Moving To Online Teaching: Issues and Resources For Educators

Many experienced educators are racing to prepare for a new reality. Today’s students, with cell phones glued in hand and laptops never out of reach, show an increasing interest in online courses. In 2013, about 46% of all college students were enrolled in at least one online course — quite a jump from 20% in 2008.

Students like online classrooms and degree programs for their flexibility, ease of access and affordability, and teaching no longer is limited to face-to-face experiences. For a growing number of learners, it’s keyboard-to-keyboard, screen-to-screen and webcam-to-webcam. As a response to this shift, many educators are seeking training, webinars or workshops on how to best improve their online teaching skills and further their credentials.

Moving To Online Teaching: Issues and Resources For Educators
Experts in online teaching emphasize the different planning, design and management considerations.
Bart Everson

These issues apply not just to teachers in higher ed or K-12 settings. Workplace training professionals find themselves needing more and more to reach their students online.

Additionally, online education is opening up new opportunities to people who may be novices at teaching entirely, such as solo entrepreneurs developing and selling courses on their own websites or on platforms like Udemy.

To be effective in this new environment, aspiring online teachers may need to develop a different set of skills than they’ve relied on in a traditional classroom. For example, experts in this area emphasize the need for widespread knowledge of tech resources, superior communication skills and different planning, design and management considerations.

To be effective in this new environment, aspiring online teachers may need to develop a different set of skills than they’ve relied on in a traditional classroom.
Curtis Bonk, a professor of instructional systems design at Indiana University and co-author of the new book Adding some Tec-Variety , says that to develop these skills, teachers should “take a class first, or at least browse one. Browse a few, because everyone is a little bit different. I recommend taking a smorgasbord approach and sampling a bit.”

Bonk also emphasizes the importance of talking to someone who has shared experience in online learning and points to online education conferences as great opportunities to do so.

By taking advantage of the resources out there, Bonk says educators can better improve their e-learning skills, such as the “ability to be flexible and aware of diverse learner needs, to understand how to engage learners, how to give good feedback, how to provide supports and how to make it relevant to them.”

“There’s a lot of things that are not just techie skills, but pedagogical skills — instructional skills that can be taught,” Bonk adds.

Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois-Springfield, is a national leader in today’s online learning discussion. He advises that, “online faculty can best teach if they can create a community of inquiry. Distant students need to be engaged and supported since they do not have ready access to the facilities of the campus.”

The online environment constantly changes for students and faculty alike. New technologies, apps and software force online educators to adapt, says Schroeder, and “pedagogies and best practices constantly evolve requiring continuing professional development.”

The online environment constantly changes for students and faculty alike.
Credentials for online teaching?
But in Schroeder’s opinion, a certificate of training is “less important than a supportive environment of instructional designers, web developers and experienced colleagues.”

Likewise, Bonk says a certification or credential “is not a pre-requisite but it will help. There are three kinds of instructors in terms of training. There are those that have had a history of experimenting. There are those that are self-directed learners — that pick up all this free and open content and learn on their own. And the third type actually takes courses and earn certificates.”

Resources for teaching online
We’ve rounded up a variety of resources below for educators looking to broaden their skills as online teachers, and we’ve noted which programs offer certificates, university credit or continuing education credits.

Whether you are just entering the world of an online classroom, designing your own or looking for a quick refresher, the following resources can help you hone your skills and improve your credentials for today’s online classroom.

E-Learning certificate programs
Let’s look first at some of the more established programs, many of which offer certificates or university credit.

Sloan Consortium workshops, teaching certificates, and webinars

Sloan Consortium, an early leader in this area, is often the first stop for training in online education. As a learning community that focuses on spreading quality online learning into mainstream education, produce a large number of teaching certificates, workshops and webinars for online educators.

Sloan’s workshop programs are offered in a variety of synchronous and asynchronous formats and lengths. Stretching from “Workload Management” to “Developing an Interactive Syllabus,” the list of programs also includes a series titled “New to Online” which focuses on everything from the essentials of online teaching to strategies on how to increase interaction and engagement. Workshop prices range from $170 to $600, with prices varying for members and non-members.

The Online Teaching Certificate is a nine-week long foundation course followed by three electives that determine your awarded specialization: online design, online learners, online tools or online management. The program is $1,850, or $1,500 if you choose not to take the three electives.

Sloan-C also offers free webinars for interested online educators, including a “New to Online” series covering the basics for prospective online teachers.

University of California-Irvine, Virtual Teacher Program

The major MOOC platforms are beginning to put together sequences of courses in a given subject. One example that leads to a certificate in this area is the Virtual Teacher Certification Program offered by University of California-Irvine via Coursera.

The sequence consists of four MOOCs and a final capstone project. Participants learn the top practices for online instruction, how to best use emerging technologies, virtual community building and data analysis techniques for gauging student performance. After completing the four courses (five weeks each), the capstone project requires participants to use the knowledge they’ve gained to develop plans and materials for an online classroom.

All the classes are offered for free, but the Virtual Teacher Program certificate requires enrolling in Coursera’s fee-based Signature Track. The first class in the sequence, Foundations of Virtual Instruction, begins next on June 30, 2014.

Illinois Online Network, Master Online Teacher Certificate

The online teaching certificate offered by the University of Illinois Online Network (ION) is a series of five, eight-week long courses and a final online teaching practicum where participants work with instructors to create or improve their own online course. The program covers online course design, online instruction and tools for online educators, and the certificate states the participant’s qualifications as a Master Online Teacher. The cost for registration depends on the participant, with substantial discounts for faculty members at Illinois community colleges and the University of Illinois.

University of Wisconsin-Stout, E-learning and Online Teaching Graduate Certificate

University of Wisconsin-Stout has a graduate certificate program consisting of four courses, each eight weeks long and offered three to four times a year. It ends with a practicum, along with career mentoring and job placement assistance. Those who complete the program are awarded a certificate in e-learning and online teaching. There is no registration fee, but for 2014, the tuition is $415 per semester hour graduate credit. This means for one three-credit, eight-week course, you could be paying around $1,245. The benefit of this is that the 15 credits may be applied as electives in UW-Stout’s Master of Science in Education graduate degree program. If you are interested in enrolling in one course, but not the certificate program itself, then you can do that as well.

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professional Certificate in Online Education

The Professional Certificate in Online Education offered by UW-Madison focuses on online instruction and instructional design. It starts with three weeks of self-paced work, then six weeks of an asynchronous scheduled course, and ends with four to five months of self-paced coursework. These last months include lessons on ePortfolios, online assessment and e-learning design. The program offers multiple introductory courses and cost $1,295. If you are looking for a course that offers continuing education credits, this may be for you: it does award seven CEU’s (70 hours).

Washington State University, Online Teaching Certification Course

This free certification course from Washington State University covers the essentials of online instruction in five self-paced modules. According to its website, the course covers seven principles of good practice and shows participants how to implement them in an online classroom. Upon completion and evaluation, participants receive a certificate of instructional effectiveness and excellence in teaching online. If you want a free way to brush up on your online teaching skills, or are simply seeing if online teaching is for you, this may be one solution.

Other university programs

We found programs similar to those detailed above at:

Michigan State University College of Education’s Online Teaching and Learning Graduate Certificate.
Rutgers University Continuing Studies program’s Online Teaching Certificate Workshops.
University of Wisconsin-Madison Distance Education program’s K-12 Certificate in Online Learning.
E-Learning Webinars
Webinars can be a great way to get a quick introduction to issues for online educators and, in some cases, a deep dive into a particular strategy.

International Association for K-12 Online Learning

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning, also known as iNACOL, is a non-profit association for online learners and advocates, and it currently offers four different series of webinars to paying members for free. Memberships also include access to online forums and discounts for conferences, services and products. Most relevant for new online teachers, you also get access to all archived webinars on specialized topics like how to best evaluate students in the online classroom and how to reach students with disabilities through online learning.

Teachers’ Curriculum Institute

The Teachers’ Curriculum Institute offers a variety of free on-demand webinars, some of which focus on online learning and incorporating apps and other technologies in the K-12 classroom. One recent free webinar, “Building Your Own Online Community,” focuses on three different tools to best construct an online learning community. These webinars are a great alternative for those who just want to brush up on online teaching skills and see what new resources are out there.

The eLearning Guild

The eLearning Guild is a membership organization especially for professionals in workplace training and organizational learning with a large number of conferences, publications and online classes. One example of their webinars is “Captivate your Virtual Classroom,” which explores the best strategies for increasing student involvement in the online classroom. Other subjects include mobile learning and design. The current webinars are free to the public, but to access archived webinars, you have to be an eLearning Guild member.

MOOCs on online teaching
Earlier we discussed the Coursera program leading to a certificate. Occasionally, other individual MOOCs on this subject are available.

University of New South Wales, Learning To Teach Online

This Coursera MOOC from instructors at The University of New South Wales, titled Learning To Teach Online, is directed toward all educators who want to improve their skills in the online classroom. It runs for eight weeks and requires three to six hours of work a week. Each week has a designated topic and goal, and the instructor will supplement the course with a variety of reading and video materials. The course is free to join and is currently accepting registration for the next session, starting July 2014.

Corporate sponsored classes
In some cases, hardware manufacturers or software vendors offer classes to support their customers. We found two worth a look for teachers.

Intel Teach Elements, Online Professional Development Courses

Intel operates a program called Teach Elements, which provides an array of self-paced Online Professional Development Courses for K-12 teachers. They are free, downloadable and accompanied by a syllabus to walk you through each module and assignment. One introductory course, titled “Moving into Mobile Learning,” is for those preparing to design or teach their own online classroom environment.

The courses are basically webinars with assignments attached, so the do-it-yourself attitude of this option may not be suitable for anyone who wants to have a discussion and be evaluated by an online-teaching professional. The courses are free, though, so any self-starter can download the video and syllabus to learn the basics.

SoftChalk, Webinars

SoftChalk, a provider of online teaching software, offers a series of webinars and short courses on online learning. Though they are specifically designed to help SoftChalk users, they include introductory information on online teaching that can be applicable with all instructional platforms. The upcoming webinars cost a fee, but they offer a 30-day free trial. Also, there is a plethora of archived webinars ready for viewing and offered for free on their website.

Key findings
Take an online class to experience what the student does.
Engaging and supporting learners is different online.
It’s not all about the tech.
But tech changes require constant adaptation.