fifth edition of the textbook…but your class is now using the sixth edition. It sounds basic, but good online teachers change things so they work.

Greg Beatty

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.