Recently, I was asked, “What is the single most important skill for an online and/or blended teacher?” I’m not fond of questions that force you to pick “the most important,” “your favorite,” or “the best” of anything, but I took a stab at it.
I’d say the most important skill for an online teacher to have is communicating through writing. Despite the growing availability of visual and audio tools, the bulk of communication—at least in online and blended learning courses that rely heavily on asynchronous activities—is through writing. As we’ve learned, even the use of video and audio presentations demands written captions and/or transcripts. From the syllabus to instructions for activities to discussions and one-on-one email exchanges, the teacher constantly communicates with students through writing. While a face-to-face class involves a certain amount of written communication between teacher and students, spoken communication dominates; just the reverse is true in online teaching. Whether taking the online stage as instructor, social director, program manager, or even technical assistant, much of the role is performed through writing.
Online teachers need to be both fluent and versatile writers. Because they need to write so much, they need to be able express their ideas quickly. Because they need to write for so many purposes (e.g. explaining course goals, prompting discussions, building community, clarifying concepts, giving feedback, reinforcing expectations, encouraging participation, nurturing the anxious or uncertain student, establishing rapport), they need to be able to write in both informal/conversational and academic styles with equal proficiency.