Designing a Principles-Based Online Training Program for Instructors

Article excerpt

With rapid developments in technology and communications, online learning opportunities continue to proliferate in both secondary and postsecondary education contexts in the United States. There are greater opportunities to aggregate teacher knowledge and connect teachers with students-and each other-than ever before. Increasing numbers of predominantly traditional, "brick and mortar," programs consider a blended approach of face-to-face and online learning options valuable for student and faculty development. Given the pedagogical and technological innovations of the field, there are many options for constructing online programs. For example, some institutions are engaging in "whole course redesigns" which reduce class lecture time, with the increasing use of technology to provide more one-toone, online instruction to students (see for example, the Pew Charitable Trust's Program in Course Redesign, http://www.center.rpi.edu/ PewGrant.html, Twigg 2003). In other venues, on-campus learning centers and academic support services are using online tutoring and learning support to complement the face-to-face support they already provide. Across the board, however, there has been little exploration into how to train instructors to teach in such asynchronous and synchronous environments. As a community of educators, therefore, we are at the very beginning of needed exploration into these issues.

With that in mind, this article considers key issues for those who are in the position of developing training programs for online instructors or tutors. Based on our recently published book Preparing Educators for Online Writing Instruction: Principles and Processes (2004), the issues addressed here focus on the cross-disciplinary practice and pedagogy of online instruction. Rooted in the training of hundreds of secondary and postsecondary teachers and professors, our work concentrates on how to apply desired principles, streamline processes for small and larger-scale training programs, and develop accountability methods for online instructors.

THE CASE FOR PRINCIPLE-CENTERED, ONLINE TRAINING

We believe that teaching is a process of (a) helping students to ask and address thoughtful questions, and (b) helping students construct meaning through first-hand experience. We also believe that these pedagogical objectives can be applied to online learning environments as well. To be sure, an overarching question for individuals who are engaging in online teaching and learning endeavors is this: do online teachers need training to facilitate such pedagogical objectives?

Our experience suggests that there are few straightforward transitions from face-to-face to online contexts because there are, indeed, inherently different aspects of the teaching and learning that occurs online (e.g., acclimating to a textbased mode of communication in synchronous and asynchronous modalities, and establishing rapport in a potentially faceless medium). Instructors cannot directly transplant their understandings, strategies, and skills from face-to-face to online teaching environments. Thus, whether training a team of peer undergraduate writing tutors to work via an online writing lab or training a team of seasoned face-to-face educators who will be launching a new graduate online seminar, it is our experience that training programs for online instructors are indeed necessary and vital.

Furthermore, cognizant of the inevitable technology changes to which thinkers such as Kilby (2001) refer, we have seen that trainers must identify instructional principles for training that outlive specific technology platforms and then choose training methods adaptable to particular platforms. In other words, whether one uses email or particular educational/commercial software for a classroom- or Internet-based networking platform, a training program can engage wellconsidered training and pedagogical principles that address online teaching and learning as a whole (also see Covey's notion of "true north," 1992). …