Tracing Successful Online Teaching in Higher Education: Voices of Exemplary Online Teachers
by Evrim Baran, Ana-Paula Correia & Ann Thompson — 2013
Background: Although advances in distance learning have shown signs of a reconfiguration of the teacher’s role in online environments, a large number of online teaching practices still do not show many signs of this shift. Given the need for a change in pedagogies, investigating how exemplary teachers transfer their thinking, pedagogical knowledge, and beliefs to successful online teaching is critical to understanding new online learning and teaching practices. The research on online teacher roles and practices, however, has been limited in terms of bringing teachers’ voices into the research process and empowering them as autonomous professionals who constantly engage in a dialogue about solving complex problems and making decisions about online teaching.
Purpose and Research Questions: The purpose of this research was to look at exemplary online teachers’ transition to online teaching with a focus on their successful practices. The research investigated two central questions: (1) What are the successful practices that exemplary online teachers employ in their online teaching? (2) How do exemplary online teachers make a transition to online teaching in such a way that they create successful practices?
Research Design: The study followed a qualitative multiple-case study approach examining six different cases of exemplary online teachers and their teaching contexts within a large research university in the Midwestern United States. Using multiple cases allowed for comparison of similar and contrasting online teaching situations and conditions within the university’s different colleges.
Participants, Data Collection, and Analysis: The data sources of the study consisted of (1) semistructured interviews conducted with six online program coordinators to collect contextual information and gather nominations for successful online teachers in each college, and (2) ethnographic interviews conducted with 6 online teachers nominated as exemplary to gather teacher-expressed needs, knowledge, and successful practices. Within- and cross-case analyses were conducted to generate codes and identify the similarities and differences across the cases as well as common themes.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings of this study indicated that when teachers described their successful practices, they often linked them to their changing roles and new representation of their “selves” within an online environment. Their portrayal of the teacher self, both built on a plethora of previous experiences and reformed with the affordances and limitations of the online environment, went through a process whereby teachers were constantly challenged to make themselves heard, known, and felt by their students. This study showed that it was critical to listen to teachers’ voices and give them a participatory role in the creation and use of their knowledge and experience in order to form their online teacher personas. As a result, programs that prepare faculty to teach online may need to encourage teachers to reflect on their past experiences, assumptions, and beliefs toward learning and teaching and transform their perspectives by engaging in pedagogical inquiry and problem solving.
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