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Open, Online Resources for Online Instructors

Making the switch from traditional to online courses can be challenging, even for an experienced instructor. The online classroom environment presents a new set of demands and requires specific skills. If you are new to online courses, it can help to have some experience with the technology and a collection of go-to resources available for reference along the way. How can you prepare yourself?

School Sponsored Resources

If you are already working for a particular institution, you'll want to find out more about in-house training provided for new instructors. Look for different types of support and find out what your program offers.

  • New faculty orientation: Many online schools have requirements to complete initial workshops or sessions to prepare not only for the online course experience, but also for the administration of school-specific policies and procedures.
  • Faculty development: Find the group at your school that is providing professional development opportunities for instructors. Workshops and seminars are common formats, along with specialized sessions to introduce new technologies.
  • Faculty mentors: Does your program assign an experienced instructor to work with new instructors? Faculty mentorship programs are popular and provide one-on-one assistance and a source of information. You may find your own mentor along the way. Teaching from a distance can be a solitary experience. Working with other instructors in your program can lead to a collegial environment that minimizes the sense of isolation.
  • Tutorials: Ask about faculty resource collections and tutorials that may be available to provide extra information and guidance on everything from human resources paperwork to setting up a live chat session and using the online library.

If you are an online course veteran, how can you offer your support and lessons learned to the new instructors in your program? You may find yourself in the role of faculty mentor very quickly.

Getting Ready with Online Resources

If your institution does not offer formal training and support programs, or if you are still looking for that first online teaching position, there are other options to consider. Open courseware initiatives have made thousands of courses available online with Creative Commons licenses. These courses include faculty development opportunities where you'll find a range of helpful materials. Most of these courses were designed for use at a specific university, so expect that some of the resources will not apply to you – focus on creating a collection of items that provide you with the help you need.

  • Online Instructor Training (University of California-Irvine) All modules and materials are free and available online. The ability to upload assignments and take quizzes is available only to UC Irvine instructors, who can take the course for academic credit. The eight lessons in this course include resources for using the Moodle learning management system and guidance on developing and facilitating asynchronous courses.
  • Best Practices in Online Teaching (Connexions) This series of modules was created by the Penn State World Campus for new online instructors. The individual modules can be downloaded from the Connexions site in multiple formats and cover topics ranging from Using Evaluation Data and Modeling Effective Online Interaction to Assessing Messages in Online Discussions and Dealing with Conflicts. Start with the Introduction to find out more.
  • Facilitating Online (University of Cape Town) A South African university has made the course available through the OpenCourseWare Consortium as a PDF Course Guide. This document covers online instructor competencies, as well as six sections of guidance on implementing an online course with a model that includes five levels of engagement: arriving, conversing, facilitating, creating, and applying.
  • Learning to Teach Online (University of New South Wales) This collection of videos and how-to resources is "designed to help teachers from any discipline…to gain a working understanding of online teaching pedagogies." Started in 2009 by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, this project is ongoing with new items still being added.    

In addition to full courses, there are open resources on specific topics that may be of interest to you. These materials are organized into smaller modules or lessons and designed for online instructors. A few examples are provided below.

  • An Intellectual Property Primer for Online Instructors: Also from UC Irvine, this module was created as a guide for their online instructors. The content addresses copyright and fair use, and includes examples and recommendations.
  • Workshop and Training Materials from MERLOT: This collection of modules provides information and tutorials on a variety of topics and Web 2.0 tools, such as Jing and Picnik, that can be used in an online course environment. MERLOT also features user comments and a rating system.
  • Online Education Resources from the Illinois Online Network: Review the list of tutorials available online through this faculty development initiative. You'll find a wide variety of topics from online libraries and guest lectures to software and accessibility. The website also features an online teaching activity index and case studies in online education.

While all of the courses and modules listed above are open access, fee-based programs are also available through private companies like, colleges and universities such as the University of Wisconsin, and professional organizations like the Sloan Consortium. There are a lot of options out there. You may want to pursue one of these opportunities if you are interested in receiving academic credit, a formal certificate, or continuing education units as a result of completing the training as an online instructor.

Self-paced and Self-directed

There are benefits and challenges to the "do-it-yourself" approach to professional development. Creating your own plan of study allows you to pick and choose a combination of sources, topics, and formats to meet your needs. You can adjust these elements based on your previous experience and knowledge, and can focus on specific issues relevant to you and your courses.

This approach does lack the feedback you would get from a program facilitator and the interaction with other online instructors as classmates. Use open materials to supplement more formal training and to enhance your skills as you become a more experienced online instructor. Build your own custom collection of tools and keep it up-to-date.

What are your favorite resources? Consider sharing your suggestions here and I'll add them to our list!