So, You Are About to Teach Online

By: Lloyd P. Rieber, Ph.D.
Professor of Learning, Design and Technology
The University of Georgia, College of Education

Since I started teaching online in about 2001, I have learned many things about teaching and myself. I’ll share a few of these insights in this post. The most basic one is that if you enjoy teaching, you will enjoy the challenge of teaching online. But yes, expect it to be a challenge. I offer some brief words of advice that I hope will, most of all, lessen the stress and anxiety that you may be feeling at just the thought of teaching online for the first time. Like all good teaching, the work is considerable, and, let’s face it, the rewards for doing a good job will be dubious. So, if you find teaching to be an annoyance or distraction from your “real” work, this post is not for you. But, if you have a passion for teaching and feel you are the one to gain the most from teaching and teaching well, then read on.

Let’s make the assumption you are already a good, or even great, teacher. It may be hard to believe, but that may be a disadvantage for you in one important respect: You likely will have the mindset that you must be a likewise good or great online teacher from day one, which is totally unrealistic. Do you remember what it was like to be a new teacher? Well, take some time to pull those memories and feelings back up. The good news is that you will probably remember the adrenaline rush of beginning to figure out how to teach well, of actually connecting with your students, and the feeling that you are making a real difference in your students’ lives. But, try to remember that becoming a good teacher did not happen overnight. In my own case, I feel it took me a full five years of teaching before I truly felt competent. So, as you embark on teaching online for the first time just relax and tell yourself that you need to give yourself the time and space to learn how to teach well in this new environment. Better yet, tell your administrators and your first batch of online students that you are new at this and deserve some extra “get out of jail free” cards as you make those inevitable early mistakes. Take on the attitude that you now get a second opportunity to enjoy the feeling of being a first year teacher. It’s a very freeing and exciting feeling!

The final advice I’ll offer here is something that you will be hesitant to do: learn from your colleagues who have already been teaching online. Again, if you are already a good or great teacher, you are probably used to people coming to you for advice about teaching, so this may be a hard pill to swallow. But, taking on the humble attitude of someone who doesn’t know it all and who can learn from others is not only again freeing, but you may find it now gives you a great opportunity to connect with your colleagues through the bond of teaching. By the way, be warned that these “exemplary teachers” will likely be younger than you with less total “years of experience," but all the more the opportunity to model for them the need to never stop learning. I’ve often said that I think the best teachers are the ones who, when they see a good idea, aren’t afraid to admit that “Yes, that’s a better approach than the one I’ve been using.”

I no longer divide my teaching into “online” and “face-to-face.” It’s all just teaching to me. What’s good for teaching and learning is simply good for teaching and learning. Interestingly, the challenges and constraints of teaching online have often resulted in me being surprisingly creative where I’ve invented new teaching strategies and activities that I’ve then adopted in my face-to-face teaching (and visa versa). I continue to get that adrenaline rush whenever I walk into the classroom, even if it’s virtual (the classroom, not the rush).