How to Become a Good Online Teacher

Jul 21, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

So, you’re into online learning and are contemplating becoming an amazing online teacher.  Good news—it’s not so different from being an amazing bricks-and-mortar teacher, save the online part.

If you want to be a good online teacher, first you need to be a good person.  What does that mean?  It means that you have to care.

What does an online teacher do?  The same things a traditional teacher does.  In most online teaching scenarios, you either need a teaching credential or equivalent experience. You also need to be willing to work with a curriculum that you didn’t design.

You still interact with students.  You teach course material.  You make grade work.  You make yourself available and approachable. 

What’s missing?  Physical face-to-face time.

What do you have to do?  Let’s take a closer look.

 

1. Be strict.

Just because you can work on your couch in your bunny slippers doesn’t mean that you can’t be strict.  You can—and should.

Here’s why: you need to uphold the guidelines of the online school for which you’re teaching so that school can maintain its accreditation.  You are essentially a spokesman for a quality product—online learning.

If you can’t tow the line and you have students dropping out, then you need to step up, lay down the law, and ensure that your students have what they need so that they can do what they need to do. 

Make it clear that you’re in charge, that you’re there for your students—and make it clear that you care.

 

2. Communicate clearly and often.

It’s in your best interest to hold regular “office hours” when you’re available online, to update your course page, send frequent emails if they’re necessary, and be clear about expectations.

Your students should receive consistent, timely feedback on their work, and you should reach out to them if their work is subpar.

Students need to know when they can contact you, how they should contact you, and how soon they should receive a response.

By maintaining clear and consistent communication, you set a tone of reciprocity.  Students will respect you for making their experience positive—and will reciprocate by communicating clearly with you and asking for help when they need it. 

 

3. Be tech-savvy.

Not only do you have to be an ace in your subject area, you need to understand the technology upon which you rely every day. 

Since it changes almost as quickly, you need to educate yourself frequently on updates to your course and data management systems.  What does this mean?  Ask your supervisors for updates.  Watch videos to help you understand any products that you use. 

Learn how to use the technology you’re required to use—and how to adapt to it as it changes.

 

4. Show patience and flexibility.

When you don’t teach face-to-face, you need even more patience with your students than you would if you saw them every day in a traditional classroom. 

Encourage your students to contact you by email, but also through video conferencing.  Don’t be afraid to use a whiteboard tool to enhance your students’ experience either.

You can do all the same things you do as a traditional teacher—you just need to find ways of using technology to do it. 

Another thing?  Sometimes technology doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.  Go with it.  Work around it.  Encourage your students to do the same.

 

5. Accept teaching in isolation.

Accept this: your colleagues are real people who also work from their couches in bunny slippers.  Bottom line: you don’t interact with colleagues much.

You don’t have constant validation, or warm face-to-face encounters.

What does this mean?  You need to be confident—in what you’re doing, what you know, how to use technology—and most importantly—interact with your students.

 

6. Co-learn

Just because you work confidently in isolation doesn’t mean that you’re alone all the time. 

Participant in online discussions and online teaching forums.  Communicate with other online teachers.  Attend seminars. 

Most important?  Don’t be afraid to reach out when you want to learn something.

That’s how you got into this business in the first place, isn’t it?

Learn more about teaching online.

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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