I have taught online for UMUC since 2010. And I quickly learned to explain that I was more like a class cheerleader than the class professor. In the online classroom, the student must guide their own way through the material. That’s one of the reasons the syllabus has to be rock solid; there’s less opportunity for the professor to step in and expand or correct via voice.
I’ve even adopted some smaller clues about this in the classroom. For instance, when I write my class introduction at the start of the semester, I don’t write “I am James Howard and I am your professor for this class…” Instead, I write “Hello, I am James I am will be leading this class…” It’s subtle, but it shifts the tone right off the bat and I really hope students get that.
And after the first day, I feel like it is my job to help the student learn the material themselves, rather than teaching it. I think this can be done in in-person classes, as well, and we have seen that shift in flipped classrooms (which I have also done, I think with great success). But I have long since come to the conclusion the online classroom is just permanently flipped.
With this in mind, I think the core skills necessary to lead such a class are “camp counselor” and “cheerleader” since you need to be able to guide much more so than you actually directly impart knowledge. I think this entails having a stable of extra material, lower-level material to plug gaps, and making yourself available. I’ve done phone chats, video chats, and other types of one-on-one. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not.
Image by CollegeDegrees360 / Flickr.