Envisioning changing role of university teacher in online instructional environments

Elske Ammenwerth


Online teaching offers new ways to facilitate learning processes. Yet adoption of online teaching by university teachers is low. This essay explores why university teachers seem unable to take over the new roles that are needed for online teaching.

The essay first shows how online teaching challenges the traditional roles of university teachers. This traditional role is changing from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side. Online teaching is instrumental for this change, but this change also impacts and redefines the traditional fact-to-face teaching.

The essay explores three barriers to effective online teaching by university teachers: University teachers are socialized as content experts; university teachers do not get sufficient training in online teaching; and university teachers are evaluated based on their research, not on their teaching. As a consequence, university teachers are not well equipped to respond to the pedagogical and technical challenges of online learning.

The essay then explores implications for the pedagogical training of university teachers. University teachers need extended formal training both in teaching and online teaching, with special focus on changing roles and e-teaching competencies. Networks and communities of practice need to be established; teaching needs to be part of the evaluation of new university staff; universities need to adopt online learning strategies; institutional rewards should support good teaching and good online teaching; and e-learning support units need to be established.

To conclude, the benefits of online learning such as promoting student-centred, self-paced, cooperative and social learning are not exploited in a way that would be possible. The role of university teachers has thus to be reconsidered.


e-learning, adoption, role, resistance, higher education

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