As states adopt teacher observation protocols and frameworks to observe and evaluate teachers, such as the Danielson Group’s “Framework for Teaching,” educational leaders are determining how the process for observing online teachers is similar to and different from the process for observing face-to-face (F2F) teachers. Some argue that the process is not different at all if there are synchronous events that are viewable. These synchronous events offer observers a real-time opportunity to observe online teachers interacting with students in a web conference—demonstrating questioning techniques, offering live differentiated lessons and even leading small group interaction in breakout rooms. Others argue that unless the majority of instructional time is spent in these synchronous web conferences, an alternate method of observing teachers in order to accurately assess the effectiveness of the online teacher should be included. I have found that a more complete (and accurate) picture of online teaching and learning occurs when evaluators have a process for observing online interaction that leverages the information available in the learning management system (LMS). LMS data offers an insight into student-teacher interaction that observation of a synchronous web conference cannot.
Observing an online course requires an observer to put herself/himself in the virtual space, untethering from time and drawing a picture of the teaching and learning that is occurring asynchronously. To draw this picture, an observer should consider the differences in time and space between the synchronous environment and the asynchronous environment.
|Synchronous Online Course
|Asynchronous Online Course
|Web Conference, Chat
|Daily, hourly, to-the-minute tasks/markers
|Time independent tasks/markers
|Transparent access to feedback during synchronous session
|Transparent access to feedback during all communication, formative and summative events
|Students unbound by time or place
In the asynchronous environment the online teacher must be given the opportunity to assist the observer in creating the picture of teaching and learning. Without some guidance from the teacher, an observer would spend hours clicking through all of the communication and feedback between the student and teacher. Because students are unbound by time or place in an asynchronous course, an observation in this environment that is tied to one particular day at one specific time would be unfair to the teacher. The online teacher of an asynchronous course should be given the opportunity to construct the scene to show the observer how learning is happening by identifying the feedback given to students, communication between teacher and students, planning and instructional adjustments based on student needs and authentic interaction among all course participants contributing to learning. Rather than having a pre-scheduled appointment where an observer views the teacher and students for a brief time and a picture of teaching and learning is built in 30 minutes, the picture of teaching and learning can be constructed over weeks. This seems a better option for observing the effectiveness of instruction in any environment.
An observer should recognize that because the environment is different, it offers information that a F2F observation cannot offer, such as a picture of grading practices and feedback to students. In 30 minutes, an online observer can see a snapshot of what has transpired in that learning environment over thirty days, offering a more accurate picture of the teaching and learning occurring in the course. The observer has access to the types of questions asked during instruction, the quality of feedback students receive on assignments, and the interaction that has occurred between students and teacher and among students for several weeks.
In developing the picture for the online observer, a teacher will spend time reflecting on practice as she/he reviews previous interactions with students and instructional strategies applied to support learners. As the teacher reflects, awareness of the effectiveness of past practice grows, potentially expediting the “ah-ha” moments that are expected to occur during a post-conference after the observation.
This type of observation allows for more meaningful feedback to a teacher because the teacher has been given the opportunity to select what he or she feels is working well. Drawing on strengths and giving the teacher a voice in the observation process naturally makes that teacher more open to feedback—noted validation of good practice and suggestion for improved practice.
If we regard teacher observation as a catalyst to improve practice, whether F2F or online, we should give teachers a voice in the process. While it may be possible to construct the picture of teaching and learning in synchronous environments without the teacher voice, in the online asynchronous course including it is a must. Observing online teachers in an asynchronous course really is different. The need for teacher input to build the teaching and learning picture is just one difference. Stay tuned for more on this topic in a future post.