Professional learning for online educators

Farrell, Orna, Brunton, James, Ní Shé, Caitriona and Costello, Eamon (2021) Professional learning for online educators.


This case study describes the experiences of the #Openteach project team in developing a flexible and evidence-based approach to support professional learning for those who teach online. The project targeted online educators in particular. The rationale for this was Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is recognised as crucial to the upskilling of educators to enhance the student learning experience. However, teaching online requires different pedagogical approaches and staff require specific CPD opportunities relating to online learning in order to teach effectively in that context. The #Openteach project sought to address this gap by creating a flexible, online, open access course about teaching online that was grounded in evidence-based practice. The project had a number of phases, which included a needs analysis of online students and educators about effective online teaching, the publication of a literature review entitled Teaching Online is Different, and a pilot evaluation report. The #Openteach open course ran in March 2020 and focused on five key aspects of teaching online: social presence; facilitating discussion; collaboration online; live online teaching; and supporting online students. Following the first run, an evaluation study was conducted to explore and understand participants' learning experiences of the course. Our findings indicate that professional learning about online teaching should be situated online, and the experience of being an online student is invaluable for online educators as it facilitates empathy with students learning in online contexts. Time management and workload are major challenges for educators, therefore professional learning should allow for flexible engagement. Building confidence and reducing the fear of online teaching is an important aspect of professional learning related to online education. Developing understanding and knowledge of online pedagogy is an important element of professional learning about teaching online. Finally, confidence and competence with the tools and technologies for teaching online are important threshold digital competencies for online educators. The #Openteach project has had a significant impact on the professional learning of educators at a number of levels: at a local university level, at a national level; and at an international level.

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