Vol. 16 : No. 5< >
Editor's Note: Brent Muirhead has kindly agreed to submit a monthly item of special interest. This commentary fits well with the Salmon article because it spells out the five stage model and the role of the e-Moderator.
Brent Muirhead D.Min., Ph.D.
Contemporary distance education schools are striving to have the most effective educational programs that encourage a dynamic combination of being flexible, individualized, personally and professionally challenging. The rapid growth of distance education schools has created an increasing demand for training today’s online instructors. Unfortunately, many online teachers often begin working with limited experience and training in distance education. Gilly Salmon (2000) offers excellent descriptive information on the essential competencies that are needed by today’s online instructors in her book E-moderating: The key to teaching online. The focus of this discussion is to highlight a portion of Salmon’s research that offers superb insights into the online teaching and learning process.
Importance of Training Online Instructors
Contemporary online instructors have a tendency to depend upon “intuition.” The intuition teaching method of learning is quite time consuming and frustrating because individuals must learn by trial and error. A review of research studies on computer-mediated graduate classes reveals that the quality of instruction varies from class to class within a school. Students indicate that one teacher will provide a class structure that promotes good dialog and provide consistent teacher feedback on their work Yet, in another online class; students will share stories of teachers who provided little interaction. For instance, one study respondent related that “I have tutors who do little more than respond ‘good job’ to my posts, tutors who haven’t responded at all, and tutors who have taken a great deal of time to post a meaningful, thoughtful-provoking response (Muirhead, 1999, p. 54).”
Salmon (2000) has extensive online experience as a trainer of instructors for the Business School at the Open University (United Kingdom). The Open University has been an international leader in experimenting with new educational methods and ideas. Salmon offers remarkable insights from her studies on Computer Mediated Conferencing (CMC) at the Open University. Research findings were based on a combination of content analysis of online communication of students and teachers, focused group work and testing and evaluation of a new teaching and learning model.
Today’s online instructors are challenged by a growing diversity of students who have a variety of expectations, learning styles, computer and communication skills that influence their online participation in learning communities. An important question for instructors is how can they effectively enable students to become active self-directed learners who will enjoy working with others? Salmon’s (2000) studies have produced a five stage model to help train and prepare teachers for online work:
The five-step model reflects a positive progression in the quality and intensity of interaction between students and between students and their teachers. The online instructor’s role is multidimensional and changes at different stages depending upon the student needs and circumstances within each class. Stage 1 involves helping new students become familiar using the software of the computer-mediated classes. Students can experience some technical problems that must resolve before they are able to participate online. Then, it is vital that instructors welcome the students to the class and offer assistance to help them feel at ease. Students can feel somewhat embarrassed by their struggles in learning how to use the software. Instructors can alleviate the student’s anxiety by sharing email messages that stress they are supportive and optimistic in tone.
Therefore, it is important to know the “audience” which is constantly changing from class to class.
For instance, why are some students just browsing or staying on the fringes of the class dialog? Salmon (2000) observers that even the “lurkers” or browsers are learning because they might be the sponges that take the information. Instructors should spend time getting to know their students to discover the reasons behind their hesitancy to make a significant contribution to their classes. Perhaps, some people lack confidence (Stage 2) and it important to give these individuals time to read and enjoy the contributions of their classmates. Then, as students become more comfortable with the online culture they can move into sharing and exchanging information (Stage 3). The advent of Stage 4 affirms the importance of instructors becoming more intentional in their online remarks. Instructors need to weave their student’s contributions into creative narratives that highlight course principles and theories. Instructors will notice a definite change in their students who move from being merely knowledge transmitters to creators or authors of innovative ideas.
Salmon (2000) encourages instructors to develop online assignments and interactions that foster critical thinking skills. Stage 5 is the highest level of learning and students are taught to use higher order thinking skills. Students are challenged to demonstrate reflective thinking by interpreting information at a deeper level. In fact, students will begin to acquire new cognitive skills and learn to monitor and evaluate their thinking. At this stage, instructors will need to devote time to creating a learning environment that fosters reflective online dialog.
The research studies at the Open University have provided the data to develop a comprehensive chart of five e-moderator or facilitator competencies:
E-Moderator Online Competencies (Solomon 2000, p. 41)
The chart provides an excellent overview of the five instructor competencies. It can be effectively used in a variety of ways: instructional design specialists that are creating online curriculum materials help assist distance educator administrators who are recruiting online personnel, trainers of online faculty members who need guidelines to help them make accurate assessments and individual instructors who want to develop a professional development plan.
Salmon’s (2000) work is an outstanding example of how to apply research studies to contemporary educational issues. Ultimately, today’s online instructors are still learning about the nature of teaching in virtual classrooms. Salmon has provided valuable insights to help instructors who want to create classes that are relevant, friendly and intellectually challenging for their students.
Muirhead, B. (1999). Attitudes toward interactivity in a graduate distance education program: A qualitative analysis. Parkland, Fl.: Dissertation.com.
Salmon, G. (2000). E-moderating: the key to teaching and learning online. London: Kogan Page Limited.