My Instructor Role Models

What makes a great instructor in the context of Web 2.0?

I have had the good fortune of learning from several excellent online educators over the past few years. So, I thought that I would use my own role models to answer this question. Of course, these traits are probably not limited solely to online educators.

Great Instructors Inspire and Expect Creativity-

I took a comparative religions course as an undergraduate. A few of the assignments, at first glance, seemed daunting to me. Create a mandala that represents you as a person and explain the details and why you chose them. Write about the encounter if you were to meet up with Confucius, the Buddha, and Laozi. What would you learn from them? What would it mean to you? These were challenging assignments. They forced me to ask myself difficult questions, but in the end, they also provided me with valuable personal insights that I will never forget.

Great Instructors Build in Opportunities for Active Learning-

In abnormal psychology, our final project was to create a fictional case study that included all DSM-IV sections. The client of my case study was a college gymnast with anorexia nervosa. To lighten the mood of the paper, I called her personal physician Dr. McDreamy. Though she remains faceless, I developed the character history to such a great extent that I can see a picture of her in my mind and I will never forget the value in that learning experience.

Great Instructors Build in Opportunities for Experiential Learning-

The book for my art history course was about four inches thick and we read every page-full of colorful images and tiny writing. Thankfully, there was much more to the course than the content in the book. The main project required us to select among a variety of topics and I chose my favorite – a comparison of Romanesque and Gothic architectures.

I found a cathedral – The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine –  in the Morningside Heights section of New York City that, due to changes in leadership and varying phases of construction, exhibits both Romanesque and Gothic features. I visited twice as I worked on the project. The church structure was undergoing major cleaning and renovation following a fire, but on my second visit I was able to take a vertical tour that included climbing the spiral staircases and walking above the nave and across the tops of the interior and exterior buttresses.

A lover of photography, I ended up taking several hundred pictures of the interior and exterior architectural features. The final project contained so many images that I couldn’t upload it through Blackboard. To this day, more than two years later, I can tell you the differences between Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Not only that, but I developed a true love for the diversity in architecture. Whether someplace local or someplace new, I recognize and appreciate the variety in the architecture and I don’t think that is anything that I will ever lose.

Great Instructors Build in Opportunities for Participatory Learning-

One of my graduate courses in adult education research involved a progressive set of activities. Each activity provided an opportunity for another participant to volunteer to take the leadership role. Each group member contributed to the ongoing discussion, sharing resources and providing valuable feedback in order to achieve consensus. After several years of online learning, I believe this course fostered the development of community better than any other.

Great Instructors Create and Shape Learning Environments-

In one of my graduate distance education courses, the instructor impressed me from the start. I had chosen her particular session because we share similar research interests and in an introduction, she provided multiple methods for contacting her (including a home phone number). I never used it, but her level of openness did encourage me to ask her questions that fell outside of the formal curriculum. She was always very helpful and incredibly generous with her time.

In what is written about instructor presence online, experts warn against directing the conversation by interjecting too many comments into the asynchronous discussion. Perhaps as a result of this warning, many instructors monitor, but do not participate. This particular instructor found a way to participate in the discussion – which I personally find to be a critical component of online learning – without actually dominating it. Instead of directing or correcting us, she asked questions that prompted additional discussion and clarification. She would bring in research and researchers, when relevant, to encourage us to further investigate our own interests. And at the end of a discussion, she would post a short review summary and tie up any loose ends, which I found to be very helpful.

In my experience, these are the characteristics that make a great instructor in the context of Web 2.0, but this is by no means a comprehensive list. What experiences have shaped your idea of a great instructor?

5 responses to “My Instructor Role Models

  1. Thanks, John. It sounds like you were missing an important component in that other program. I cannot emphasize the critical nature of instructor presence enough. In my eyes, they are the gatekeepers. I may approach learning (on my best day :-) with a ring full of keys and ample enthusiasm, but in the absence of instructor presence, I am unlikely to optimize the number of appropriate key to lock matches…

  2. As usual Deb, you did not disappoint. I constantly reflect on my teachers from my past, both good and bad. When you write about teachers challenging you or of completing a daunting task, it is so easy to relate. Many times in adult education I am challenged with assignments which are so foreign to me, but the mentoring aspect of instructors and peers help distinguish the anxieties. Previously, I graduated with an MBA from Western Governors University in their degree at a distance program. I would love to mention a professor who influenced me. Unfortunately, due to their format there was no connection, thus no feel good stories. I do not regret my time there, though, I feel a void. That lack of personal instruction becomes obvious reading your post or each day when I communicate with my classmates. Much of my teaching memoires come from pre-Internet experiences. I believe that I will have the benefit of relating good stories at the conclusion of this course. Look forward to your next blog. Thanks.

  3. Thanks, Beth and Stephanie. They made teaching seem so easy, I think, when I know that it isn’t. I believe that each of them put in at least as much time as I did in the course.

  4. Stephanie Novotny

    I love that you have a “Great Instructors” comment before every great point that you make in your blog for this week. I love when you wrote this after your first “Great Instructors” title,  

    “They forced me to ask myself difficult questions, but in the end, they also provided me with valuable personal insights that i will never forget.”

    That is the meaning of learning, i believe. When we as educators instill higher order thinking to students when they are exploring new ideas. Not only does it promote different ways of viewing ideas and questions but in the end, just as you said it provides valuable personal insights that students will never forget. They can apply these learning techniques to other areas of learning and it will make their learning an all around, more beneficial experience.

  5. This is an excellent and very inclusive list, Deb…I found myself nodding along as I read. My experience with online learning isn’t too extensive (three courses last semester, three more this spring), but to answer your question and add my two cents, I think that a great instructor (online or otherwise) challenges your current thinking and helps you reach for higher levels of understanding. This can be accomplished through providing resources that represent a variety of perspectives, through thoughtful questioning in discussion forums and through the assignment of projects which require you to step outside your comfort zone and expand your thinking. I also like your point about instructors participating in discussions…I agree that when done correctly, their thoughts can contribute without dominating. Thinking back upon my favorite teachers throughout all my education, I think that a characteristic common to all of them is that they were dynamic, enthusiastic and caring. These traits are harder (though not impossible) to exhibit in an online environment and I think this is one of the reasons there will always be a place for face to face learning in education…there’s something about working with an instructor who is passionate about his subject and that you can see truly cares about you, your work and your success, that is essential to education.