Challenges of Teaching Online

According to a recent American Federation of Teachers report on distance learning, faculty must be prepared to meet the special requirements of teaching at a distance. Some of the challenges for instructors of teaching online include:

  • Familiarity with the online environment
  • Capacity to use the medium to its advantage
  • Being available to students on an extended basis electronically
  • Providing quick responses and feedback to students

Massy, William. “Distance Education: Guidelines for Good Practice.” AFT, May 2002

Yet, the proponents of online learning argue that these obstacles can be overcome by employing such techniques as the following:

Become familiar with the technology used in your online course

Long before your course starts, become familiar with the technology used in your online course, including hardware and software, and spend some time exploring their options. An online course requires a high level of computing power and reliable telecommunications infrastructure. Make sure you have access to both.

Use the online medium to your advantage

The online environment is essentially a space for written communication. This is both a limitation and a potential of online learning. Written communication can be more time consuming, but “the ability to sit and think as one composes a question or comment also can raise the quality of discussion.” Additionally, shy students who have trouble participating in a classroom discussion often feel more comfortable in an online classroom. Online classrooms can be developed with this fact in mind to take advantage of these considerations.

Massy, William. “Distance Education: Guidelines for Good Practice.” AFT, May 2002, p. 9 and “Teaching at an Internet Distance: the Pedagogy of Online Teaching and Learning.” The Report of a 1998-1999 University of Illinois Faculty Seminar.

Keep connected with students

Use the technology of the online environment to help you keep in touch with students. Communicate frequently with students, both individually and as a group. A main part of this handbook focuses on how to connect with students. While keeping connected with students can be a challenge, the online environment offers a number of interesting pedagogical opportunities.

FROM:  Teaching and Learning Online: Communication, Community and Assessment – A Handbook for UMass Faculty

NOTE from John Gerber

Students will tell you when something is NOT working!  I check in on a regular basis with students taking my online classes using a “plus/delta” technique.  In a 6 week class for example, I will ask them on 2-3 ocassions using the Discussion Tool in Blackboard “what is working and what can be improved?”   They will tell you!

The greatest challenge for me online is trying to create a feeling of community within the class.  I begin the class by asking students to introduce themselves as follows: 

Notice that I offer “extra credit” points as recommended in the UMass Teaching and Learning Handbook for participating in the discussion.  One or two students who love to “chat” can keep the discussion lively and engaging so I don’t have to try to stimulate conversation.  I do comment from time to time (just so the students know that I’m online too) but frankly, the discussions pretty much run themselves.