Why Conferencing? The role of the instructor (2.1)

Assessment Practices in Online Contexts (2.1)

Why Conferencing? The role of the instructor (2.1)

In a conferencing environment, the focus is on communication and interaction and this holds true for the instructor as well.

Generally, activities involve, monitoring, moderating and directing discussion as well as drawing students attention to effective ideas in the database and pulling together ideas and summarizing the state of the discussion. It is generally a less didactic role than a traditional teacher led lecture, for example, and seems to be more effective because student responses are valued and discussed and they consequently feel more ownership in the discourse.

It is also possible to deliver an online course in a completely traditional teacher-centred way, where students are marked individually on a series of assignments and the online component simply allows the delivery of course materials and the exchange of assignments.

Many Web-based courses are delivered this way, the Web provides a centralized way of distributing materials, somewhat like the materials for correspondence courses, but located centrally. Individuals download these materials and work individually to complete assignments via e-mail or by posting assignments on the website.

What changes most when you teach online?

More work! It is not just the student who can be overwhelmed by the number of entries.

You are managing:

a) communication about course issues;

b) reading and commenting on database entries;

c) reading and marking assignments.


In response it is helpful to create deliberate and explicit strategies to keep things manageable.

Strategies to manage your online course

Some ideas

      • Office hours: post on-line office hours.
      • Explicit instructions: make instructions very explicit the first time round.
      • Course structure: carefully and clearly structure the course so students are clear about what they are expected to do
      • Encouraging peer interaction and shared responsibility: including  finding solutions to problems.

Managing your workload

It is not just the student who can be overwhelmed by the number of entries.

Think about it.

You may be managing:

a) communication around course issues,

b) reading entries,

c) reading and marking assignments,

d) synchronous chats or conversations.

Most instructors find they spend more time with online courses. In part this is because everything is written–so you need to find ways of not telling each student the same thing separately (again, an incentive to be organized and plan well).

Another factor is that people may get deeply involved in questions, and a particular issue may consequently take longer to cover.

Shift in locus of control in the class

It is often claimed that online methods can support different pedagogies. However, it also seems to be widely documented that online discussions flatten hierarchies, because entries by the instructor are not necessarily privileged, and there are fewer constraints on students going off in unanticipated discussion directions, which cannot simply be redirected by the instructor. Because the discussion is primarily asynchronous, students may pursue a line of thought at a time when the instructor is not online, and so traditional controls are not present.