A successful online educator needs to have a wide knowledge of technology and must be adept at using technology to communicate and provide instruction for students. The instructor needs to be flexible and open to new experiences in order to adjust to new developments in educational technology and media. Here are some of the things that online teachers need to learn:
1. The basics. First of all, every teacher needs to be familiar with such essentials as word processing on the computer; creating, saving and revising documents; navigating their computer in order to find, relocate and upload documents; sending and receiving e-mail; and exploring the internet using a browser and search engine to conduct online research.
2. Course management system. Online educators need to know how to use effectively the online course management system provided by their institution. Moodle, Blackboard, Angel and other similar formatted frameworks offer many useful tools for providing instruction to students.
3. Synchronous communication. To add a more personal touch to the mostly asynchronous, impersonal environment of online courses, instructors should offer some opportunities for live synchronous communication and collaboration. This can be done through the course management system’s chat tool or through an outside provider such as Elluminate Live! Ten ways of using Elluminate Live! are describe in this document: http://www.elluminate.com/downloads/whitepapers/Top-Ten-Ways-of-Using-Elluminate-Live.pdf
4. Asynchronous collaboration. Online instructors should learn to participate in and contribute to asynchronous forms of collaboration, such as wikis and discussion forums, both of which are usually included as part of an online course management system. For those who want to go outside the CMS, a free wiki creation site can be found here: http://www.wiki-site.com/index.php/Wiki_Creation_-_Create_A_Wiki_For_Free!
5. Weblogs. Educators should at least consider creating a blog to publish relevant comments about course-related topics. Weblog sites provide opportunities for students and others to respond to the original posts and for the blogging instructors to answer those responses. Students can be assigned to create their own blogs. This can be done as part of the CMS or at such a site as http://wordpress.org/
6. Video creation. Online learning can be enhanced by adding video to the usually more static course web site. This accomplishes two things: adding a more personal touch by allowing the students to see the instructor, and catering to the needs of different learning styles. YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/ provides an easy platform for displaying video online, including the option of keeping it private from search engines. Once a video has been uploaded, it can be made available to students by sharing a link or embedding coding within a course web site.
7. Recording slide presentations. While PowerPoint presentations can easily be uploaded to a course web site for students to click through on their own, an alternative is to record the presentation including the instructor’s voice. This can be done with software that can be purchased online, such as Camtasia. A less expensive alternative is Movea, which is explained here: http://www.dvd-ppt-slideshow.com/ppt-to-video/
8. Reality simulations. For some courses, web-based reality simulations can add interest for students by using avatars in specific locations or situations that are presented in virtual reality. Such tools can be used as alternatives to synchronous chat sessions or live class meetings. Second Life at http://secondlife.com/ is among the sites that can be used in this way.
9. Online conferences. Another substitute for live classroom meetings is online conference sessions. These virtual meetings can be organized through VenueGen at http://www.venuegen.com/ , DimDim at http://www.dimdim.com/ or Big Blue Button at http://www.bigbluebutton.org/
10. Podcasts/audio recordings. Lectures can be recorded and posted within a course web site or on an outside site or e-mailed to students. Like videos, this is another way of personalizing course content and serving students with different learning styles. Audacity is one free program that can be used for making audio recordings. Tutorials for using Audacity can be found at http://www.how-to-podcast-tutorial.com/17-audacity-tutorial.htm . An alternative for brief recordings, AudioBoo, can be found at http://audioboo.fm.
11. Social networking. Online educators need to know about social networking on the internet and the fact that such sites can be used for much more than staying in contact with friends and family. A comprehensive list of such sites can be found at http://socialsoftware.weblogsinc.com/2005/02/14/home-of-the-social-networking-services-meta-list/ . Here is a blog post about educational uses of Facebook: http://jeffthomastech.com/blog/?p=6887
12. Twitter. A form of social networking is provided by Twitter at http://twitter.com/ , which enables participates to write short messages of no more than 140 characters that are posted online and may be sent or received on smart phones. Digital journalism students’ reactions to using Twitter are posted here: http://com466.wordpress.com/2009/06/08/student-reflections-on-twitter/
14. Surveys. Online opinion survey sites can be used to gauge student reactions to a course, as an alternative to quizzes, and as an event scheduling tool. These include http://www.polleverywhere.com , http://www.surveymonkey.com/ or http://www.zoomerang.com/
15. Graphic visualizations. Online instructors can improve their teaching by using graphics based on statistics. Enhanced graphics can make a stronger impression on young learners than more traditional means such as lists of facts or tables of numbers. Many Eyes, at http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/ , is a site that allows anyone to upload a data set and create all sorts of graphic visualizations based on the data.
16. Maps. Geographical comparisons can be illustrated by presenting statistical data within maps. At http://www.worldmapper.org maps of countries are resized based on statistics.
17. Content analysis. Text-based or theme-related courses, such as literature, English composition and political science, can be improved through content analysis. One site that offers a visual form of content analysis by creating a “word cloud,” which illustrates the most used and least used words of a text, can be found at http://www.wordle.net/
18. Personalized search engines. If an online instructor wants to help students focus on certain online content, he or she can provide them with a search tool that will only consider specific pre-selected web sites. Rollyo at http://www.rollyo.com/createroll.html offers this option. Once the specific sites have been identified, the instructor can generate computer code that can be easily embedded in the online course web site to provide the students with a search box.
20. RSS feeds. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) can be used to communicate with students about course content, deadlines and other announcements. Instructors who use RSS need to learn how to generate the feeds and need to ensure that the students know how to subscribe to them. An explanation of this technology can be found at http://www.suite101.com/content/educational-uses-for-rss-feeds-a67241
21. Texting. Many students already have smart phones or personal digital devices that can send and receive text messages. While many institutions use this as a means of disseminating emergency messages, instructors may also wish to use texting to send reminders to students. A blog post that discusses this can be found at http://www.classroom20.com/forum/topics/how-are-you-using-textingsms . If an instructor does not have a cell phone, text messages can be sent from a computer at http://joopz.com/
22. Using photos. Online instructors need to know how to take digital photos, the basics of photo editing, such as cropping and resizing, and where to find free or low-cost photos that can be used as clip art to help illustrate online course content. Most computers or digital cameras come with easy-to-use photo editing software. Jasc Paint Shop Pro is a good program that can be purchased for more sophisticated photo editing tasks.
23. eBooks. Instructors should know where to find digital books to supplement course content. Many such books are free because they are beyond their copyright. They may be downloaded or viewed in a variety of formats for reading or listening to. These sites include the following: http://openlibrary.org/ , http://www.questia.com/, http://www.classicreader.com/ , http://www.literatureproject.com/index.htm , http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page , and http://books.google.com/bkshp?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&tab=wp&q=