Online Teacher Taxonomy

UCSD researchers have classified the types of in-person supports that teachers provided to students enrolled in online UC Scout courses. These seven roles are: (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. Examples from each category are explained in great detail in the report. I offer a summary below.


Personally, I should note that I objected to the phrase “humans as” that the researchers used as a prefix to the classifications in the report. I understand they were interested in examining the human role in virtual learning, but the language usage of “human supports” was off-putting to me and caused me to stop reading the report several times. Perhaps “in-person supports” would be less distracting.

Humans as fixers/explainers of technology involves helping students overcome tech glitches, broken links, freezing videos or animations. These tasks most likely do not require the presence of a highly qualified, subject matter expert and could be done by a paraprofessional.

Humans as digesters of content is when teachers cherry pick online material from the course that may be particularly important to upcoming assessments or activities. This could encompass creating study guides that help the students navigate through the large body of course readings and independent practice modules. Most likely, a subject matter expert is required for this task.

Humans as explainers of content. The UC Scout courses explain key concepts mainly via online text sections, then sometimes they supplement these explanations with videos, and/or animations. Many students required in-person support to clarify components that were not fully comprehensible to them. Again, a subject matter expert is most likely required for this complex task.

Humans as extenders of content, toward application describes class and individual discussions of course concepts. UC Scout leaves this to the instructor’s discretion. Some teachers heavily supplement online material with face-to-face discussions, which students credit with helping them apply the concepts rather than simply defining them correctly on assessments. This also included hands-on labs for science courses, where teachers provided in-person support for “doing science.” It is unclear whether this role could be fulfilled by an experienced TA, or if it requires a subject matter expert.

Human as providers of feedback and assessment asks a teacher to monitor student progress, provide 1-1 help and small group instruction on fundamentals that students do not understand from the online curriculum. This role requires an in-person teacher to use the data from the course, but also develop relationships with students in order to greater assist them. This role is especially crucial for students who are repeating a class and may require more monitoring and coaching from a TA or teacher in class than other students who are making good progress in UC Scout’s self-paced instructional program. Again, it is unclear whether this role could be fulfilled by an experienced TA, or a subject matter expert, who can verify student comprehension, adjust assessments based on student progress, and offer highly individualized motivational support.

Humans as regulators of the learning experience can also mean regulators of student behavior. TAs expressed frustration with students who did not want to be enrolled in the class and did not try to complete the course work. This function may not be essential if online courses screen for student motivation and do not allow these students to enroll in online classes. In theory in-person regulation of the learning experience should be unnecessary as computers should monitor and support individual pacing. In this study, however, there was considerable variation in the courses over the amount of in person regulation was required to keep low-income students on task. It remains to be seen how essential this role will be as online education matures.

Human peers as supporters of the learning experience is a role that was revealed by student surveys. When allowed to work together, students regularly relied on peers for support before and after turning to the adult instructors. Therefore, peer support may be provided by fellow students, course TAs, family members and not require a highly qualified teacher.

I have found this overlooked report to be very helpful in helping me understand the pros and cons of UC Scout. The goal of the premade, UC-vetted courses may have been to increase access to AP and A-G courses for low-income students, but the results may be another opportunity for the educational rich to get richer. Students who are experienced in digital education, motivated, and have educational support structures already in place will have an advantage over low-income students. I wonder what unintended consequences will result from this well-intentioned program?