Paths to exemplary online teaching: a look at teacher roles, competencies and exemplary online teaching

Evrim Baran, Ana-Paula Correia, Ann Thompson
Proceedings of EdMedia 2011

The rapid growth of online education in higher education is calling for the research on the knowledge, skills and competencies required for successful online teaching. However, teaching approaches tend to organize teachers’ roles without making connections between content, pedagogy, technology and the contextual dynamics that teachers engage in their teaching practices. Moreover, the emergence of these roles and competencies has limited impact on professional development programs that address online teachers’ needs, individual dispositions, external social demands and capabilities within their unique teaching contexts. A literature review on online teaching focused on online teaching roles and competencies, and exemplary online teaching was conducted and described on this paper. The limitations of existing research on online teacher roles, competencies, and paths to exemplary online teaching are also explored.

Review of the literature describing the knowledge skills and competencies of online teachers. They investigated the changing role of the teacher from presenting knowledge to facilitating learning, the definition of ‘exemplary’ online teaching and how it can be supported and cultivated. Teaching practice is context sensitive, varying between disciplines, institutions and student profile. This leads to the diversity of roles performed by online educators. Their literature review found a range of roles including among others professional, pedagogical, social, technological, evaluator, assessor, administrator, researcher, advisor, content-facilitator, process facilitator, instructional designer and materials producer. They summarise a number of studies where experienced online educators were interviewed about their practices. The respondents considered the following pedagogical strategies to be effective in online education developing a sense of community, encouraging participation and contribution, providing ongoing interaction and support, creating collaborative learning activities, responding with feedback, providing up-to-date resources and minimising technology problems.
With the exception of resources and technology problems, these strategies resemble the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education (Chickering & Gamson, 1991), developed before the arrival of online education: encourage contact between students and faculty, develop reciprocity and co-operation among students, uses active learning techniques, give prompt feedback, emphasise time on task, communicate high expectations and respect diversity of talents and ways of learning.

To successfully integrate a new technology, educators have not only to be familiar with the technology but must also understand its affordances and limitations in teaching their discipline (Baran et al, 2011). However, Baran et al (2011) found little research of how these experienced teachers gained their experience, the extent to which they reflected on their practice or how they applied their strategies in practice. Novice online educators could use this research to help develop their online practice and educational technologists could use the research to support the educators