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Online teacher responsibilities

While staff responsibilities for face-to-face and online classes are generally the same, the process to carry out those responsibilities in an online setting is unique. This page describes what the responsibilities of the certified teacher look like in a typical online course. These responsibilities cannot be delegated to a parent or other non-certified person.


Improving learning by planned instruction

The school district is responsible for making sure that the courses reflect the district curriculum and that students are enrolled into the appropriate classes. In an online setting the selection of purchased online courses is similar to purchasing textbooks. Online courses provide a base from which teachers or a curriculum committee can modify the material to meet the district's curriculum. It is also possible for a district to create its own online courses, but this is an arduous and normally expensive proposition. The district is also responsible for making sure that each student takes appropriate classes to meet the districts learning goals and expectations. In many school districts this is done by a guidance counselor, case manager, or mentor-coach working with students.
Once district staff have done their part, teachers may want to modify the activities, assignments, and assessments in the course. These modifications can be saved and used from year to year.
The teacher will probably have to make adjustments to the planned instruction while teaching the courses based on student assessments and the individual learning needs of individual students within their classes. For students with Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs), teachers will need to plan for and coordinate the provision of specially designed instruction and needed supports.

Diagnosing learning needs

The teacher is responsible for following each student's progress though the course. Teachers should continually be assessing students' learning, diagnosing learning needs, and prescribing solutions. Some common examples of learning needs identified in online courses could be:
  • Students do not have the prerequisite skills.
  • On a class discussion board some students are not giving thoughtful responses. Some students may not be participating at all, may be giving trivial answers, or giving unsupported opinions.
  • Students may have a disability. Additional requirement apply regarding students with disabilities, the IEP process, and admissions of students with disabilities.)
  • Students may not be able to apply a particular skill to practical situations.
Different learning needs will require different approaches. Some learning needs will require a change in the planned instruction for the whole class. Some may require assigning remedial material to individuals or small groups. Some may require discussion board, email responses, or web conferences with individuals, small groups, or the entire class. Some may require working with a student's local education guide, parent, or coordinating with a student’s special education teacher or provider. The identification and responses to learning needs in online learning are somewhat different than in a face-to-face classroom. Teachers need to be familiar with techniques that are effective in both settings.

Prescribing content delivery through class activities

While much of the content may be prescribed by the district curriculum or charter school contract, there is much flexibility in its delivery. Particularly in online courses, fostering student involvement through class activities is essential to retaining students in the class. This may be as simple as insuring that the class discussions are vibrant and engaging. It can also mean, however, project-base learning - perhaps in small groups. Students might deliver presentations via video or other web-based tools. Students can virtually connect with experts worldwide. They have the capacity to publish their work online to specific audiences ranging from parents to public groups. The possibilities are endless and it is up to the certified teacher to assign the class activities.

Assessing learning

Teachers are responsible for formative assessment to monitor each student's progress and ensure that they are on track to meet the learning goals. Teachers are also responsible for summative assessment which usually involves assigning a final grade for the course.
Most online courses come with predefined assessments for each unit as well as a final assessment. Teachers may need to modify these to insure that they match district curricula and standards. The teacher is also responsible for following each student's progress through the course and taking action when the assessments identify a problem for a particular student. When assessing students with IEPs, teachers will need to ensure that each student is provided with testing accommodations described in their IEPs, if any.
The local district will also have an academic integrity policy in regard to plagiarism, etc. It is the responsibility of the online teacher to make sure that students are abiding by it.

Learning Management Systems (as well as the Student Information System) in online courses often provide a wealth of information about students' times logged in, times on task, and assessment results. Especially in cases where the students pace, time or motivation seems to be a problem; teachers will want to work with the local contact person (sometimes called a local education guide, coach, case manager, mentor, or liaison) for further insight.

Reporting outcomes to administrators and parents and guardians

The teacher is responsible for reporting the final grades and any other assessment data required by the school administration. The teacher will also want to keep the local contact people (local education guides, coaches, case managers, mentors, liaisons, or parents) well informed so they can assist the teacher with the students' learning. Online courses are particularly suited to keeping parents and guardians informed and involved as they can be given online access to their student's progress and work. Indeed, continual communication and collaboration is a key to success. Communication with students, parents, counselors, etc. can be accomplished via phone calls, e-mails, progress reports, Jing/screencast videos, texting, announcements on home page, web conferences, and feedback within individual assessments. Teachers need to communicate clear expectations, provide prompt responses and regular feedback.

Evaluating the effects of instruction

As teachers go through classes, they should reflect on what works and what can be improved with an eye toward improving the online class. For students with IEPs, ongoing monitoring of progress toward annual IEP goals should be considered as well. Student assessments and participation can be used as data. State and other standardized tests can inform the teacher about which standards and objectives students are learning and which may need additional attention.