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When Graduate Students Become Online Instructors: A First-Time Online Instructor's Teaching Toolbox

Joyce Kincannon (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)
Additional Authors
Staylor Anamuah-Mensah (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)
Yin Wah B Kreher (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)
Session Information
April 22, 2015 - 2:00pm
Effective Teaching and Learning Pedagogy
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Applied Use (technology or pedagogy)
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
San Antonio A
Session Duration: 
50 Minutes
Concurrent Session 2

What do graduate students with limited teaching experience need to know in transitioning to online teaching? Recommendations are made for an online teaching toolkit.

Extended Abstract


Findings from the 2014 EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research study of students and information technology show that out of nearly 66000 respondents from American institutions, 63.6 percent of students prefer learning environments with some online components and 8.7 percent prefer learning in fully online environments. In the 2014 Online Learning Consortium's annual report (Allen & Seaman, 2014) of online education trends, an all-time high of 33.5 percent (p. 4) of higher education students from more than 2800 colleges and universities are taking at least one online course. Sixty-six percent (p. 3) of chief academic leaders indicated that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy. Teachers preparing to teach in higher education institutions would be astute to consider teaching in the online environment as an imminent option and to equip themselves for that possibility.

In Fall 2014, my colleague and I co-taught some face-to-face sessions of a doctoral-level Teaching Practicum course in psychology. The course focused on face-to-face teaching strategies and students produced teaching portfolios. We were given the challenge to provide these students with an overview of practical techniques in online teaching.


The target audience for our teaching sessions were doctoral students in various specializations of the psychology field. Many of them had experience with using a Learning Management System, such as Blackboard, but many had not taught and/or enrolled for an online course before. Typically, this demographic segment of potential online instructors meld into the online teaching landscape without much attention being paid to their unique needs. A *review of existing online sites documenting Preparing Future Faculty or Future Professoriate Programs in Centers of Teaching Excellence (or centers with similar goals) at universities reveal a limited glimpse of resources that were allocated to graduate student preparation for online teaching. Although some for-profit one training packages are available, there is little documented discussion of how to assist graduate students to transition into online teachers when they join the professoriate.


With limited face-to-face time with these students, we adopted a dual-pronged approach to craft a learning experience that we call Online Teaching 101. We complemented formal face-to-face sessions with a web-based open-access learning site for just-in-time microlearning moments.

We addressed some of the anxieties that arise from the lack of knowledge about online teaching. Our goal was to help these students begin to develop an understanding of online education in the following ways:

  • Connect to Prior Knowledge. Help them access what they know about effective teaching in face-to-face classrooms.
  • Extend Thinking. Compare and contrast face-to-face learning with online learning.
  • Make Learning Visible and Social. Explicitly share their thoughts with others within and beyond the classroom to refine and transform their thinking towards online teaching, one that we believe requires a shift in understanding, from the traditional roles and attitude of face-to-face teaching towards a new conception of teacher identity and pedagogical beliefs.
  • Weave Technology into the Learning Tapestry. Introduce students to technology tools that support connected learning, participatory networked learning, interdisciplinary, open access visible learning. This is done by seamlessly integrating technology into our learning design as we did not want to teach technology separately as a 'tools session.'
  • Challenge Learners to Learn by Doing and Collaborating. We encourage students to immerse themselves in the virtual world and begin developing an online personal learning network (PLN) for teacher professional development that extends formal learning.

We began developing a web resource to document our teaching experience of working with these students (http://rampages.us/gradtoonlineteach/). This resource is published as an open educational resource.


What we learned from this teaching experience are expressed in the following questions that we will present to our audience for an engaged conversation.

  • How do you conduct needs assessment about something learners know little about?

To conduct some preliminary needs assessment, we discussed with the course instructor via emails what concerns the students might have about online teaching so as to use our face-to-face interaction time more efficiently. We also invited the students to contact us after the first teaching session to provide us feedback. Our efforts indicated that with their limited online teaching experience, these students didn't know what to ask about something they didnÍt know much about. Our first takeaway from this is that we shouldn't be asking these learners but others who were once graduate students and now online teachers to gauge learning needs.

The course instructor invited us to come up with a list of possible online teaching concerns for the students. This strategy obtained no response from the students.

  • What are novice instructors' first thoughts about online teaching? How do you begin to extend their knowledge and practice?

One initial response we received from a student in our first interaction time was a question about how to use SafeAssign, which we interpreted as a concern about online cheating. Another feedback item we received from the students was their desire to know about 'online teaching strategies and challenges.' This reinforced our initial finding. These beginner teachers have a broad conception about teaching that focused on methods of instruction. We also learned how these students' use of social media was more friendship-driven than one driven by professional-development (SingTeach, 2014).

  • How do we integrate technology seamlessly into our teaching sessions?

Our method was to teach by

  • modeling technology use and letting students see, think and begin to form a mental model of what technologies to foster learning interaction in the online environment look like;
  • letting the experience be driven by learner needs, thus inviting questioning that opens up the discussion to other technology use;
  • improvising as the learning experience unfolds.

We will actively engage our presentation audience by inviting them to use some of the technologies we introduced to our learners, for instance, implementing an online icebreaker using Padlet. We will also show how we introduced open educational resources such as MOOCs and personal learning environments to our students, which led to questions about other online learning platforms (e.g. Canvas).