T.H.E. Journal has published a study where researchers interviewed 21 online instructors with a series of open-ended essay questions. We review their findings and add our own comments [in brackets]:
A lot of issues related to bandwidth limitations and dominance of text in Web-based classes. [While wider bandwidth systems are being installed all time, it seems that a lot of that extra capacity is being soaked up by new users, rather than allowing faster access to existing users. This problem may be around a while. One solution: don't rely solely on Internet as your delivery medium. Text is more accessible to people in PRINT so leave it that way, exploit Internet for its strengths as a visual medium, and a point of access to current information].
Some instructors feel as if a lifetime of teaching skills goes by wayside. They can not use their presence and their classroom skills to get their point across. Nor can they use their oral skills to improvise on spot to deal with behaviour problems or educational opportunities. [Synchronous communication methods such as chat provide a forum for immediate and personalised feedback, but they require a new set of skills from facilitators. They don't however facilitate 80% of communication that is non-verbal. Look carefully at your learner profile, face-to-face contact may well be an essential component of your delivery mechanism.]
Because of reliance on text-based communication and a lack of visual cues, every aspect of course has to be laid out in meticulous detail to avoid misunderstandings. [In many face-to-face environments, presentation materials such as OHPs, handouts etc. account for less than a third of process of instruction. The bulk comes from interaction between instructor and learner. Migrating to an online environment necessitates finding ways of capturing this process. Online courses that rely solely on conversion of existing teaching resources will lack this depth of structure, and are consequently more likely to result in shallow learning and low motivation and retention levels.]
They respond to threaded discussion questions, evaluate assignments, and above all answer questions clearing up ambiguities, often spending an inordinate amount of time communicating by e-mail. [Fact: it takes longer to type something than say it. While online learning remains text based, it will always take more time to communicate. Because it is often asynchronous, process will continue to be repetitive for instructors. Solutions: design learning activities that provide extensive feedback for students; design instructor communication so that it addresses a range of issues in one hit; build communication between learners so they support each other.]
The Web environment presents a number of educational opportunities and advantages over traditional classes, such as many informational resources that can be seamlessly integrated into class. [Proper integration not only requires making access to resources, but also putting in place learning activities that guide learners in use of resources.]
The fact that students must write their thoughts down, and realisation that those thoughts will be exposed semi-permanently to others in class seem to result in a deeper level of discourse.