Part 2 – Demonstrate competence

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In the first post of this blog series, we went over how to build teacher credibility by establishing trust. Did you try the four strategies I suggested – get to know your students, use a warm tone, use videos to your advantage, and be honest and open? How did that go for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences; so please feel free to reach out to me, Elmer Ragus, and tell more about it!

I followed my own advice last academic year (2022-23) – getting to know my students, using a warm tone, incorporating personalized videos, and being honest and open. My students seemed to respond well! The following are just a sample of the comments I’ve seen from students in their submissions, emails, course reviews, and other communications:

  • “Thank you…for being a really really great instructor, providing all the material we need to complete our assignments, and adding your personality to it. If I had to choose one professor to take three courses within one semester, I’d choose you.”
  • “Thank you for a thought-provoking semester. I thoroughly enjoyed this class. You’re a great professor. Thank you for teaching us.”
  • “Thank you for being a true gem and being willing to help! It has been a pleasure to take your class and has inspired me to get a minor in this field.”

Pretty awesome, right? Well, here’s a little secret. I didn’t just establish trust. I also demonstrated competence as an instructor. I did this by knowing my stuff, considering how I communicate, and being consistent.

Strategy #1 - Know your stuff

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Eyeglasses sitting on top of an open book

It goes without saying that you wouldn’t be teaching a class if you didn’t know the content or stayed up to date with your field. So, for this first strategy, it’s more about knowing how to use the tools available for you when teaching online using Canvas.

Fortunately for us, these tools’ functions remain the same even if the tools continue to evolve or change. For example, instructors have always provided lectures to help students with the course material. And there have been many tools from the recent past that aided in the in-person lecture process from projectors using transparencies to those that share a desktop computer’s screen. Now, some classrooms don’t even need the projector because of big touchscreen monitors. In an online environment, instructors continue to offer lectures using tools such as Panopto.

Here’s what one student had to say about my lecture videos: “What made me curious was the instruction videos that were posted. They caught my attention because I find it easier to understand information when presented in the form of examples. Learning is much [easier] when you are curious because you want to learn more about the subject yourself.”

While it’s not possible to know about or even use every educational tool out there, we can build our competence on the ones that you think might be useful in your courses. A great resource to stay up to date and to get ideas are the monthly newsletters from Missouri Online. Another resource are all the opportunities for training from Missouri Online such as those about the Types and Uses of Generative AI and Getting Started with PressbooksEDU.

Strategy #2 - Be consistent

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A photo of rubber duckies lined up in a neat row

One of the five pillars we use in quality review at Missouri Online is “Course Structure.” By definition, structuring something means arranging it in a careful, organized pattern. This pattern, in turn, provides consistency and predictability. This brings us to two questions we look at during quality course review. Question #43 - “Is the course organized in a logical and consistent manner?” and Question #48 - “Is there a repeating pattern or rhythm to the course activity deadlines?”

As Terrel Bell, former Secretary of Education said, “There are three things to remember about education. The first is motivation. The second is motivation. The third one is motivation.” Fortunately, a well-organized course is one way to encourage student motivation, performance, and persistence. Why? A student will be distracted from the material if a course is tedious or confusing. Let’s take an example outside of Canvas. Last March, there was a windstorm in Alabama where I live. The storm made one section of my fence lean, so I needed to get that fixed. While I was at it, I thought I might add a couple of gates. How well do you think it would motivate me to keep looking if a fence company’s website looked like this one from Gates N Fences? Additionally, I would wonder about this company’s competence in providing a quality fence. In the same way, I can see students measuring an instructor’s competence based on ability to deliver instruction effectively.

Here’s what one student had to say about the way one of my courses was structured: “The best part about this class was that it was clearly organized. This is the most organized class that I have taken at [the university] so far and it is very appreciated. Some other classes have assignments and information in odd places, but yours was easy to follow…I enjoyed this class much more than I had anticipated.” It sounds to me like this student was motivated to do her work because the consistency offered by the course structure allowed for this!

Strategy #3 - Consider how you communicate

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A man speaking into a tin can with a string coming out of one end

As an instructor, you use communication to form relationships and foster learning with your students. Some of this communication already occurs through your course content presented in Canvas. However, don’t forget about all the other different ways you can communicate with your students:

  1. Feedback
  2. Discussion posts
  3. Announcements
  4. Email
  5. Zoom
  6. In person
  7. Course syllabus
  8. Instructions

One thing I’ve learned is that students appreciate good communication from their instructors, especially when it comes to feedback. For this reason, one item in quality course review is Question #10: “Is there a clearly communicated plan for providing feedback on assignments? May include timeline/method.” So, be clear about your communication plan and follow through. Additionally, consider nonverbals, facial expressions, and tone. Check out an example of the many videos I provide for students.

In being mindful of how I communicate, my online student reciprocated by sharing the following encouraging words at the end of the semester:

  • “Overall, I liked the course. It was challenging, but not too demanding. You could have made us work on that paper with no help, but you provided help and answered any questions…I liked this class and you as a person.”
  • “You have been the best communicator…thank you for that. The videos and announcements you provide are detailed and concise yet also light with your personality shining through so it makes class more enjoyable because you seem relatable.”
  • “Thank you so much for being so great this [semester]. It was really fun watching your videos, learning your personality and letting that shine through the videos. Since we’re online, we never get to meet face to face; you’re an excellent communicator. And I say that not only as a student of yours but as a professional myself…you did an excellent job in making sure that we were abreast of any changes and your expectations of us…I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this semester. Thank you so much.”

Conclusion

And so, by knowing about how to effectively use educational tools available to me, practicing good course design, and connecting/communicating with my students, I demonstrated competence, thus promoting a positive learning experience for students.

If you would like our help with online course design, please feel free to send an email to teachingonline@umsystem.edu to get started on working with an instructional designer. We look forward to working with you!

Author

Elmer Ragus

Elmer Ragus, Ed.D.

Instructional Designer II

Elmer is an instructional designer in the Program and Course Design Services. His research interests and expertise include Active Learning in Higher Education, Adult Learning Theories, Online Course Design, Online Learning Communities, and Qualitative Methodology.