The Role Of Student And Teacher In The Online Classroom
by Sunnie (Leslie Bowman)
Teaching by discussion, whether in a traditional f2f classroom or an online class environment, requires a learner-centered approach that relies on the participation of all - teacher and students. All participants share in the learning and the responsibility for furthering discussion. In most cases, students need clear guidelines and preparation for effective discussion participation. Students bring to the discussion previous knowledge and experiences they have gained through reading, listening, and interaction with others outside the class and it is the teacher's responsibility to keep discussions on track. This also involves contributing further knowledge and experience, weaving discussion threads together to provide focus and facilitating harmonious collaboration.
The role of the student is that of active learner. The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning and to create a learning community within the online classroom. Sound familiar? In theory, using a constructivist approach does not differ much from traditional face-to-face (f2f) teaching. In actuality, there is a huge difference, mainly in that the roles of both student and teacher are rather non-negotiable in the online classroom. In traditional classrooms, there are teachers who still use lectures as the main teaching strategy (this is particularly true in college). In an online classroom, a teacher simply cannot stand in front of a class and lecture.
There are many kinds of distance learning, some of which involve televised live class sessions and some of which involve live teleconferencing. For purposes of these articles, distance learning refers simply to the asynchronous form of learning that involves communication via discussion threads, emails, and some instant messaging (although I have taken many graduate courses in which no synchronous communication whatsoever took place).
The student's responsibilities include reading the assigned information (text and online), conducting further research as required, posting relevant and meaningful answers in the discussions, reflecting on classmates' answers, further exploration of issues related to classmates' responses, and contributing to the discussions by commenting, questioning, reflecting and evaluating the responses. Students in online classes must learn to be independent and active learners; there will be no one to "spoon-feed" the information. The course content and readings are made available and it is the student's responsibility to read the information so that meaningful discussion contributions can be posted.
The teacher's role is somewhat more complicated. There are several elements of responsibility that the teacher owes the students. One is in technical areas. The instructor is responsible for all the technical elements of the course design. If a student cannot download a particular graphic that the teacher has designed for a unit topic, then the instructor must be available within a timely manner (usually via email) to assist the student in diagnosing the problem and/or giving proper and specific instructions for the download and viewing. A further responsibility of the teacher is to make sure that the technical elements of the course design are not too advanced for the students' currently available technology. If students are using older computers and 56K modems, then it does the teacher no good at all to design complicated graphics (for example streaming video) that students will not be able to download and/or view. In essence, it is the teacher's responsibility to match the course design technology with the students' technical capabilities.
Another area of responsibility for the teacher is in management of the online class. This involves planning and organization tasks very similar to that of traditional f2f teaching. The course objectives, syllabus, assignments, grading policies, rules and expectations, as well as managing the text-based interaction among the students. This is not so different from the f2f classroom in the type of planning and organization that are required before the course ever begins. Lesson planning in an online class differs significantly however. Planning by the day or week is not good practice in an online class; all planning and organization must be completed and placed in the online format well before the first day of class.
Another area of responsibility in the online classroom is the instructional element of teaching. Experienced teachers use many different strategies to encourage learning through the development of different learning styles in everyday teaching/learning. There are additional strategies and skills involved in teaching online. One of the biggest challenges in making the transition from traditional to online teaching is learning new skills that are necessary for facilitating learning in a text-based environment. Those of us here at Teachers.net have an advantage in that we are skilled in computer-mediated communication through our use of the chatboards, chatrooms, and various meetings and conferences. I would strongly suggest that anyone considering online teaching make use of the wonderful resources here to hone CMC skills in moderating both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments. Having the opportunity to moderate and conduct online meetings here at Teachers.net gave me some valuable skills that I have continued to improve upon with each online class I teach.
The final responsibility that belongs to the online teacher is one that we use in traditional classrooms as well. Online teachers are responsible for the social interactions among students in an online class. Just as we do in a f2f classroom, we need to make the online learning environment friendly and inviting. Online teachers need to encourage interaction, group cohesiveness, and communication among students and between student and teacher. There are so many kinds of interaction in an online class, between student and student, student and group, student and teacher and all of this communication takes place in a text-based medium. This will be new for many students and a teacher skilled in facilitating online communication and interaction is invaluable in the online classroom.
All of these responsibilities merge to make up the role of the online teacher. Together, teacher and students communicate and interact in ways that promote shared learning for all. Unlike a traditional f2f class, the teacher is not the "expert" who dispenses information, but rather the "guide" who facilitates shared learning.