The Role Ambiguity in Online Courses: An Analysis of Student and Instructor Expectations by Bork and Rucks-Ahidiana uses data from a qualitative investigation of online courses at two community colleges and a framework of role and socialization theory to examine how expectations about the roles of online student and online instructor differ among students and instructors. The findings suggest that a misalignment of student and instructor expectations of one another’s actions and behaviors leads to role ambiguity in the online context.
In general, the findings show:
- Students wanted more from instructors than instructors thought they should provide.
- Students expected instructors to
- communicate often and promptly,
- provide large amounts of written feedback, and
- create engaging course materials.
Instructors, however, felt that student demands were largely unrealistic and unfair.
Most instructors felt that students should be solely responsible for being motivated, identifying the most important material, prioritizing course-related tasks, reviewing assignments in advance, and asking any questions of the instructor several days before assignments are due.
While students agreed that students should manage their time well and perform course tasks and assignments on schedule, they expected instructors to work more actively to make key tasks, material, priorities, and assignments clear; to motivate student learning by ensuring that materials were engaging; to inject their own presence into the course; and to support student learning by being proactive in providing substantive feedback.
Bork and Rucks-Ahidiana recommend reducing role ambiguity by bringing student and instructor expectations closer together through a transparent socialization process. The process communicates instructor expectations to students—and vice versa—to improve the online experience for everyone. The authors recommend a two-pronged strategy.
Online Student Readiness.
Improve student readiness activities for the college as a whole and for individual courses.
- Offer an orientation to distance learning prior to and during registration periods
- Describe how being an online student is different from being a face-to-face student.
- Describe the skills to succeed in the online classroom.
- Describe what to expect from online instructors.
- Explicitly communicate expectations and appropriate role-related behavior prior to enrolling in an online course.
- Consider making readiness activities mandatory, and check to ensure that students are really engaged in these activities.
- Monitor readiness attendance through orientation registration logs and/or graded assignments.
- Provide practice in—not just an overview of—relevant skills and knowledge associated with success in online courses.
- Provide practice in useful skills around learning management and technological competency.
- Include mandatory modules on time‐management,self-directed learning, and computer literacy that allow students to practice skills rather than just read about what they will need to be able to do in an online course.
- Instructors develop and improve course-specific orientations to prepare students for the demands of their individual courses.
- Develop course-specific orientations in collaboration with relevant academic and student service personnel.
- Provide ongoing professional development to ensure that these orientations are supporting the college-wide development of online instruction.
- Integrate information about distance learning and the necessary skills students must possess to be successful in online courses (and traditional courses) in college induction activities, such as summer orientations, student success courses, and advising meetings.
Professional Development for Online Pedagogy.
All online instructors must have a basic level of computer proficiency,can help students with basic technological questions, have the institutional knowledge to refer students to the appropriate college resources, and understand how to communicate personal presence in the online context.
- Provide professional development activities for online instructors that help them improve their course management and pedagogy. Most faculty prefer individual assistance with new technological tools rather than learning how to use these resources in group training sessions.
- Provide pedagogical professional development programs for online instructors in three formats:
- web-based workshops (webinars),
- online tutorials, and
- on-demand one-on-one assistance.
- Email web-based “newsletters” to instructors highlighting the exemplary use of technological tools to encourage instructors to participate in professional development opportunities to improve pedagogy.
- Provide on-demand one-on-one assistance allowing instructors to follow-up on the trainings and tutorials with individual questions that need further explanation.
- Recruit strong online faculty as “master” teachers to work with their colleagues on course development and refinement based on:
- their understanding of student expectations,
- how expectations affect online practice,
- how faculty can move to meet students’ needs, and
- how students can be incentivized to meet instructors’ expectations.
- Strong online faculty can help socialize their peers in effective role-related behavior.
- Provide opportunities where instructors
are asked to be online students.
Professional development when possible should be conducted through online courses to give instructors an opportunity to critically analyze student-centered online pedagogy.
- Require all online instructors to participate in professional development opportunities offered in the college and/or by outside organizations that specialize in distance education.
All instructors, online and face-to-face, benefit from periodic training in effective pedagogy.
- Institutionalize faculty learning through orientations and learning communities for new instructors.
- Create clear assignments and provide helpful feedback to students, while also maintaining a work–life balance.
- Establish faculty learning communities, to connect isolated faculty and to increase collaboration around pedagogical innovations.