Are There Differences In The Quality Of Online Teaching?

Quality Of Online Teaching: What Differences Are There?

Among the sheer mass of online teachers and tutors, and especially on a market that is hugely driven by price competition, it is a challenge to stand out with quality. It seems that it is hard for online teachers to prove their qualification and expertise in teaching. So, what happens when there are differences in the quality of online teaching?

The Need For A Standardized Certificate

Surely, there are more and more study programs in universities around the world focusing solely or as part of a general education program on online teaching that can be taken both on campus or online. Good examples are the 21st Century Educators program at Tampere University of Applied Sciences or the Master of Education (eLearning) at Massey University. No doubt they do a great job and are recommendable for anyone that is deeply interested in the topic and wants to improve their skills and knowledge in the field. After finalizing the studies, those programs provide a widely accepted degree.

But what about those teachers who have gained experience in online teaching in the past, taken courses, and taught online for years? Many online teachers have been in the field for a long time. They might have started off as classroom teachers, and many just work online on the side. They might be ingenious at what they do and how they teach online, but have never had the time to study a whole degree program. How can they prove their competence without having to go through several years of studying again? Looking e.g. at foreign languages, there is a possibility to prove your skills through tests like TOEFL for English, TestDaF for German, or DELF/DALF for French. The same is true for other fields like IT, business, design, and many more. After preparing, participants get to take a test that then gives them an indication of their level and abilities.

Nothing comparable exists to show the qualification an online teacher has. Why not? Well, because teaching is a whole different thing than language skills. It is much more complex to test the ability to teach than to assess someone’s knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, writing, reading, understanding, and communication skills.

What Makes Online Teaching Excellent?

On the other hand, there are also clear indicators on what makes for good and what for bad quality of online teaching. If e.g. a teacher does in no way respond to the strengths and weaknesses of his or her students, this is clearly counterproductive for the learning outcome. Also, a teacher that understands pedagogical backgrounds and methodology well will have it easier to design a good online course than one that doesn’t.

There has been quite a bit of research in the past on assessing both classroom and online teaching. Pedagogy experts from a number of American universities have put together the very useful Exploration of the Relationship Between Indicators of the Community of Inquiry Framework and Retention in Online Programs in which they designed a questionnaire for students to assess their teachers based on their experience in the online environment. At the University of Massachusetts, a handbook under the name Teaching and Learning Online: Communication, Community, and Assessment was created that focused on the chances and challenges of online teaching and developed categories to assess the effectiveness of student participation in online discussions.

Still, the challenge in designing a standardized and globally accepted certificate is going to be to determine what makes for high quality of online teaching. Not only is it about what aspects are important to focus on, but also what weight the different aspects should have. Is e.g. knowledge of methodology more important than to know the latest technology in the field?

The Need For Co-Creation And Feedback

With the Finnish startup Skilltize we made it our goal to develop a certificate for online teaching excellence. To determine the importance and weight of different aspects of teaching online we created a questionnaire targeted to online teachers. If happen to be one yourself, please take the five minutes to give your input. After all, this certificate is made for you and your opinion and feedback is crucial to make the project successful.

In general, I would be curious to hear about your experience. Have you faced the problem of not being able to prove your teaching ability? Have you been considered too expensive or had some other problems of reaching students? Also, what is your take on a standardized certificate for online teaching? Do you see a need for that, challenges, chances? I am looking forward to your feedback in the questionnaire, as well as your comments and a lively discussion below this article.