Week 2: The Role of the Online Instructor – Winter 2020


Although teaching in the traditional classroom environment shares some common characteristics with the online setting, there are some distinct differences between the two. The literature suggests that online teaching requires a specific sets of skills that differ from the face-to-face environment, and that educators need to adapt to new roles in order to create effective and meaningful online learning experiences (Kreber & Kanuka, 2006). As we heard from the videos in the previous module, the online environment changes the nature of the interaction between the teacher, student, and content, which challenges educators to rethink their underlying assumptions about teaching and learning, and the role they play in the classroom (Stacey & Wiesenberg, 2007). A number of studies have been conducted to investigate the characteristics common to effective online educators and to identify the competencies needed to excel in the online environment. This module will explore the competencies required for online versus face-to-face teaching and learning, and will provide you with the opportunity to assess your personal readiness to teach online. It will also allow you to reflect on your existing teaching and learning beliefs and practices and examine how they might change in the online environment.

Learning Outcomes

When you have completed this module, you should be able to:

  • Compare and contrast the competencies required for online versus face-to-face teaching and learning.
  • Assess your personal readiness to teach online.

Articulate an online teaching philosophy statement that draws on learning theory, and on your own teaching and learning experience, beliefs, and practice.

Topic 1 – Online versus Face-to-Face Teaching and Learning


According to Anderson (2004), the affordances of the online medium create a unique environment for teaching and learning as the time and place of the educational interaction is shifted, content can be delivered in many formats and is widely accessible, and the ability to communicate both asynchronously and synchronously creates a communications-rich learning context. Cook (2007) suggests that it is common to underestimate the essential differences between online learning and the traditional classroom, and the roles learners and instructors play are fundamentally different online.

Please watch the following videos:

When comparing face-to-face teaching versus online teaching, the educators interviewed in the videos noted that the online environment expands the availability of teaching resources and tools, and can be more multidimensional than the traditional classroom. They also mentioned that preparation for teaching online is different as it requires are greater degree of planning given that online courses are usually complete before delivery, which can also lead to a lack of flexibility to adapt on the fly. Engagement with learners was also described as being different since you can’t make eye contact with the students, or see their facial expressions in order to determine if they understand the material, or if they are engaged in the learning process. The educators also suggested that you have to be more creative when teaching online, and that you have to re-think the role of the teacher, which can be a humbling experience.

Learning Activity 1 – Online Versus Face-to-Face Teaching: Post in Portfolio

Are there any additional differences between face-to-face teaching and online teaching that were not identified in the videos that you think should be added to the list?

Topic 2 – The Role of the Online Instructor


Over the years, a variety of online teacher roles have been mentioned in the literature using different terms and descriptions, and several taxonomies and models of online instructor roles have been proposed. One of the most commonly cited models of online instructor roles is Berge’s (1995) model, which includes the following four main roles:

  1. Pedagogical Role — Helps support individual and group learning. Such tasks include encouraging students’ knowledge-sharing and knowledge-building through interactive discussion, designing a variety of educational experiences, providing feedback, and referring to external resources or experts in the field.
  2. Social Role — Promotes a friendly environment and community feelings to support student cognitive learning processes. Includes developing harmony, group cohesiveness, and collective identity.
  3. Managerial Role — Includes the organizational, procedural, and administrative tasks associated with the learning environment. The tasks involve coordinating assignments, managing online discussion forums, and handling overall course structure.
  4. Technical Role — Helps make participants comfortable with the system and software program used for online courses. Technical tasks include referring students to technical support resources, addressing technical concerns, diagnosing and clarifying problems encountered, and allowing students sufficient time to learn new programs.

These roles were proposed at a time when educators were just moving to online environments, and where the main activities were designed around asynchronous online discussions. That said, these roles provided a helpful foundation on which modern theories were established. In 2009, Bawane and Spector summarized the following eight online instructor roles emerging from the contemporary literature:

  1. Professional — Complies with ethic and legal standards, communicates effectively, undertakes efforts to update knowledge, and demonstrates commitment and favorable attitude
  2. Pedagogical — Designs instructional strategies, develops appropriate learning resources, implements instructional strategies, facilitates participation among students, sustains students’ motivation
  3. Social — Maintains a cordial learning environment, resolves conflict, refrains from undesirable behaviors, promotes interactivity within the group
  4. Evaluator — Monitors individual and group progress, assesses individual and group performance, evaluates the course/program
  5. Administrator — Manages the time and course, demonstrates leadership qualities. establishes rules and regulations
  6. Technologist — Accesses various technological resources, selects the appropriate resource for learning, develops different learning resources, suggests resources to the students
  7. Advisor/counsellor — Suggests measures to enhance performance, provides guidance based on student needs
  8. Researcher — Conducts research on teaching, interprets and integrates research findings in teaching

Their study indicated that the pedagogical role was the highest ranked role, followed by professional, evaluator, social facilitator, technologist, advisor, administrator, and researcher roles. It should also be noted that in some online teaching and learning contexts, instructors share the roles and responsibilities with other team members, such as instructional designers, graphic designers, and multimedia developers (Baran, 2011). For each role, several competencies have been suggested depending on the context in which the online teaching is being performed (Bawane & Spector, 2009).

Learning Activity 2 – The Role of the Online Instructor  Post in Discussions

Please reflect on the role of the instructor in the online learning environment and consider how this role might be different from the face-to-face environment. According to Bawane and Spector (2009), the pedagogical role was the highest ranked role. Do you think this is true in the majority of cases? What role do you think is the most important within your teaching context? How do you think the pedagogical role might be different in the online environment? Please share you thoughts in Discussions and review the posts of your classmates.

Topic 3 – Online Teaching Competencies


In addition to the various models related to instructor roles in the online environment, there are also a number of online teaching competency standards that can be found within the literature. Research suggests that online educators are required to possess a diverse set of competencies in order to contribute effectively within the online learning environment. When transitioning to online instruction, many experienced face-to-face educators may find themselves as novices or beginners, and often have to acquire new skills and competencies in order to thrive in the online world.

Please read the following articles:

Please watch the following video:

Bailie’s (2011) study examined the competencies associated with effective online undergraduate faculty instruction as perceived by online faculty and online students. He found that competencies previously identified in the literature as being critical within the last five years continued to be held in high regard, and consensus was achieved on the importance of four main competencies; content knowledge, feedback skills, interpersonal communication skills, and student engagement techniques. In Carril, Sanmamed and Sellés’ (2013) study of the roles and competencies of faculty performing in virtual environments, they found that faculty had the highest proficiency in content drafting, and the lowest proficiency in online assessment. In the “Online Teaching Skills” video, the educators also noted that organizational skills, technical skills, clear expectations, the ability to build community and demonstrate empathy for students, and written communication skills are important for online teaching.

Another common model of instructor competencies cited frequently in the literature is Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) Seven Principles of Effective Teaching , which includes the following key principles:

  1. Encourage contact between students and faculty
  2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Encourage active learning
  4. Give prompt feedback
  5. Emphasize time on task
  6. Communicate high expectations
  7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

Since this publication in 1987, several studies have been conducted to validate these seven principles for the online environment, and the consensus seems to be that they are also applicable to effective online teaching (Watwood et al, 2009).

Learning Activity 4 – Online Instructor Skills and Competencies  Post in Discussions

Based on the readings and the video, create a visual representation of what you believe are the key skills and competencies needed by online instructors. To create your visual representation you will want to use an infographic tool such as Canva, Piktochart, or Easel.ly . Please post your visual in Discussions.

Review your peers’ visuals; compare and contrast them with your own.

Topic 4 – Readiness to Teach Online


One’s readiness to teach online can be impacted by a number of factors such as past experience with online learning as either an instructor or learner, experience with technology, years of teaching experience, ability to deliver content in various formats, comfort with and ability to change, communication skills, and time management skills (Hoppe, 2015). One common method to evaluate readiness for online teaching is to complete a preliminary assessment or survey. A variety of online survey tools are available to self-evaluate your readiness to teach online, and most have questions that focus on the participant’s skills, experiences, education, and beliefs regarding technology and online learning. The insights gained from completing a readiness survey can help you plan and identify opportunities for training and development moving forward. It is important to note when completing a readiness survey, that most educators do not possess all of these skills and even seasoned online educators may be in need of improvement in many of the areas listed in the survey.

Learning Activity 5 – Preparing for Online Teaching Survey  Post in Portfolio

Complete the PennState’s Faculty Self-Assessment: Preparing for Online Teaching (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) survey, which will provide you with the opportunity to evaluate and reflect upon your competencies in key areas of online teaching and will provide a baseline of your pedagogical, technical, and administrative skills. There are thirty questions distributed in three categories, which are based upon Penn State’s Faculty Competencies for Online Teaching (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0). For each question, please select the response that best represents you. Once you submit the survey, you will be given information on your score range and suggestions for additional professional development (some of the suggestions are specific to PennState’s resources so you may want to locate similar resources within your own context). A copy of the report will be emailed to the address you provide when you begin. Please take some time to reflect on the results and identify potential strategies to improve your own readiness to teach online as well as potential supports that you may be able to access.

Online Teaching Philosophy


A teaching philosophy is an expression of personal beliefs and values related to teaching and learning. A teaching philosophy statement typically includes ones’ definition of teaching and learning, as well as their view of learner and the student/educator relationship. The development of a teaching philosophy statement is often an exploratory process and provides a powerful framework for better understating ones’ beliefs about teaching and learning. When educators move from traditional to online classrooms, they are often forced to re-examine their underlying assumptions and beliefs about teaching and learning, which may lead to a re-evaluation of their teaching philosophy (Stacey & Wiesenberg, 2007).

Educators’ philosophical beliefs and conceptions about teaching have been shown to shape their choices and behaviours in the classroom, including their approaches to teaching and assessment. Educators who hold certain conceptions of teaching are more likely to adopt an approach to teaching consistent with those conceptions (Trigwell & Prosser, 1996). For example, Kember and Kwan (2000) discovered that educators who considered teaching to be a process of transmitting knowledge were more likely to use teacher-centred approaches to teaching, while those who perceived teaching to be a facilitative process tended to use learner-centred approaches. Roberts (2003) found that conceptions of online teaching ranged from seeing the online environment as a medium for students to retrieve information, to more sophisticated uses of the web to facilitate interactions among participants. This study suggests that consensus may be emerging with regard to conceptions of teaching in the online environment, with information focused conceptions being consistent with teacher-centred approaches and collaboration and knowledge creation conceptions being consistent with student-centred approaches that have been identified in past literature.

Please take a moment to think about your individual approach to teaching and your current teaching philosophy. One tool that can be helpful when considering your teaching philosophy is the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI), which is an instrument that assesses actions, beliefs, and intentions related to teaching (Pratt & Collins, 2000). The TPI yields five alternative perspectives on teaching and learning that include: (1) Transmission (lecture and teacher-centered); (2) Apprenticeship (experiential and coaching-oriented); (3) Developmental (facilitation and learning-centered); (4) Nurturing (focused on building learners’ self-esteem); and (5) Social Reform (change the status-quo oriented). If you are interested, you can complete the TPI online to assess your own actions, beliefs, and intentions. If you would like to compare and contrast your perspectives of the face-to-face environment and the online environment, you can complete the TPI twice, once with a view towards the traditional classroom and a second time with a view towards the online setting to see if there are any differences.

McQuiggan (2012) Preparing to teach online presents an opportunity to rethink assumptions and beliefs about teaching. Do faculty experience changes in their previously held assumptions and beliefs about teaching as a result of learning to teach online?

When articulating a teaching philosophy, many educators find it helpful to use a metaphor as a tool to help express one’s personal beliefs about teaching and learning. For example, Palmer (1998) uses the metaphor of the teacher as a sheep dog, suggesting that a sheepdog has four vital functions:

It maintains a space where the sheep can graze and feed themselves; holds the sheep together in that space, constantly bringing back strays; it protects the boundaries of the space to keep dangerous predators out; and when the grazing ground is depleted, it moves with the sheep to another space where they can get the food they need (1998, p. 148).

Some other common metaphors include a gardener, orchestra conductor, tour guide, and doctor.

Learning Activity 6 – Online Teaching Philosophy  Post on your Portfolio

When you think about yourself as an online teacher, what metaphor illuminates your perspective? Please develop a metaphor that you feel represents your view of online teaching and learning and use this metaphor as a guide to develop an online teaching philosophy statement that articulates your beliefs about teaching and learning in the online environment.

For some additional resources to help develop your online teaching philosophy statement, please see the following:

To what extent if any, does your online teaching philosophy differ from your face-to-face teaching philosophy? Please share your reflection on your blog and tag your post with “EDDL5141.”


Research suggests that online teaching requires different roles and competencies than teaching in the face-to-face environment. There are a number of models developed to identify the roles of online instructors, which include pedagogical, professional, evaluator, social facilitator, technologist, advisor, administrator, and researcher roles. There are also ranges of competency models that describe the characteristics common to effective online educators. With this in mind, it can be helpful to examine your readiness to teach online, and to consider your online teaching philosophy as this can shape your teaching and learning practices in the online classroom. In the next module, we will focus on learning theory and we will examine how theory can also inform online teaching and learning practice.


Anderson, T. (2004). Teaching in an online learning context. In Anderson, T. (Ed.). The theory and practice of online learning (pp. 15-44). Athabasca, AB: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved from “https://auspace.athabascau.ca/handle/2149/758”

Bailie, J. L. (2011). Effective online instructional competencies as perceived by online university faculty and students: A sequel study. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7 (1), 82. Retrieved from “http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no1/bailie_0311.pdf”

Baran, E. (2011). The transformation of online teaching practice: Tracing successful online teaching in higher education . Iowa State University.

Bawane, J., & Spector, J. M. (2009). Prioritization of online instructor roles: Implications for competency‐based teacher education programs. Distance Education , 30 (3), 383-397.

Berge, Z. L. (1995). The role of the online instructor/facilitator. Educational Technology , 35 (1), 22-30.

Carleton University. (2017). Teaching Online and Teaching Face-to-Face [Video file]. Retrieved from “https://mediaspace.carleton.ca/media/Teaching+Online+and+Teaching+Face-to-Face/0_cor94y41”

Carleton University. (2017). Online Teaching Skills [Video file]. Retrieved from “https://mediaspace.carleton.ca/media/Online+Teaching+Skills/0_9k12pa89”

Carril, P. C. M., Sanmamed, M. G., & Sellés, N. H. (2013). Pedagogical roles and competencies of university teachers practicing in the e-learning environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning , 14 (3), 462-487. Retrieved from  “http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1477”

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE bulletin , 3 , 7.

Cook, D. A. (2007). Web-based learning: Pros, cons and controversies. Clinical Medicine, 7 (1), 37–42.

Hoppe, D. (2015). Addressing faculty readiness for online teaching . Retrieved from “https://www.d2l.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Addressing-Faculty-Readiness_BestPracticesPaper_Final.pdf”

Kember, D., & Kwan, K. P. (2000). Lecturers’ approaches to teaching and their relationship to conceptions of good teaching. Instructional Science , 28 (5), 469-490. doi:10.1023/A:1026569608656

Kerka, S. (1997). Competency-based education and training. Myths and realities. Human Resource Development Quarterly , 8 (4), 335-143.

Kirwan, J. R., & Roumell, E. A. (2015). Building a conceptual framework for online educator dispositions. Journal of Educators Online , 12 (1), 30-61.

Kreber, C., & Kanuka, H. (2006). The scholarship of teaching and learning and the online classroom. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 32 (2), 109-131.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life (Vol. 2). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pratt, D. D., & Collins, J. B. (2000). The teaching perspectives inventory (TPI). Retrieved from “http://www.teachingperspectives.com/tpi/”

Roberts, G. (2003). Teaching using the web: Conceptions and approaches from a phenomenographic perspective. Instructional Science, 31 (1/2), 127-150. doi:10.1023/A:1022547619474

Trigwell, K., & Prosser, M. (1996). Changing approaches to teaching: A relational perspective. Studies in Higher Education, 21 (3), 275-284. doi:10.1080/03075079612331381211

University of Saskatchewan. (2012). Teaching online vs. face-to-face [Video file]. Retrieved from “https://youtu.be/KGERvPmGLd4”

Watwood, B. et al. (2009). Building from content to community: [Re]thinking the transition to online teaching and learning . Virginia Commonwealth University CTE White Paper. Retrieved from “http://www.vcu.edu/cte/pdfs/OnlineTeachingWhitePaper.pdf”

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