Confessions of an Online Instructor
January 4th, 2012 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
Your instructors want the very best for you as a student, developing the skills necessary for your educational journey. While you may know that they are busy providing feedback and participating in the class discussions (which means they are actively engaged in the class), what you may not realize is how much they are concerned about your progress. My perspective as an experienced online instructor is one of finding balance – being both a tough instructor and one who is easy-going – with your success as one of my primary concerns.
Being a Tough Instructor
As you take classes and move through your degree programs you often develop a routine that involves utilizing a certain set of skills that you are comfortable with and rely upon. When I provide feedback, or during our interactions, that’s when I am able to discover more about your capacity to learn and I can encourage you perform at a higher cognitive level. This may require that you learn additional skills or improve your existing skill sets – and I’ve learned that just telling you to do better is not enough. I also need to show you that you are capable of making further progress by helping you find resources, tools, and techniques that make it possible. This is a time when some of my students may feel that I am being tough because I’m edging them out of their comfort zone.
When students need an extra push it becomes a challenge when they experience fear, frustration, or a sense of being singled out. As your instructor, I need to find methods of facilitation that help to overcome your concerns and initial resistance. This often means adapting the feedback I’ve provided, considering the effectiveness of our classroom interactions, and developing new methods of building strong and effective working relationships. There is a difference between being tough, to help you excel, and being strict, to prove my superiority. By being firm with students, for the purpose of developmental growth, I witness many of you becoming better writers or researchers. On the other hand, if I take a firm position and demand your compliance – I would only further the resistance you may feel, which would derail my teaching attempts.
Overall, my goal isn’t to be a tough instructor. I try to be fair and supportive, while also serving as a mentor and guide for my students. I have a unique opportunity to be a support system for you through a caring attitude and a genuine interest in helping you improve your performance and further develop necessary skill sets. I demonstrate my belief by being responsive to your needs. Sometimes an extra push leads the way for academic growth and enhanced performance.
Taking an Easy-Going Approach
The time that you often gauge how you feel about your instructor is when you receive feedback, and there are a variety of approaches that instructors take. Some instructors go easier on students at the beginning of the class as they adjust to expectations and guidelines for written assignments. Other instructors maintain a strict approach when evaluating students’ written assignments, especially in more advanced courses. In contrast, when students are struggling some instructors may take a very strict approach to grading as an attempt to encourage corrective action.
A more balanced method for feedback is customized to each student, because addressing the developmental needs of students requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, if you submit an assignment with numerous developmental issues it becomes necessary to select a few of the weaknesses to address first, instead of overwhelming you with feedback about everything that needs to be corrected. Instructors may view this as hand-holding or going easy on you; however, every student has his or her own skill level and cognitive ability.
Students who are not as developmentally advanced as others may require additional attention, which could include the need for feedback that clearly explains deficiencies and provides resources to address those challenges. Instructors can allow flexibility with the feedback provided, as long as it is uniformly applied to all students. If “going easy” provides an opportunity to help you catch up developmentally, without showing favoritism, then a meaningful learning environment has been created. To me, the goal of completing an assignment should mean that you have acquired skills and knowledge necessary to learn and experience developmental progress.
You’ve now had an opportunity to look at the approach an online instructor takes to facilitating classes. What you are likely to find is that most of your instructors have a similar attitude and approach to teaching because your success as a student means that you will not only do well your classes, you will also continue to be successful throughout your educational program.
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