The Role of the Online & Blended Learning Teacher
The Learning Management System (LMS)
The role of LMS and SIS technology Online education is first and foremost based on the interaction between the student and the teacher, but technology plays a significant supporting role in delivering instruction and an integral role in providing accountability and management tools. The technology at the heart of an online school is the learning management system (LMS)—the set of tools that houses course content and provides the framework for communication between students, teachers, and parents. The student information system (SIS), which manages student data, is the other main software component. Teaching online through an LMS presents several advantages compared to a physical classroom, including:
- Monitoring student performance, including observing individual student trends quickly using real-time online data; also tracking of attendance to meet state requirements for funding; and to meet regulatory demands
- Organizing student learning by age groups; younger students may have difficulty sitting at a computer for hours, while older students can make better use of video, animations, and simulations
- Allowing for quick updating of curriculum Scheduling and tracking for families of full-time students, allowing easy monitoring of assignments and tasks completed
- Adapting instruction to adjust to the student based on the difficulties being encountered1
According Margaret Rouse, TechTarget.com, "A learning management system (LMS) is a software application or Web-based technology used to plan, implement, and assess a specific learning process. Typically, a learning management system provides an instructor with a way to create and deliver content, monitor student participation, and assess student performance.2 Teachers can use an LMS to create individual courses post assignments, engage students in asynchronous discussions, administer tests and quizzes, and track student progress. 3
An additional resource from iNACOL provides a nice summary of learning management systems in their resource, "How to Start an Online Learning Program: A Practical Guide to Key Issues and Policies."
The Role of an Online Teacher
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has released National Standards for Quality Online Teaching that "focus on providing teachers with a set of criteria for effective online learning…" These standards were created to provide a set of quality guidelines for online teaching and instructional design and complement the previously issued National Standards of Quality for Online Courses. This Leading Edge Certification course is aligned to these standards.
While teachers remain central to the learning process in the online environment, experienced online teachers and educational leaders recognize that the role of the teacher is changing. The nature of education and the workplace is changing due to technological advances in the accessibility and management of information. The focus of education must continue to evolve beyond the mere acquisition of information into the development of critical thinkers and learners. The role of the teacher is increasingly focused on helping students build Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) based on Bloom's Taxonomy. The thinking skills in Bloom's Revised Taxonomy are: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating (Anderson, L. & Kratehwohl, E., 2001). Bloom's Digital Taxonomy will be explored further in Module 3, Pedagogy.
The Online Teacher's Role can be divided into several categories:
- Guiding and Individualizing Learning - There are many ways in which this can be accomplished.
- Assess student understanding of learning objectives.
- Create and facilitate group discussions.
- Develop group projects.
- Make constant adjustments to course resources.
- Respond to students' questions and concepts that they are finding most challenging.
- Communication - One of the main roles of the teacher in a student-centered learning environment is to be available regularly and frequently in order to provide guidance. For this reason many online programs have requirements for how often teachers must log in to their classes and how quickly they must respond to student emails. Some programs also require and/or facilitate communication by telephone or online synchronous methods such as online office hours. Teachers recognize the potential communication advantages and drawbacks of the online environment. The advantages include the increased comfort some students feel in participating in an online discussion board and the ability of teachers to record everything "said" in class. Disadvantages include the inability of teachers to observe non-verbal cues to determine a student's level of comprehension.
- Assessing, Grading, and Promoting - Online, blended, and face-to-face teachers are all responsible for tasks such as creating and grading tests, labs, and homework assignments, providing overall course grades, and determining whether the student is ready to move on to the next unit, course, or grade level. In an online environment, technology may automate some grading functions and the student may be assigned a face-to-face mentor who may provide input, these crucial assessment decisions remain the online teacher's responsibility.
- Developing Course Content and Structure - The task of developing course content will vary from program to program. Many programs use course content developed by vendors or other online programs. Sometimes, the online or blended teacher may be involved in course development. In other cases, the teacher may have some responsibility to customize or enhance the course. When programs develop their own courses, it is typical for a team of subject matter experts, instructional designers, and web programmers to work together to create the course. The teacher might be one of the subject matter experts involved in course creation. There are several differences between online course and traditional classroom course development.
The Role of the Blended Learning Teacher
When looking at what makes an educator effective in a blended learning environment, use of the term “competencies”, rather than “standards” or “skills”, is intentional. It is meant to be broader than traditional teaching standards by explicitly addressing, and equally valuing, less tangible teacher characteristics such as patterns of thinking and professional habits that we believe will be essential to making blended learning work with their students. Further, given the range of instructional models and approaches, these competencies are intended to apply across different environment and instructional contexts.
The Blended Learning Teacher Competency Framework identifies 12 specific competencies, organized into 4 larger domains—mindsets, qualities, adaptive skills, and technical skills. These domains are distinguished not only in content (the type of competency and how is it expressed) but also in how they are developed in individuals. A brief description of each domain follows.
- Mindsets: Mindset competencies include the core values or beliefs that guide an individual’s thinking, behaviors, and actions, and that align with goals of educational change and mission. In blended learning, practitioners need to understand, adopt, and commit to mindsets that help them shift towards new forms of teaching and learning.
- Qualities: Quality competencies are those personal characteristics and patterns of behavior that help academic staff make the transition to new ways of teaching and learning. These qualities, like grit, flexibility, and transparency, need to be coached, reinforced, and developed over time.
- Adaptive Skills: Adaptive skills are generalizable skills that apply across roles and subject areas. These skills—which include things like collaboration and problem-solving—are complex; they help practitioners tackle new tasks or develop solutions in situations that require organizational learning and innovation. They are mastered through modeling, coaching, and reflective practice.
- Technical Skills: Technical skills are domain-specific “know-how” and expertise that educators used to execute against the known tasks in their jobs. They are acquired and mastered through instruction, training, and practice.
Content in this section is adapted from: Wicks, Matthew. (2010). A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning. Version 2. International Association for K-12 Online Learning,15-17.
1 "Management and Operations of Online Programs - ERIC." http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED509622.pdf. Accessed 17 Apr. 2017.
2 "What is learning management system (LMS)? - Definition from WhatIs ...." http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/learning-management-system. Accessed 18 Apr. 2017.
3 Tucker, C., Wycoff, T., Green, J. (2017) Blended Learning in Action: A Practical Guide Toward Sustainable Change. Corwin, 52