Both the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, based in Vienna, Va., and the Southern Regional Education Board, or SREB, in Atlanta, have published compatible guides for national standards and professional development of online teachers. Those guidelines are often cited when policymakers and experts talk about how to establish such principles.
“We use iNACOL’s standards to review [online teachers’] professional development and make sure it reinforces a high level of online teaching,” said Barbara B. Smith, the project director of the Texas Virtual School Network, which vets online courses used in the state. “We’re finding many of the state virtual schools are standardizing around them.”
The “National Standards for Quality Online Teaching” from iNACOL were first released in 2008 and were updated this year. They embraced the “Standards for Quality Online Teaching” published by the SREB and also reviewed other online-teaching guides such as the National Education Association’s “Guide to Teaching Online Courses” and the Ohio Department of Education’s “Ohio Standards for the Teaching Profession.”
The iNACOL standards recommend that online teachers meet the state standards required where their courses are taught, and that the teachers demonstrate technology skills, including the use of synchronous and asynchronous tools such as discussion boards, chat tools, and electronic whiteboards.
The ability to promote interaction between teachers and students, and among students, is also critical, the standards say.
Teachers should be able to demonstrate strategies to “encourage active learning, interaction, and participation and collaboration in the online environment.”
Online communication is also critical, according to the iNACOL standards, and a teacher must provide regular feedback, prompt responses, and clear expectations. The standards provide a checklist for the skills online teachers should have.
Susan D. Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of iNACOL, said that the appeal of her organization’s standards continues to grow, and that states, schools of education, accrediting agencies, and virtual schools are requesting permission to use them.
“The use of technology is critical, but the interaction and communication in an online classroom is critical as well,” she said.
The standards also point to an ability to do performance-based assessments as a necessary skill. Teachers must be able to implement and deliver online assessments that are both valid and reliable, but also complex enough to test student knowledge beyond a multiple-choice exam, for example.
In addition, the iNACOL standards recommend that virtual teachers experience “online learning from the perspective of a student,” meaning that they’ve taken online courses themselves. Often those courses come in the form of professional development.
The SREB guidelines, already in use in the organization’s 16 member states, say professional development for teachers operating in a virtual world should include formal and informal activities, online courses, role-playing activities, hands-on training with learning-management systems and other technology tools, and partnering with mentor teachers.
The SREB guidelines, which were released in 2009, provide advice to virtual school teachers on what they need to do to boost their skills, and to state virtual schools on what those organizations need to do to support and provide such professional development.
“If you’re going to have online programs which don’t have frequent face-to-face contact, you are going to need additional skills and standards,” said Myk Garn, the SREB’s director of educational technology. “To ensure teachers have that, you’re going to need professional development.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 22, 2010 edition of Education Week as Ed. Groups Outline Guidelines for Virtual-Teacher Quality