Mentoring and experiential learning in the development of online instructors

The instructor of an online course plays a crucial role in the success of students. The unique skillset required of an instructor includes knowing how to moderate discussions, structure activities which engage the learners collaboratively and competency with a range of online tools and activities. Developing these skills is best accomplished by active engagement with the tools and environment, either as a learner enrolled in an online course or as a co-instructor with a more experienced instructor acting as mentor.

Pairing an inexperienced educator with an experienced instructor creates the opportunity for experiential learning to occur. By co- teaching an online course the novice instructor can engage in the full range of teaching skills, supported by an experienced instructor. Instructor mentoring is further augmented by a range of support materials including screencasts, written documentation and online interaction outside of the context of a given course.

Insuring the quality of online instruction

Creating a successful online course requires expertise in both domain specific knowledge and instructional design. This expertise can be achieved by a team consisting of faculty member and relevant IT staff or, in the case of a distance learning specialist one person embodying the requisite knowledge and skillset. (Domain knowledge and IT skillset). Course creation can occur without the involvement of the course instructor. In this instance a ready made course is passed off to an experienced instructor for use. By structure the online educational opportunities in this manner we are able to provide fully developed courses which may be run by instructors “in the field”.

Inherent in this process is the robust and adequate training of educators to function in an online environment. The process we have described above begins to address this need, but it is likely that additional support opportunities and structures will need to be put in place to maintain consistency of instruction and insure the integration of the role of online instructor into a broader work environment. Formal opportunities, such as on-campus intensive training, combined with informal interactions via discussion boards, etc can be used to build and maintain the capacity of educators to become online instructors.

Informal interactions can be useful in maintaining connections, sharing knowledge and building a community of online instructors. Creating a stable community which is open to newcomers can facilitate the mentor/novice relationship. A persistent community also serves as a repository of hard won, pratical, knowledge which can be used by all members of the community.

As always, a work in progress with more to come…… 

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Mentoring and experiential learning in the development of online instructors by ptreadwell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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