Aug 14, 2011

Online Teachers Deserve Decent Support Services

How can we help online teachers excel, and which support services provide excellence in online teaching?

Mathis Bongo
with his Teacher
of the year Award
Mathis Bongo at Sámi University College received NADE's Teacher of the year Award for innovative use of technology in online education for reindeer herders. NKI Nettstudier has several times acknowledged excellence in online teaching. Bjørn Helgeby was for example awarded for outstanding online teaching both in 2000 and 2004. The laudations focused on his rapid and good feedback to students.

Educational institutions have different requirements, support schemes and wage models for online teaching. This provides opportunities, incentives and boundaries for the actual teaching and workload. Institutions can motivate teachers with flexible work conditions, personal development and occasional bonus schemes. But, how can the institutions provide decent support services which develop an excellent cohort of teachers?

When we lived in Portugal, my son followed three Norwegian online courses in grade 10 at Globalskolen. He had a very competent, full-time teacher who was easily accessible via Skype. At the same time, I was engaged as a part-time teacher at Universidade Aberta in Lisbon, where I had to develop and teach the entire course myself. At the Open University in the UK, the students have given submission dates and the teachers are required to give feedback within two weeks. At NKI Nettstudier, the students decide their individual submission dates and the teachers have an average response time of two days.

I've been interested in teacher support since the nineties when I wrote my dissertation on online teaching techniques. It was partly based on a survey of 150 online teachers in 30 countries. Two conclusions were that online teaching is work intensive and that it is necessary to build efficient teacher support services to handle large-scale online education. The classroom teachers I interviewed argued that they were never saved by the school bell in online classes, and the former correspondence teachers missed the old days when the mailman only arrived once a day. One argued that online teachers were like parents - always on duty.



Support services for online teachers

As the largest online education provider in Scandinavia, NKI Nettstudier has resources to build effective support services for teachers. A teacher advisor and a pedagogical advisor support nearly 150  capable teachers. The teachers are part-time employed, have flexible working conditions and some live abroad.

NKI's surveys show that about 90 percent of the students are positive or neutral about their teachers' work. They are especially concerned about receiving prompt and high quality feedback from teachers. Therefore, NKI focuses on this in the systems and initiatives that support the online teaching. This is developed for NKI's model in which all students have individual start-up days and progression plans, but it includes ideas that should be useful for everyone who are interested in developing better online teaching.

NKI's teachers have to study a course for online teachers in which they also experience NKI's learning platform from a student perspective.

New teachers are coupled with more experienced teachers who get extra payment as mentors for the newbies.

NKI has developed a set of teaching instructions which lists the responsibilities the teachers have regarding provision of information, communication, responses and teaching.

Pedagogen is the Norwegian name for the teacher's online discussion forum in which teachers and staff discuss pedagogical challenges, administrative issues and technological developments. With about 200 members, the forum is often busy and includes many high quality discussions. Both inexperienced and experienced teachers benefit from help and advice when the encounter challenges in their online teaching. Then, Pedagogen provides useful access to NKI's network of teaching experience.

In 2004, NKI introduced a response barometer which continuously shows the recorded time from the student delivers an assignment to the teacher enters the grade and feedback. It implies that the teachers can compare their average response time with the overall average of all teachers. In 2010, the overall average among the nearly 150 teachers was 1.8 days. This is an impressive result, which the teachers should be very proud of.

NKI now develops a quality barometer which continuously will show how content the students are with their teachers' work. The first experiences with this will probably be available in the fall.

In 2010, NKI introduced an online course structure for systematic peer evaluation among all the teachers. Random feedback the teachers have given on student submissions are sent to a colleague who evaluate it and give advice on possible improvements. Professor Torstein Rekkedal has conducted a survey among the first participants and concluded that they perceive it as motivating and informative. They also reported that they learned at least as much from giving feedback as they did from receiving feedback. They will therefore both give and receive feedback on each other's work in the future.

Last school year, the majority of the teachers also have delivered self-evaluation of one of the feedbacks they have given on student assignments. The experiences were so positive that future self-evaluation will be included in an online course structure in which the teachers will use the online submission system to evaluate their personal presentations, activity in the discussion forums and feedback on student submissions.

Finally, I would like to say that I'm impressed by the work online teachers do. Star teachers deserve Golden Apples along with other stars who are awarded with gold medals, Oscars and Grammies. Therefore, NKI has now introduced a new, and hopefully sustainable, scheme for nominating and awarding online teachers of the year. Competent, caring and motivated teachers are extremely important for online students and institutions. These teachers deserve honor and decent support services that help them do an even better job.

Some links for additional information

Here are some links I came across when I worked with this blog entry:

Robert W. Lion and Gary Stark have written this article: A Glance at Institutional Support for Faculty Teaching in an Online LearningEnvironment

Michelle Pacansky-Brock has written the article: IntegratingOnline Teaching into the Campus Culture

Greg Kearsley and Robert Blomeyer have made a useful summary titled: Preparing K-12 Teachers to Teach Online 

Sloan-C is a consortium of individuals, institutions and organizations committed to quality online education, which also has established several Awards for excellence in Online Teaching and Learning


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