Everybody’s path towards achieving a goal is different, but in order to give you an example of what it takes to become an online instructor, I will share what I did to become an e-instructor and the steps I took to get there. My journey started in the fall of 2004 when I began to notice that there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around this new way of teaching i.e. online teaching. So I began trying to find out what it means to create and use the internet to teach. At the time the only certificate I found that catered to ESL teachers was “Principles and Practices of Online Teaching.” and Tesol.org offered it.
As an English teacher, it made sense for me to complete that certificate, as I had no idea what it meant to take an online course let alone design and/or teach one. What that program did for me was open my eyes to the possibilities. Once I completed that certificate I began to look around and discovered that the UMass Boston was in the initial stages of offering Blackboard workshops for their faculty.
So as I began taking workshops and learning more I experimented with using Blackboard to create hybrid courses I discovered the Instructional Design program at UMass Boston and started taking courses. One reason I liked the program was that many of its courses were online which worked for me as I had a 6-month-old baby at home. The other reason was that the instructors were amazing as the majority of them were working instructional designers and brought real life experience to their courses, which makes a world of difference when you are an older working learner. This was a great program and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I learned a lot about how adults learn, how to design an online course as well as the different types of tools and software I can use to make my courses more interesting.
To be honest most people do not need to earn a degree in instructional design to be able to teach online. In my opinion, you only need a couple of courses. One should be on how to design an online course and maybe a course on what different tools exist on the market and how to use them. Such as:
- Audacity for podcasting
- Del.icio.us is a social bookmarking service
- Blogs are a good way to have your students reflect on how they feel about the course. I get a lot of information from my students via blogging about my courses. There are many different blogging platforms you can use besides Blackboard or whatever blog tool your learning management system offers. The most popular ones are: Blogger.com, wordpress.com or wordpress.org, and tumbler.com
- Google docs I use this tool in my online courses when the students are working on group assignments. It provides them with an easy platform to collaborate and it allows me to follow the work that they are doing.
- Screencast-o-matic is a computer screen capture software that can be used to create video from your computer screen. This is a great tool as you can do mini video lectures and demonstrations for your students or learners.
- Twitter is another useful tool for an online course. I have used this platform to remind students about homework due dates, assignment changes etc.
Obviously, the tools I am talking about are only a small sample of what is out there. So go online and look at what is available and then try them out. Narrowing down on what works best for you and your courses takes time and a lot of trial and error, but it well worth the effort.
After you are done with the learning, the reading, the workshops, and the degrees, you have to try things out, hold your breath, and listen to your students so you can understand how they learn and works for them. You need to be patient and flexible as well as be willing to change your syllabus, your homework assignments, books, and pretty much everything every semester until you feel that the course design is working. Do not forget to be kind and caring towards the students, even when they are not towards you, as they are not only trying to learn the course material but also figure out how the course is organized and how Blackboard works.That is a lot for a student who has never taken an online course before.
In the beginning, I was nervous so I was constantly logged into my courses making sure everything was working and no student was having a panic attack. Give yourself time and ask your friends, colleagues, and people you know who are teaching online lots and lots of questions. Having support makes things go smoother. Use all of the resources your institution is offering like instructional design support. Having said that even if you have an instructional designer holding your hand, ultimately it is your course, it is your responsibility, and it is your name the students see.