Competency Model Development For Online Instructors

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This paper describes the design and development of a competency model for online instructors based on literature reviews, student surveys, and other artifacts. The first development phase included a literature review centered around researched-based competencies for online instructors and existing theories used to evaluate online instructional needs. The theoretical framework used to support the research was the transactional distance theory and the relative proximity theory. The investigators used a qualitative surveydesign approach to collect data. An extensive coding of data from student surveys revealed specific competency clusters. This article highlights the essential components necessary to align the model with the stakeholders' needs to implement effective online teaching practices. The recommended implementation model outlines the business needs, goals, and steps to evaluate and validate the return on investments and ensure the competency model's implementation meets the organizations' proposed needs and goals. Before COVID-19, investment in online instruction and the adoption of educational technology (ed-tech) reached approximately $18.66 billion globally (Li & Lalani, 2020). The expected projections for online educational technology are likely to reach a staggering $350 billion by 2025 (Li & Lalani, 2020). Educational technology is an essential component of online learning. However, ed-tech alone does not help students succeed in education. Ed-tech coupled with highly qualified online instructors is the critical partnering necessary to deliver good pedagogical learning opportunities. During the pandemic, almost all instructors instantly became online instructors. How can a traditional face-to-face instructor step into a role of an online instructor and be effective? Is it as simple as converting the same resources into a digital format? Many of today's online students would probably answer no to both of those questions. A theoretical framework to help guide universities to gauge the effectiveness of their courses is through exploring the transactional distance theory (TD; Swart et al., 2014). Swart et al. (2014) defined Zhang's study of TD as “cognitive, psychological, social, cultural, behavioral and/or physical distance between learners and the other elements of their learning environments that prohibit students' active engagement with learning in the online course” (p. 223). Transactional distance theory has influenced organizational, professional development planning in higher education by examining four communication elements (Swart et al., 2014). Understanding these communication channels are critical components of increasing positive encounters with online learning. The communication channels are "student to student, student to instructor, student to content, and student to interface" (Swart et al., 2014, p. 224). Another theory to further measure students' perception of success in online courses is the relative proximity theory (RPT; Swartet al., 2014). Swart defined Zhang's theory as the “gap, or distance between the student's ideal transactional distances and their perceived actual transactional distances in online courses” (Swart et al., 2014, p. 224). By reviewing students’ course survey responses through the transactional distance and the relative proximity theoretical lenses, the investigators provide support to bridge gaps in professional development opportunities and understand online instructors' essential competencies. Online teaching and learning require a different set of skills for both the instructor and the student. Online instructors act as a coach and mentor to increase student engagement and learning opportunities, and the students must work independently to meet course objectives and learning outcomes (Abuhassna et al., 2020). The researchers took a qualitative approach to identify and align essential competencies for online instructors in higher education at a community college in Mississippi. The development of the competency model framework considered the four communication dimensions in Zhang's relative proximity theory, studentstudent, student-instructor, student-content, and student-interface interactions (Swart et al., 2014).The need for a competency model arose after a broad review of student surveys, which indicated various barriers students experienced. Student survey responses showed that the successful instructors created an online environment that provided effective instruction for their students and the critical factor of developing relationships with their students. On the flip side, students with lower satisfaction rates cited issues that hindered their ability to complete the course and extended further to dropping it altogether. Not only is this failure affecting the student's ability to persevere and achieve success, but it is also costly to universities (Abuhassna et al., 2020). The critical research questions addressed are: What are the high-performing online instructors doing that others are not? Are those traits identifiable and transferable? Will a competency model identify the high performer's attributes so that others can benefit? Research for this paper focused on higher education; however, its model is suitable for most online instruction. The online instructor competency model is helpful for talent acquisition, talent assessment, talent integration, talent performance, and talent development. Online Instructors in higher education must possess a basic set of skills extending beyond one's experiences as a teacher, professional experiences, technological skills, or academic successes. A successful and competent instructor does not necessarily transfer to an effective and engaging instructor in online, virtual, and other blended learning environments. Research centered on identifying the main attributes of high-performing online instructors and the relationship with increased student academic achievement and satisfaction. Methods An Online or eLearning Instructor position requires an individualized set of skills that will not apply to all instructors in a higher learning atmosphere. Research and development of the competency model for online instructors centered around a single job competency model (Griffiths & Washington, 2015). This initial competency model will also serve traditional face-to-face instructors considering joining the eLearning environment to deliver their courses, employees' annual reviews, and learning and development opportunities. The single job competency model began with a literature review. Next, the researcher evaluated the current documents and procedures for onboarding new online instructors used by the college. Then, data from over 3,000 surveys were collected using the latest term of eLearning course survey results. As described by Merriam & Tisdell, the coding process of the responses was cyclical using open and analytical techniques (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Coding included reading each comment and sorting them by topics, or themes, using manual coding techniques. These surveys focused on three components of online classes, Course, Instructor, and Engagement with eLearning (Holmes Community College, 2021). The Course and Instructor sections were mandatory for students to answer each question, and the results comprised 7,684 responses. The engagement with the eLearning portion was optional, and 6,945 participants responded. The students completed this survey at the end of the term or withdrew from the course. All online students completed a survey for each class enrollment. The development of the competency model for online instructors included utilizing the optional comments section. The comments section is random and not categorized. There are no questions, course, or instructor identification markers to sort these comments, other than if students mentioned specific names in their comments. Sorting these comments was not focused on individual instructors, only the student's perceptions of the online course. Each statement was color-coded, and the only messages discarded or not coded were those that did not explain why they were satisfied or dissatisfied. These comments did not get categorized because they had no identifying markers to code them into categories. For example, students who responded with “I did not like this class.” were not sorted into themes. Coding went as follows; unsatisfactory comments highlighted in yellow, curriculum comments in green, praises and satisfaction comments in pink, and other comments in blue. The researcher then reread the words and sorted them into the competency model clusters to ensure the model contained components essential for students' self-proclaimed needs for satisfaction and academic growth. Finally, the last element that directly defined the competency model came after several informal conversations with four subjectmatter experts (SMEs) closely associated with the online instruction. These SMEs are committed to course excellence, student and instructor success, and satisfaction. The SMEs are responsible for hiring, training, and evaluating current online instructors and students' success in the online learning process and proctoring. The primary resources needed to develop the competency model development project were research and development. Results Data coding of the survey results yielded five main clusters of competencies. The online instructor model depicted in Figure 1 represented the main competency clusters generated from the emerging themes from the course evaluation surveys. The emerging themes formed the competency clusters in Figure 1. Included in this model are competency clusters of communication, relationships, engagement, design, and curriculum. These cluster formations were evident after student evaluation survey responses fell into one or more of these categories. This process revealed the same attributes that make up a high-performing instructor and their online course. The responses fell into one or more of the competency clusters in the preliminary online instructor competency model. The researcher applied the relative proximity theory (RPT) to the competency model to provide the theoretical framework to support the competency model. All four communication dimensions of the RPT fell support one or more of the competency clusters. The model further depicts the theoretical underpinnings of the clusters in relationship to student-content, student-instructor, studentstudent, and student-interface (Swartet al., 2014), and the competency clusters. Student narratives helped advance understanding of the significance of online instructor competencies related to student academic achievement and satisfaction with online courses. Only a couple of chosen examples show how the clusters emerged in relationship to student perspectives. The competency cluster of engagement included responses where students reported, "I love the way she adds fun in learning?" and "Providing Zoom reviews, and recorded lectures is one of the things that I loved about this course." The competency cluster statements for the communication clusters depict the essence of the feelings some students reported, "He really doesn't seem too excited to help students whenever they have a problem." and "I really loved getting our Monday morning inspirations. It was nice to wake up to see those every week :)." One student response that stressed the importance of student-instructor relationships was, "I began this semester with a severe case of COVID-19 and was struggling to complete assignments. Dr. P understood this and allowed me to submit an assignment late. I am very grateful." and "The teacher is overall a great instructor who is passionate about his job. But is limited with his interactions with his students because of it being an online class." The design cluster themes emerged from the organization's documents and literature review. However, the barriers that present themselves for students are also prevalent in their narratives. The response from one student included in the design cluster was, "My only complaint is that the labs are drag and drop answers for the labeling exercises, but the proctored exams are fill in the blank. This is difficult for me, and I am sure a lot of other students, who have trouble learning one way but being expected to test a completely different way." The curriculum cluster is not centered around scholastic rigor because that is defined and set by the individual department and subject matter experts, but rather the students' perceptions of their interactions with the content related to online learning theories. An example of a student struggling with the content is, "I've been accustomed to having video lectures with problems worked in my previous online calculus classes. This class did not provide this content beyond limited videos via the textbook." Student evaluation surveys can serve a purpose beyond judging the instructor. The surveys can provide valuable information for higher education organizations to support their online instructors by increasing awareness of desired competencies and delivering meaningful professional development opportunities.

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Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration





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