Thursday, 7 June 2012

What Does The Excellent Online Instructor Look Like?

From Tomorrow's Professor:

The posting below looks at some of the characteristics of the excellent online instructor. It is from Chapter One, What Are the Characteristics of Excellent Online Teaching?, in the book, The Excellent Online Instructor: Strategies for Professional Development, by Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt. Published by Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint, 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741


The growing popularity of online instruction has brought with it increasing recognition that teaching online differs from face-to-face teaching. As a result, more attention is being paid to what constitutes positive educational experiences online and the characteristics of good online instructors and courses. Organizations such as Quality Matters have emerged that are designed to evaluate online course design, and faculty at many institutions are being trained as Quality Matters evaluators so as to determine the quality of courses being designed by their peers and to offer suggestions for improvement. In addition, other institutions, such as California State University?Chico (Rubric for Online Instruction) and the Illinois Online Network (Quality Online Course Initiative Rubric) have published course design rubrics that are available online for anyone who wants to evaluate his or her own course. These can also be used as components of the evaluation of good course design and
 online teaching practice. Like the Quality Matters rubric, the CSU-Chico rubric focuses primarily on good design elements. The Illinois Online Network QOCI, however, does look at elements that promote collaboration between students and interaction between student and instructor.

In one of our previous books (Palloff & Pratt, 2003), we noted that much of the literature on best practices in online teaching was limited to the effective use of various technologies. Since that time, however, more attention has been paid to what constitutes best practice in online instruction. This aligns closely with our discussion of Graham, Kursat, Byung-Ro, Craner, and Duffy?s (2001) article linking the Chickering and Gamson (1987) Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education to online teaching. Graham et al. note the following seven lessons for online instruction: Instructors should provide clear guidelines for interaction with students; provide well-designed discussion assignments to promote cooperation among students; encourage students to present course projects to one another; provide prompt feedback of two types?information and acknowledgement; provide assignment deadlines; provide challenging tasks, sample cases, and praise for high-quality work
 to reinforce high expectations; and allow students to choose project topics.

Based on Weimer?s (2002) work on learner-focused teaching, in order to achieve all of this, we note that several things need to happen:

The balance of power needs to change ? The instructor online acts as a learning facilitator, allowing students to take charge of their own learning process.

The function of content needs to change ? As noted by Carr-Chellman and Duchastel (2001), good online course design makes learning resources and instructional activities available to students rather than providing instruction in the form of a lecture or other means.

The role of the instructor needs to change ? By establishing active and strong online presence, a topic we will return to in more depth, the instructor demonstrates his or her expertise and guides the students in their learning process.

The responsibility for learning needs to change ? With the instructor acting as guide, resource, and facilitator, students need to take more responsibility for their own learning process.

The purpose and process of assessment and evaluation need to change ? Traditional means of assessment and evaluation need to change ? traditional means of assessment, such as tests and quizzes, do not always meet the mark when it comes to this form of learning. Consequently, other forms of assessment, such as self-assessment and application activities, should be incorporated to assess student learning and evaluate areas for potential course improvement (Palloff & Pratt, 2003).

What we have been discussing here is what good facilitation looks like in an online course. But how does this translate into the characteristics of the excellent online instructor? And are the same characteristics required regardless of the level at which the online course is offered: K?12 through graduate level? An issue-oriented white paper that was published following a conference on virtual pedagogy (Kircher, 2001) offered the following characteristics: organized; highly motivated and enthusiastic; committed to teaching; supports student-centered learning; open to suggestions; creative; takes risks; manages time well; responsive to learner needs; disciplined; and is interested in online delivery without expectation of other rewards. Savery (2005) offers the VOCAL acronym to describe the effective online instructor. In other words, the effective online instructor is Visible, Organized, Compassionate, Analytical, and a Leader by example. The Illinois Online Network (2007) a
 dds to the list by noting that good online instructors have a broad base of life experience in addition to their teaching credentials; demonstrate openness, concern, flexibility, and sincerity (characteristics we have consistently equated with online excellence); feel comfortable communicating in writing (A characteristic also stressed by Kearsley, n.d.); accept that the facilitated model of teaching is equally powerful to traditional teaching methods; value critical thinking; and are experienced and well-trained in online teaching. Kearsley (n.d.) also notes that having experienced online instruction as a student also helps, something that we support wholeheartedly. Clearly, it is this last component?well trained in online instruction?that we will be emphasizing in this book and we contend that regardless of the educational level of the student enrolled in the online class, this is the key to excellence. Before we embark on that exploration, however, we want to delve furthe
 r into a few areas that we feel are significant in the emergence of excellence online?the ability to establish presence, create and maintain a learning community, and effectively develop and facilitate online courses.


? Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-6.

? Graham, C., Kursat, C., Byung-Ro, L., Craner, J., & Duffy. T. M. (2001). Seven principles of effective teaching: A practical lens for evaluating online courses, The Technology Source (Mar./Apr. 2001). Retrieved from: [].

? Illinois Online Network (2007). Pedagogy & learning: What makes a successful online facilitator? Retrieved from [].

? Kearsley. G. (n.d.). Tips for training online instructors. Retrieved from [

? Kircher, J. (2001). What are the essential characteristics of the successful online teacher and learner? Issue-oriented Dialogue White Paper, Virtual Pedagogy Conference, UW Oshkosh, July 18, 2001. Retrieved from [].

? Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2003). The virtual student: A profile and guide to working with online learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

? Savery, J. (2005). Be vocal: Characteristics of successful online instructors. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 4(2), 141-152. Retrieved from [].

? Weimer, M. G. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.