Distance Learning: The Role of the Teacher in a Virtual Learning Environment

Ofra Nir-Gal

Ofra Nir-Gal

Distance Learning: The Role of the Teacher in a Virtual Learning Environment

Descriptors: distance learning, computer-mediated learning, teacher role, learning characteristics.


Distance learning involves a high level of interaction between teacher and student, interaction that is essential if the

learning process in a virtual environment is to be successful. The research focuses on intervention -guidance and moderation - as a core characteristic of the teacher's role in distance learning - a need evidenced when students enrolled in an online course were questioned and their online correspondence examined. The study population encompassed 35 students enrolled in a distance learning course at Achva Academic College. The study sought to reveal the role of the teacher in online learning in terms of guidance and moderation, beyond the "structured guidance" tied to the curriculum. The findings were based on the guidance needs perceived and sought by the students who constituted the subject of the study. Four domains where guidance was needed and two frameworks in which guidance was in fact provided became evident following qualitative and quantitative analysis of three sources: feedback from two e-mail questionnaires; summary reports on interviews with students conducted by peers enrolled in the same course; and the content of discussion in e-mail exchanges between the course instructor, the students, and the course's online technical assistance forum during the course.

The data revealed that students in online courses expect guidance in four domains: the technical-operational domain, the task-oriented (i.e. assignment) domain, the personal-emotional domain, and the social domain. Moreover, it was found that within distant learning course where face-to-face meetings are absent, the need for guidance with "personal-emotional significance" is amplified. The study revealed that the guidance and personal ties that students sought and expect to receive were met not only in the framework of teacher-student interactions, but also by means.

of spontaneous peer guidance and support within the course's technical assistance forum. Support for three possible guidance frameworks were examined in a special questionnaire: guidance in a virtual framework; guidance in face-to-face meetings; and guidance that combines the two modes. The combined mode that would allow some face-to-face meeting enjoyed the support of the majority - 56%, indicating that even in distance learning, students apparently still seek "a personal touch."

The overall data derived from the research led to the conclusion that distance learning in a computer-moderated environment requires a different kind of deployment in terms of the teacher's role - one that takes into account the learning needs of students in a "online course."