Instructor’s online behaviors were not a focus of research until the momentum of online teaching occurred (Baker, 2010). Based on research on human learning (Ormrod, 2012), one can draw on several theories for delivering targeted instruction at the right time: Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, Ebbinghaus’ serial position effect (primacy and recency effect), and the presence or absence of retrieval cues in Cormier’s information processing theory. Students need “right time” feedback that targets their instructional needs. Moreover, feedback formats should vary to enhance the lack of richness in text-based media commonly found in online environments (Arbaugh & Hornik, 2006; Chickering & Gamson, 1987).
As cited in Moore and Kearsley (1996), Moore’s 1973 transactional distance theory explains how electronic communication tools promote student-student and student-teacher interactions. They theorized that the geographical distance matters less than the course structure. Online courses that provide e-tools for communication close the distance and provide psychological closeness between the teacher and the class similar to closeness created in traditional courses (Lemak, Shin, Reed, & Montgomery, 2007). Arbaugh and Hornik (2006) suggested video conferencing, voice messaging, and some other types of multimedia. Bernard et al. (2004) found a larger effect size for course completion rates with synchronous sessions when compared to asynchronous ones. Baker reported that students in synchronous courses reported higher levels of instructor immediacy levels. If synchronous sessions are tied to higher course completion rates, then, perhaps online instructors should intermittently offer them.
Arbaugh and Hornik found that online teaching requires the instructor to take on a facilitator mode and manage discussions in a conversational style to augment student interactions. The informality of the conversation could lessen the psychological distance between the students and their instructor. Moore and Kearsley likened distance education to a transaction that could create a psychological space for potential misunderstandings. Therefore, the risk for misunderstandings could be increased when teachers wait until week’s end to post their responses. Hence, this may not be a very good practice. The lack of, or delay in, instructor feedback is a critical component in distance education.
Why do some online instructors not provide a format for class discussion? There’s a multitude of possible reasons from a lack of ability, unrecognized benefits, a preference for lecture-based instruction, or lack of time. An alternative would be to provide an online discussion moderated by a teaching assistant or participants in the class. In a literature review by Thormann, Gable, Fidalgo, and Blakeslee (2013), student moderation generated more frequent and in-depth discussion for the learners. They found that student ownership of the course increased. Understandably, some participants reported dissatisfaction if the instructor rarely participated. Therefore, the teacher still needs to participate in the online discussions even with a student moderator. The US Office of Education (Means et al., 2010) conducted a meta-analysis and review of 99 online learning studies. They found larger effect sizes for studies that included collaborative or teacher-directed learning activities than those with independent study.
See my PowerPoint presentation for more tips on incorporating your teacher presence in your online courses: Effective Online Communication.
Arbaugh, J. B., & Hornik, S. (2006). Do Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles also apply to online MBAs? The Journal of Educators Online, 3(2), 1-18.
Baker, C. (2010). The impact of instructor immediacy and presence for online student affective learning, cognition, and motivation. The Journal of Educators Online, 7(1), 1-30.
Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Borokhovski, E., Wade, C. A., Tamim, R., Surkes, M. A., & Bethel, E. C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three types of interaction treatments in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79, 1243-1288.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Wingspread Journal, 9(2), 75-81.
Lemak, D., Shin, S., Reed, R., & Montgomery, J. (2005). Technology, transactional distance, and instructor effectiveness: An empirical investigation. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4(2), 150-158.
Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/opepd/ppss/reports.html
Moore, M.G., & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.
Ormrod, J. E. (2012). Human learning (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
Thormann, J., Gable, S., Fidalgo, P., & Blakeslee, G. (2013). Interaction, critical thinking, and social network analysis (SNA) in online courses. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 14(3), 294-318. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1306/2537