2002 Paper Presentations
GO CYBERTEAM: TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE ONLINE INSTRUCTIONAL COACHING
Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA <LDRSPETSCherry@aol.com>
technologically mediated classroom has been marked by many advances
and many opportunities. During the past several years in particular,
we have learned a great deal regarding how to create meaningful
online learning experiences for our students.
online teachers are often characterized as being a "guide
on the side, rather than a sage on the stage." This suggests
effective instructional coaching so as to enhance collaborative
peer-to-peer as well as instructor-to-student learning.
purpose of this paper is to frame the effective online educator
as an instructional coach. Tips for enhancing student engagement
and learning via the coaching model will be structured below
under the letters of the TEAM acronym.
IS FOR TRAINING
preparation is key to a successful online instructional experience.
As such, teacher-coaches should plan to do a bit of advance
scouting on behalf of their students with respect to the following
the students given some thought to their individual learning
styles and how Web-based instruction requires some different
learning strategies than the traditional brick-and-mortar
classroom? There are a number of excellent self-assessment
instruments that exist for this purpose. Western Governors
University (WGU) has a multiple-choice self-survey entitled
"Self-Assessment for Distance Education (http://www.wgu.edu/wgu/self_assessment.asp)."
Students can click on radio buttons to select their answers.
When they are finished taking the survey, the following Web
page interprets their answers for them with respect to the
unique demands of the online classroom and some strategies
they may need to practice in order to be maximally succeessful.
I have a hyperlink to the WGU self-assessment survey in my
syllabus for my graduate-level Introduction to Research course.
I require students to take this self-test during the first
week of class as an orientation activity.
the technological skill requirements of the class been spelled
out for students in advance? It is helpful to list entry-level
hardware and software prerequisites as part of the course
description in the catalog, as well as in the syllabus.
Is there dependable computer help available via telephone
or other easily accessible means? Students should be provided
with the locations of computing labs, both on the main and
branch campuses, as well as the telephone number and hours
of the help desk. As Schweitzer (1999) has stated, the instructor's
primary role is not to play help desk nor to debug techno-glitches
that students may face. Instead, it is to guide the students
through the mastery of the specific content of the course.
At the same time, an effective instructional coach will point
students towards such established and expert support facilities
via provision of contact information.
the course site been carefully prepared in advance to be ready
for students to access reliably on opening day? Any external
embedded hyperlinks contained in the instructional Web pages
should be rechecked to see if any such links may have gone
dead or changed addresses. General orientation-type announcements
should be posted in the asynchronous classroom area so that
students can read them as they arrive into the online learning
space at the start of the semester. If possible, a frequently
asked questions (FAQ) document might be e-mailed to students
prior to the start of the course. The function of such an
e-mailed FAQ is two-fold: 1) to anticipate any questions that
new registrants might have; and 2) to serve as a gentle reminder
that online school is about to be in session, akin to the
first orientation startup meeting day of class (Dereshiwsky,
the instructor-coach been particularly available and accessible
right before the start of the course? Some students may be
a bit late registering and may need some related guidance.
Others may want to check in a bit early and begin to download
their course materials. Instructors should plan to be particularly
accessible via telephone and e-mail with extended hours of
responding to pre-startup students' questions and concerns.
IS FOR EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION
facilitation of communication and online community building
are the focus of the instructional coach once the course has
begun and students have become oriented in a general way as
to its expectations. Following are some activities that are
particularly helpful in communications and community-building
personal welcome on arrival. Draves (2002) has emphasized
the lasting positive first impression that students receive
when their instructor warmly and promptly welcomes them to
the online course. This can be done in response to the student's
initial e-mail message to his/her instructor, or to a similar
"this is me" posting in the asynchronous bulletin
board area. Time and again, students comment that they are
delightfully surprised at this individual welcome and how
much they appreciate it. This sets the tone of comfortable
interaction with a friendly and accessible instructor-coach.
It also goes a long way in dispelling the old myth that online
instruction is cold and impersonal.
place for students to ask questions and receive answers. Promptness
is equally important in responding to student questions about
the course. Particularly during the first week or two, students
will have many questions about how the online course works,
particularly if they have never taken a Web course before.
While responding to individual e-mailed questions is one way
to do this, the instructor may soon face an overflowing e-mail
in-box: one filled with thirty students asking the same question
(Dereshiwsky, 2001). A more efficient way to share and answer
questions in a spirit of true community building is to establish
a separate folder in the asynchronous course bulletin board
area entitled "Questions and Answers." This way,
one student may ask a question that is relevant to many more;
but you as the instructor only have to answer it once and
all students will see that answer. Furthermore, the instructor
will often be pleasantly surprised to discover that another
student has beaten him/her to it and answered a classmate's
posted question. This encourages true collaborative learning
and peer-to-peer coaching.
user-friendliness in course learning materials. Because the
instructor-coach will not have the customary visual cues to
indicate student confusion, he/she will have to go the extra
mile to make the related course learning materials user-friendly.
Draves (2002) has shared the importance of 'visually chunking'
the learning material that is in the form of Web pages, e-mailed
or posted messages. This means setting off short, easy-to-read
paragraphs, outlines or lists. These are much easier to read
and less fatiguing than running several ideas together in
long paragraphs. Tables, graphs and cartoons can also be included
to further enhance the visual nature of the learning process.
importance of effective study skills. Related to the preceding
point, a good instructor-coach will be aware of the differential
demands of effective online learning. Lacking the implicit
encouragement of the traditional group face-to-face classroom
meetings, students will need to be even more resourceful and
take more initiative in structuring their learning. It may
be necessary to alert first-time online students in particular
that skimming an instructional Web page 'once over lightly'
is not equivalent to 'truly studying' that material (Dereshiwsky,
2000) There are many excellent materials available on enhancing
study skills (Connick, et al., 1999) which the instructor-coach
may wish to share with his/her online students. In addition,
the instructor-coach will want to encourage students to share
any questions they may have on the learning material with
him/her promptly, trustingly and in a spirit of positive partnership.
A good coach will share empathically that unresolved questions
or concerns may exacerbate any initial feelings of isolation
due to the online environment. This interaction, in turn,
tends to fester and preclude successful and enjoyable learning
from occurring. Prompt communication of problems and working
in trust and partnership with one's instructor-coach on resolution
of any such problems is the key to maximally beneficial learning.
the rules of the road. Positive online community depends on
courteous and considerate communications among learners and
between learners and instructor-coach. As such, rules of "netiquette"
have been developed and disseminated. An effective instructor-coach
may need to privately prompt new online students that typing
in all capital letters is considered shouting by many sources
and thus discourteous. Furthermore, he/she will point out
to students that text in all capitals tends to be harder to
read. The instructor-coach may need to help students find
alternatives to such actions: for example, if the student
was typing in all caps because he/she did not know how to
adjust the font size on his/her screen. Finally, in this regard,
a good instructor-coach will model the special care that must
be taken when communicating via the written word only, so
that the message is not misunderstood. This may mean suggesting
to students that they re-read and edit their potential post
or e-mail message with an cautious eye to what the words might
say to an outside party reading them without visual or other
cues.It may also mean judicious and sparing use of humor,
attempts at even good-natured teasing of classmates, and the
like. It may also mean stepping into the middle of an increasingly
heated disagreement to gently and pleasantly remind students
to focus on issues being debated and not personally attacking
anyone with whom they may disagree on those particular issues.
IS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY OF LEARNERS
coach realizes that achievement cannot be imposed from without,
but rather, it must come from within. As such, the effective
online instructor will empower his/her students towards successful
learning. Activities such as the following may be helpful in
group learning experiences. The literature of adult learning
is replete with the benefits of peer-to-peer coaching and
instruction. This is coupled with the popular maxim of the
online instructor as "guide on the side, rather than
sage on the stage." Students can share their perspectives
of the content material as well as create those prized 'a-ha'
teaching moments by sharing their own perspectives with their
peers. Effective groups can be established regardless of geographic
proximity--or lack thereof--thereby also helping to dispel
the earlier stereotype of Web-based learning as 'just a correspondence
school' for individual, isolated learners.
some effective ground rules for group interaction to students.
In order for the peer learning experience to be maximally
successful, instructors cannot simply place students into
groups and turn them loose on the assignments. Again keeping
in mind the differential nature and requirements of the online
classroom, the instructor-coach can suggest that newly formed
groups develop contracts as their first official group activity.
Such a contract or code of conduct might include, but not
necessarily be limited to, such issues as the following:
good group code of conduct/contract will include, but not
necessarily be limited to, the following:
will the individual members of the group communicate?
Will they post notes and updates for one another in
designated group folders created by their instructor
and designed to be used as work spaces and private group
bulletin board posting areas? Will they communicate
via a mass email mailing list or group listserv, where
anything that one group member sends is received by
all? Will they meet in person? Any/all of the preceding?
often will each group member be expected to check for
any updates from his/her teammates?
there be a permanent group leader? or will this task
be rotated in some way?
will be assigned to post the group's assignment solution
in the designated posting area as per the due date policy
in the course syllabus? Will one person be the poster/recorder,
or will the group members take turns posting individual
will be the group's policy, if any, on absences and
covering for one another if need be?
policy will group members have in place in case of resolving
any intra-group conflict that may arise (for example,
if a group member neglects to carry out his/her delegated
duties to post the assignment on time, or if a group
member is not receiving or responding to group updates
as often as expected in Point (2) above?) Think of the
instructor as a 'higher court of appeals,' if you will...he/she
will always be happy to moderate and intervene if need
be, *BUT* the group members will FIRST be expected to
document for their instructor that they have carried
through your initial 'conflict resolution plans' as
per their contract, and to update their on the outcome(s)
of their own attempt(s) to resolve any such emergent
through such issues as the preceding also works to get the
newly formed group up and running and is a valuable communications
dry run prior to working on actual assignments as a team.
periodic due dates throughout the duration of the course.
Greater flexibility and self-pacing are admittedly the hallmarks
of online instruction. At the same time, too much freedom
can be a bit of a bad thing, particularly for first-time online
students. It may be all too tempting to procrastinate with
regard to online course expectations, particularly if these
students are also taking one or more traditional live face-to-face
courses at the same time. Before they know it, they may find
themselves nearing the end of the term and with several months'
work pending or past due. The good instructor-coach will attempt
to anticipate and block this particular offensive by creating
staggered due dates for assignments, papers and other course
artifacts throughout the term. These should be clearly posted
in the syllabus and students should be referred to them, particularly
at the beginning of the semester. Some initially posted or
e-mailed reminders regarding pending due dates might also
be helpful. Another positive side effect of such staggered
due dates is that students will be receiving continual and
periodic instructor feedback on how they are doing in the
sure to follow up with 'seemingly silent students.' Again
lacking the traditional visual cues of the empty classroom
seat, the online instructor-coach must be particularly alert
to such cues as a student who has not yet checked in by e-mail
message or post after the first week of class; or one who
has not turned in the first assignment; or has not participated
in the first free-for-all posted group discussion item. It
is far better to err on the side of caution in this case and
initiate individual e-mailed contacts promptly with such seemingly
silent students. Such a message might contain the instructor's
sincere concern due to his/her observation of whatever individual
activity the student has missed. The instructor might suggest
a follow-up telephone call or office visit if appropriate
to invite the student to share any problems he/she may be
experiencing and to offer the instructor an opportunity to
be of help.
IS FOR MOTIVATING LEARNERS
this section, we come to the heart and soul of the responsibilities
of an effective coach. Facilitating and empowering students
to draw upon their talents and achieve their goals is what motivation
is all about. I have found the following activities to be helpful
in the online classroom environment:
the personal touch immediately upon the start of the course.
According to Draves (2002), and as discussed earlier, it is
vitally important to personally welcome each student to the
course immediately upon his or her check-in. This creates
a powerful first impression that helps to debunk the belief
of online teaching and learning as being cold and impersonal.
To this end it is important for online instructor-coaches
to be especially vigilant about responding to e-mail messages,
posts, calls and office visits promptly, particularly during
the all-important start-up phase of the course. In addition,
it can be helpful to set up a "Let's Break the Ice"
folder in the asynchronous posting area for students to introduce
themselves and share a little bit about their personal and
professional interests. I get things rolling with my own post
and uploaded photo. This further helps to 'humanize' me to
the students and gets the interaction going.
the human touch going throughout the semester. I do this in
two ways. First, I have a folder in my asynchronous bulletin
board posting area entitled "More Words to Lead By."
Three times a week, I post a cluster of positive-thinking
stories, poems and/or quotations centered around a common
theme in this folder. I also try to think of a catchy title
for each themed posting. For example, "It's About Time"
refers to a set of postings on time management. Students often
share with me how much they enjoy finding and reading these
items. Some of them have even told me that they save them
to share with friends, family, students and co-workers. A
second type of periodic posting I do is titled "Taking
the Pulse." A week or so after the semester has started,
I gently do a reality check with students via this 'pulse'
post. Among other things, I assure them that if they are still
feeling a bit overwhelmed with their online start-up tasks,
that this is a very normal feeling especially at this stage.
I also recall my own initial start-up jitters when I first
started to use computers. This has been a significant de-stressor
for students; in addition, it reinforces to them that it's
not only OK, but highly desirable, to share any questions
or concerns they may have with me in a spirit of trust and
fun learning activities. Among my assignments, I have two
crossword puzzles that are intended to give students some
fun practice in their understanding of research terminology.
My qualitative research doctoral students are asked to conduct
a Web-based scavenger hunt to locate and discuss sites that
summarize violations of ethical principles in the treatment
of human research subjects. In my Web-based dissertation seminar,
we have a weekly discussion topic called "Let's Chat
About It" that deals with the more practical, human-relations
type issues in the dissertation process such as 'care and
feeding of one's committee members.' Activities such as these
reinforce the notion that learning is intended to be an enriching
and enjoyable experience.
visible and accessible throughout the semester. Students find
it motivating and reassuring to know that you are 'being with
them' and checking into the posting area or your incoming
e-mail. This also serves to remind them of the importance
of periodically and systematically engaging in their course.
of us have memories of that one special teacher who truly connected
with us and left a lasting positive impression. Likewise, if
you're an online educator yourself as I am, you hope to be that
one special teacher for your students. By being an effective,
empathic role model and coach to your students, you can help
ensure a maximally beneficial and minimally stressful online
learning experience for them: one in which they will feel empowered
with regard to structuring their own learning experience. In
doing so, you will be creating the ultimate winning teaching-learning
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TCC Online Conferences
Kapi`olani Community College
University of Hawai`i