Online Instruction: New Roles for Teachers and Students

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study was to investigate how instructors design and deliver online courses in higher education. One hundred four instructors (response rate of 69%) responded to the survey. Online instructors described how teacher and student roles are changing in the online environment, the ways in which they can personalize a course to include all students, the demands of online teaching that differ from traditional classes, and the difficulties they encountered with technology.


Online delivery of college-level courses is rapidly becoming the modal approach to distance education. This boom has been fueled by the advent of the Internet and the exponential increase in computer use in the past decade (Maloney, 1999). These courses range in characteristics from those that are little different from correspondence courses, including little or no student interaction, to those that are interactive and innovative, utilizing Internet resources, video and audio clips, threaded discussions, email, and the like. This paper deals with the design and delivery of interactive online courses being offered today. It focuses on questions such as: What tools do instructors use? What strategies do they use in their teaching? How effective do they perceive their instruction to be compared to traditional courses? What do they like and dislike about online instruction?


Distance delivery of courses in higher education has been widely practiced in the United States since the turn of the twentieth century (Rumble, 1986). As early as 1891, the University of Chicago offered credit courses in which correspondence between students and faculty was done by mail. Since then, institutions of higher education have explored a variety of methods offering instruction at a distance. These methods have included satellite broadcast, broad-band broadcasts, home-video courses, two-way compressed video, audio conferencing, text-based correspondence courses, and slow-scan television broadcasts (Ritchie & Hoffman, 1996). Many traditional as well as virtual colleges and universities are now offering online courses using the Interact, and students are responding with increasing interest (Bjorner, 1993; Thormann, 1999; Veldsmid, 1997). In fact, according to PC World (1999), more than two million people will have taken at least one online college course by 2002.

Several recent studies have shown that online students learn at least as much as their traditional classmates (i.e. Gubernick & Ebeling, 1997; McCollum, 1997; Schulman & Sims, 1999; Smith, 1999). Other studies have been critical of the online approach to delivering instruction. For example, Maloney (1999) found that some instructors expressed concern that student work received via email attachments may not be the student's work at all, although this may also be true of papers in a traditional class. In another study, students reported that although they like the flexibility of when and where work is done, they have concerns about the daunting amount of email, their dependence on technology, and the lack of visual cues from instructors to gauge their success (Thormann, 1999). Zhang (1998) analyzed approximately 500 email messages generated in his online course and found 70% of them to be equally authored by the students and himself. He raised questions about the increased amount of instructional time needed to deliver highly interactive online courses.

With regard to another aspect of online delivery, the asynchronous, interactive environment of the online classroom may even enhance the collaboration and conversation between students, as opportunities for participation become more equal and democratic (Burge, 1994; Eastmond, 1997; Halsted, Hayes, Reising, & Billings, 1995; Klemm, 1998; Lauzon, 1992; Maloney, 1999). Students report that they experience increased ownership of their learning as well as increased opportunity and motivation to participate in classroom discussion. …