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Teaching Online Is All About Communication

November 16, 2011 by Beth Boyett |

Despite the proliferation of online college degree programs and courses, there are very few teacher education programs or accreditation standards that specifically address the role of the online teacher and how that role differs from teaching in a face-to-face classroom.

Here at UNCG, instructor training programs are in full development, just ahead of new attention to online programs by our regional accrediting body, SACS.

Course development and course instruction are two entirely different processes at UNCG. An instructor can expect the course to be fully developed, including the syllabus and all assignments. The instructor does not have to come up with lesson plans; often, he or she does not have to grade assignments.

The main role of the instuctor for online courses becomes one of pedagogical and social communication. Pedagogical communication responsibilities include:


  1. facilitating a meaningful discussion (in which the instructor is a full participant)
  2. asking questions that stimulate critical thinking
  3. synthesizing student responses
  4. providing suggestions for relevant resources
  5. providing constructive feedback to individuals and groups

Social communication responsibilities, which may be new to some instructors, include:


  1. keeping the conversation going
  2. creating a welcoming and supportive environment
  3. modeling effective discussion contributions and feedback to others
  4. assuming a role of co-learner and a less authoritarian tone
  5. demonstrating enthusiasm and passion for the subject

online teacher cartoon


Find out more about effective online teaching by reading "Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy" by Bill Pelz, available by free download from the Sloan Consortium. Published this year, The Excellent Online Instructor by Palloff and Pratt includes great models and practical ideas.

Download Guide to Online Programs