This blog was originally published on 29 April and written by Dr Jacqueline Baxter, Director for the Centre for Innovation in online Legal and Business Education (SCiLAB) at The Open University Business School. The original blog can be accessed on the SCiLAB website.
Jacqueline is Editor-In-Chief for the Sage Journal Management in Education and author of the book: Creativity and Critique in Online Learning: Exploring and Examining Innovations in Online Pedagogy.
The recent COVID-19 crisis and subsequent lockdown has meant that many teachers at all phases of learning have had to very rapidly get to grips with teaching online. But teaching online is not something that comes naturally, nor does it develop overnight. It takes time to develop an online teaching identity, brings different feelings and emotions to bear and requires different skills to teaching face-to-face. But what exactly are the skills and attributes of an online teacher and how do you go about the whole business?
I first taught online 15 years ago at a predominantly campus-based university. The teaching wasn’t fully online, I did visit students in their workplace, but a lot of the feedback that I gave was online: commenting on work submitted and pointing them to online resources. I joined the Open University in 2004 as an associate lecturer. The module that I was teaching again was partly online, although there was the opportunity for face-to-face tutorials. I often came away from online interactions with feelings that were very different from those I had when teaching face-to-face. I decided to explore this looking at online teaching identity and what kind of development was necessary in order to turn into an effective online teacher. My research lasted three years, and probably taught me as much about myself than it did about other people.
Talking to teachers that were moving online was a fascinating experience. Many of them had come from face-to-face teaching situations and had carved out a way of doing things – ways that worked over many years, yet moving into the online environment they had very strong feelings that were similar to those that were invoked when they first began teaching. ‘I felt as if I was skipping but now I feel as if I’m plodding, just putting one foot in front of the other.’ said one. Another expressed amazement at the sheer amount of time that it took to think about teaching online: how long it took to prepare, how much thought it took to create activities that would engage students. But perhaps the most powerful feelings were those of trying to replicate the same feelings of job satisfaction in the online environment as in face-to-face teaching, some of the comments summed this up :
‘You just can’t tell when they’ve got it.’
‘I feel as if it’s difficult to get to know them, I would normally use a lot of humour in my teaching, but I can’t – or at least I don’t dare to in case I offend.’
‘I can’t take the silence when they don’t respond.’
‘Do they really do that deep learning online?’.
Many of the teachers interviewed talked about the difficulties of conveying their personality online. Since then there has been a great deal written about developing an online identity. Some of this work uses the development of online identities more generally, the developing an online teaching identity is a very specific type of identity – a professional identity like any other.
Not everyone is suited to teaching online: some find the online environment off-putting, but many with a bit of practice, and once they get used to the technology, find that they can do things online which would be impossible in a face-to-face scenario. What is certain is that you can’t just take face-to-face content and stick up as a PDF online, and call that online teaching…