The Teacher’s Role in Online Classes

Many low-income schools do not offer enough high quality Advanced Placement (AP) or A-G (college prep) courses required for students who wish to attend competitive universities. The University of California has offered credit for college prep online course for years, and is now enlarging their virtual learning offerings with a program called UC Scout.


These courses are designed to support independent students, however, UC requires that a local or remote teacher provide weekly assistance, monitor assignments, proctor final exams, and offer labs. In other words, UC regards the relationship between a teacher and student as so integral to learning that it won’t sell its content to schools or districts unwilling to pair online learning with a high touch human connection.

UCSD educational researchers examined the types of support in-person teachers provided to 200 low-income students enrolled in Scout courses at four high schools. They characterized the seven roles that emerged from this inquiry as (a) Humans as fixers/explainers of technology; (b) Humans as digesters of content; (c) Humans as explainers of content; (d) Humans as extenders of content, toward application; (e) Human as providers of feedback and assessment; (f) Humans as regulators of the learning experience; and (g) Human peers as supporters of the learning experience. These categories may evolve over time, but they offer an important first step in categorizing the taxonomy of teaching in this new milieu.

While previous posts have offered teachers data points and learning outcomes from my blended classroom to consider as they move their instruction toward a 1:1 model, this post is to encourage teachers making the transition from a traditional classroom approach to blended pedagogy to consider these labels as they recast their teaching style.

My next few posts will be devoted to analyzing how these new seven teacher roles will affect teachers influenced by behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist learning theories. It remains to be seen whether these new roles will give teachers additional opportunities to deepen their relationships with students, and create more positive interactions in their classrooms, or will the new roles create new barriers to educators looking to connect with their students?

I recently read a book called Evocative Coaching. It states there is minimal evidence that the teacher observation methods currently in place lead to any significant improvement in student achievement. Reduced resources and expanding expectations have teachers feeling disheartened, discouraged, and in a downward spiral. When a large organization is full of people who aren’t doing well, or having fun, something needs to change. We need to make two shifts in replacing teacher observations with evocative coaching: (1) move from evaluation to valuation; (2) move from problem-solving to strength-building. Ed Tech coaches, in particular, need to start conversations around these seven new teaching roles, and articulate a vision about how teachers in both traditional and online courses should recast their responsibilities.


Pollock, M., et al. (2014). Innovating toward equity with online courses: Testing the optimal blend of in-person human supports with low-income you and teachers in California. The Center for Research on Educational Equity. University of California San Diego. La Jolla, CA. Accessed at

Tschannen-Moran, Bob & Megan (2010) Evocative Coaching:  Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass