There is little question that the field of distance learning is a viable option for students and there will be continued growth as a result of the number of traditional and non-traditional universities that offer online classes. However, questions concerning the quality of online courses will persist and what it means for the field is that there is a growing demand for someone who is more than a competent online instructor. This is a time when a highly proficient and highly skilled Modern Educator is needed, someone who is capable of communicating within a technologically enabled virtual environment. The initial appeal for instructors who wanted to teach online classes was the flexibility and convenience provided. Instructors were often hired because they were working in their subject field or they were subject matter experts. But this is no longer enough as the Modern Educator must be adept at digital communication and skilled in the art of developing student-centered instructional strategies.
Student Interactions in a Virtual Environment
Everything interaction that an online instructor is involved in is based upon their one-dimensional posts, which can include interactions in the discussion board and email exchanges. What is being communicated to the students is done without visual representation, verbal clarification, or support of nonverbal cues. Once the message is sent or posted it will be subject to interpretation and possibly misinterpretation. Digital communication relies on perceptual factors that include a perception of the meaning and tone of the message. What the instructor intends to state may not be the message students receive if it is interrupted by a negative tone, wording that lacks clarity, or poorly constructed and written sentences. The instructor’s attitude and disposition about their students will always be evident in how they write what they intend to post. This does not mean that an instructor needs to be afraid of communicating in this environment and instead they should view communication as a collaborative process that requires follow-up and follow-through whenever there is a possibility of miscommunication.
Online Students and Learning
Students are always going to be working on their own and accountable for their performance in class – even if the instructor has created the most engaging classroom environment. An online student must be self-motivated to take control of their involvement in the learning process and responsible for completing all required activities. They must also possess the required academic skill sets and be academically prepared to function in class. Students are constantly challenged to be adaptive to changes in their classes, work with different instructors, learn new procedures, and develop new methods of studying and learning. Instructors cannot see their students to gauge how they are progressing in class, which means they must be on the lookout for virtual indicators as students are actively involved in the learning process. Instructors who are not monitoring the involvement level of their class may soon find students who have disengaged after it is too late to initiate a successful intervention.
Student-Centered Online Learning
Anyone who has taught an online course knows that it is challenging to balance the mandatory requirements, such as deadlines for feedback, while maintaining a focus on each student’s individual developmental progress. For an adjunct this time challenge becomes even greater because they are likely working full-time and teaching on a part-time basis. No matter what conditions the online instructor is working within they must always develop and maintain a student-centered mindset and approach towards teaching. This is not just about putting every student first and foremost – is about considering their progress and development with every aspect of every learning activity or requirement. This requires an instructor to be monitoring class conditions, receptive to questions and concerns, and responsive to students when they interact with them. An online instructor who makes a commitment to meet the minimum instructional requirements will likely find that adequate work performance is not enough to produce a student-centered focus that encourages individualized learning and personalized feedback.