Learning through distance education is becoming more common as K-12 schools, universities, and corporations use available technologies to teach, train, and support students and staff at a distance. While distance education and traditional education have the same objectives, they are markedly different, and there are different requirements for distance educators. There are a number of names, including facilitator, moderator, instructor, coach, and manager, to describe the countless roles of the distance educator, and distance educators must be prepared to support students in much the same way that traditional educators do and to use available distance technologies to do so. Those who take on the responsibilities of a distance educator have numerous roles to conquer; however, most importantly they must prepare to make the shift from traditional teacher to facilitator while also effectively supporting student-centered learning and ensuring quality distance instruction.
As facilitators, educators must “select and filter information for student consideration, to provide thought-provoking questions, and to facilitate well-considered discussion” (Yang & Cornelious, 2005). Facilitators guide students in their journey through the content of the course with hopes of motivating students to expand on the topic and learn on their own. Facilitators design and implement activities that require collaboration and discussion and that compel students to explore the course topics and to use critical thinking skills. Facilitators should engage learners to keep thinking and learning moving. Similarly, part of the shift in the distance educator’s role is to recognize that the focus is no longer on the educator and is now on the students.
In learning situations, it is the student who is there to learn; however, in traditional classrooms the spotlight is often on the teacher. In distance education there should be a shift in focus, and the facilitator should create a student-centered learning community. The facilitator should…(read 2, 3, 4, 5) While distance learners should be prepared to be more self-directed, they also need to feel supported by the facilitator in their efforts to learn.
Distance learners are usually physically separated from other learners and their teacher; however, there does not have to be a feeling of separation and isolation. According to Kelly (2004), “Interpersonal interaction – communication between the online instructor, and among learners – leads to increased motivation, higher achievement, more positive attitudes toward learning, higher satisfaction with instruction, confidence in learning capabilities, enhanced critical thinking and problem solving skills, and higher cognitive processing of the content” (as cited in Janes, 2006, p. 95). Facilitators should…(read points 3, 4, 5). By taking on the role of facilitator, distance educators can construct the sense of culture and community that makes students feel as though they are a part of the group and that allows them to understand their role in the distance environment.
In addition to building the distance community, facilitators should set expectations for the students in the distance environment. Read 1.Facililators should read 2, and read 3. Students need to be comfortable with the standards they need to meet while working toward a quality education.
While developing skills as a facilitator, distance educators must also take into consideration how they will ensure quality distance instruction. As noted by Yang & Cornelious (2005), “high quality, online instruction encourages discovery, integration, application, and practices. Instructors need to discover students’ learning preferences, integrate technology tools, apply appropriate instructional techniques, put them all into practices, and generate the most suitable method for individuals.” Facilitators must consider “how to appropriately use technology to serve an instructional purpose” and choose the most effective. Facilitators should make modifications as needed to fit the needs of the students and take the time to train, experiment, develop, and prepare for the course. Those who are making the shift from the roles and responsibilities of the traditional teacher, must be prepared to make the transition and to become a different educator.
Distance educators are challenged to begin creating a “new persona” while also facing other distance education issues(Coppola, et al., 2002, p. 182). While the objectives and outcomes of the courses stay the same, the distance educator tackles new issues and engages learners at a distance without the teacher-centered environment of the traditional classroom. Distance educators believe “the online persona is one of transition.” It is imperative, due to its impact on creating a student-centered environment with a sense of community and on ensuring quality education, for distance educators to prepare for the role of facilitator and to consider its importance to distance education as they create their new personas.
Building a Student-Centered Community and Ensuring Quality Distance Education<br />Preparing for the Shift to Facilitator:<br />
Introduction<br />Distance education is becoming more common<br />Numerous roles for the distance educator<br />Facilitator<br />Moderator<br />Instructor<br />Coach<br />Manager<br />Must prepare to make the shift from traditional teacher to “facilitator”<br />
The role of facilitator includes:<br />Guiding learners<br />Focusing on the students<br />Building community<br />Setting expectations<br />Ensuring quality distance education<br />
Guiding Learners<br />Select and filter information <br />Provide thought-provoking questions<br />Facilitate well-considered discussion<br />Guide students in their journey through the content of the course<br />Motivate students to expand on course topics and to learn on their own<br />Design and implement activities that require collaboration and discussion<br />Engage learners to keep thinking and learning moving<br />
Focusing on the Students<br />Create a student-centered learning community<br />Serve as a coach, counselor, and mentor<br />Encourage students to become active participants rather than passive listeners<br />Turn the learning over to the students<br />Encourage independent thinking and exploration<br />
Building Community<br />Distance learners = physically separated and isolated<br />According to Kelly, interpersonal interaction “leads to increased motivation, higher achievement, more positive attitudes toward learning, higher satisfaction with instruction, confidence in learning capabilities, enhanced critical thinking and problem solving skills, and higher cognitive processing of the content” (as cited in Janes, 2006, p. 95). <br />Build a community of learners that fosters relationships and feelings of connectivity <br />Help learners feel as though they are a part of the class<br />Create this culture through the shared experiences that students will have in the course. <br /> Make students feel as though they are a part of the group<br />
Setting Expectations <br />Students should know:<br />what their role is as defined by the facilitator.<br />what is required of them. <br />how the facilitator plans to interact with them. <br />Be explicit about mutual expectations for participants <br />Provide examples, create atmosphere, explain objectives and requirements<br />
Ensuring Quality Education<br />As noted by Yang & Cornelious (2005), “high quality, online instruction encourages discovery, integration, application, and practices. Instructors need to discover students’ learning preferences, integrate technology tools, apply appropriate instructional techniques, put them all into practices, and generate the most suitable method for individuals.” <br />Consider how to use technology and choose the most effective<br />Make modifications <br />Take time to train, experiment, develop, and prepare<br />
Conclusion<br />Begin creating a new persona<br />Also facing other distance education issues<br />Objectives and outcomes stay the same, but there are new issues and strategies<br />Online persona is one of transition<br />Imperative for distance educators to prepare for the role of facilitator and to consider its importance to distance education as they create their new personas<br />
References<br />Coppola, N. W., Hiltz, S. R., & Rotter, N. G. (2002). Becoming a virtual professor: Pedagogical <br /> roles and asynchronous learning networks. Journal of Management Information Systems, 18(4), <br /> 169-189. Retrieved July 29, 2009, from the New Jersey Institute of Technology Web site: <br /> <http://web.njit.edu/~cs222/technology/PTC%20606/Articles/Becoming%20a%20Virtual <br /> %20Professor.pdf>.<br />Janes, D. P. (2006). Together alone: What students need from an e-moderator. Canadian Journal of <br /> University Continuing Education, 32(2), 93-108. Retrieved July 30, 2009, from the Canadian <br /> Journal of University Continuing Education Web site: <http://www.extension.usask.ca/cjuce/<br /> articles/v32pdf/3224.pdf>. <br />Kimball, L. (2001). Managing distance learning – New challenges for faculty. In R. Hazemi and S. <br />Hailes (Eds.), The Digital University. Secaucus, NJ: Springer. Retrieved July 29, 2009, from <br /> the Community Intelligence Labs Web site: <http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/<br />vc/Managing_Distance_Learning.doc>.<br />Yang, Y., & Cornelious, L. F. (2005). Preparing instructors for quality online instruction. Online Journal<br /> of Distance Learning Administration, 8(1). Retrieved July 30, 2009, from the State University of<br /> West Georgia Web site: <http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring81/ yang81.htm>.<br />