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Distance Learning is a popular choice for many college students these days. After all, what could be more convenient than taking a college course from the comfort of your home (or dorm … or office …) computer?

While distance learning has grown tremendously over the last few years, it is still a relatively new means of instruction.

And teaching online requires different skills and expectations than teaching in a classroom. Many faculty members are hesitant to learn these skills. But simply putting a few notes and other materials from a classroom does not make for a very effective online experience.

What are the 3 most important skills that you need to be a truly outstanding online teacher?

1) You must communicate frequently with the students.
Frequent communication does NOT mean that you must be online every hour of every day. But it does mean that you need to be in contact with students frequently. How frequently? At least every other day. Rather than teaching in 2-4 hour blocks in a single day, like you would with many college classes, spend 15-45 minutes a day answering emails and monitoring your online course. At the end of the week, the time spent teaching online should be similar to the amount of time spent teaching in a classroom.

2) Be organized & be clear
Let students know from the beginning exactly what is expected of them. And set the ground rules for the course. Let students know how often you will be online, so they don’t expect an immediate response regardless of the time of day. Explain to students how they will be graded, how quickly they will receive feedback, how they should submit assignments, how they should contact you, etc. The more students know ahead of time, the less time you’ll spend responding to problems.

3) Engage the students in the learning
Lecturing and testing are standard in many campus classes (not they there necessarily promote effective learning, but that’s another story!). Teaching online offers the opportunity to reach students in many different ways – projects, discussions, comparing ideas, sharing knowledge with other students. Use as many different ways as possible to engage students, and promote active learning. Without the confines of time that are present in a campus course, and with the ability to share and discuss ideas online, not making good use of these opportunities leads to lost “learning moments”.

There is no better way to learn how to teach online than to learn online – so, before you decide to teach online, take an online course yourself.

You’ll understand what it is like to learn from a distance, without an instructor standing in front of you. You’ll understand what it is like to have to wait for answers to your questions. And you’ll learn more about how the technology can HELP you teach.

You certainly DO NOT need to be a technical expert to teach online. But you should be:

• comfortable with the Internet
• familiar with sending and receiving email
• ready to spend some time setting up your course for the first time
• aware that becoming an effective online teacher takes some time (often several courses)
• excited about learning a new skill that will help you!

Some will say there is no substitute for seeing the student’s faces. Others will realize that many students will flourish because they have more time to prepare thoughtful answers, and won’t be fearful of speaking up in front of a large group.

Teaching online can be very exciting, and very rewarding, as long as you are prepared!

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