What Makes a Good Online Instructor?

By Dr. Conrad Lotze
Dean, School of Education, American Public University

What  qualifications and characteristics are key to being  a good online instructor?

In order to evaluate candidates for online faculty positions, I typically ask myself a series of questions:

  • Do they possess the requisite content knowledge and degree necessary for the position? 
  • Do they have knowledge and experience in pedagogy or andragogy, that is, the science and art of teaching children and adults, respectively?
  • Have they had coursework in, or, actual experience teaching the subject matter? Face-to-face experience is okay, but online experience is preferred. 
  • Have they interacted with students in an online environment before? Distance learning is quite different from face-to-face interactions – it takes patience and good communication skills, along with an ability to motivate folks asynchronously – that is, independent of time or place. 
  • Do they have enthusiasm or passion for their subject matter?
  • Do they have the ability to breathe life into the content, to inspire and motivate their students? 
  • Have they had real-world experience in their field? 
  • Do they believe that every student can learn? 

I also look for evidence of good organizational and communication skills, compassion, and technological savvy. Online instruction is demanding, and it takes considerable time to learn how to teach well and deal with the unique challenges that exist in the online environment. 

A major challenge is to design instruction to communicate both the course content and instructor expectations with enough detail for those accessing the lesson who are unable to ask questions in real time. Successful online faculty need to be able to manage multiple demands on their time – from reading and responding cogently to forum posts to grading assignments in a timely manner. Good online instructors do all of this while also providing additional student support like study-skills advice to time-strapped students or extra content help to those who are struggling.

This support can take many forms, including the use of real-time screen sharing, teleconferences and FAQs to address common questions. Communicating via technology at a distance is also fraught with possibilities for miscommunication and avoiding such pitfalls takes a careful, thoughtful person. It is rare to find all of these qualities in faculty, but when I do, I hire them in a heartbeat.

About the Author:
Dr. Conrad Lotze possesses many years of educational leadership and teaching experience from a variety of academic positions. Conrad holds a BS in Mathematics from the College of William and Mary, an MA in Mathematics Education from West Virginia University, and a PhD in Mathematics Education from American University.

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