Ángeles Torres Méndez, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

The impact of the Internet on education over the last twenty years cannot be underestimated. The availability and accessibility of the Internet continues to transform teaching and new forms of student learning. The growing body of research in diverse disciplines and fields regarding online education demonstrates this (Reinhardt). Despite the fact that online education is a highly discussed and a popular subject in pedagogy, the excitement and interest it provokes contrasts with the obstacles that still seem to surround this teaching practice. In this article, I discuss what some common mistakes when designing an online course, and some practices that could effectively applied to online education.

Common Traps to Avoid

Significantly, an online course is not just the ‘screen version’ of the traditional course. That is, teaching an online course does not entail simply turning the materials the students have in a traditional classroom into digital materials they can access through the screen (Germain). In the current context of web resources and other computer applications proliferation, designing an online course requires the instructor’s commitment to explore these options and how they can be best employed to meet the course objectives. In addition, to create a learning experience that supports students’ learning through practice, experience, and play (Germain).

A common popular belief claims that online courses are not as good as traditional in-person classes, this assumption not only lacks evidence to support such belief (Russell), but also is not fruitful to consider when designing an online course. Instructors and educators should reflect on how learning and participating at a distance impacts learning and teaching. They should use their imagination to apply and use the different resources afforded by the digital technologies and the Internet.

The Roles of “Virtual” Professors

It is essential to consider how technology has impacted teaching practices and how professors must modify their various roles to accommodate to the benefits and challenges placed in an online course. Nancy Walters Coppola claims that the roles performed by instructors in traditional settings are also enacted in “e-learning” environments that use the Internet to support class discussions and activities. Teaching an online course will not require completely new roles to be played by the instructor; however, these could be modified and expressed differently with the transition from a traditional to an online course. For example, Coppola identifies that in an online setting the instructor changes his/her role from a facilitator to a moderator.

This shift from facilitator to moderator illustrates how the role of the instructor changes in an online environment. Here, the students do not passively consume information, but instead recall and apply what they have previously learned (Germain). This is the aim of the cognitive role of the “virtual” professor: to engage the students in rehearsing and retrieving information. Thus, students can more actively process the information. The more connections the students make to other information, the better the storage of that information (Coppola).

To conclude, from this perspective, the role of the instructor has changed from being the primary source of knowledge to a role of a “content curator” (Germain). As a result, the instructor’s role is to guide and direct the students to making connections between the course subject and the outside world. The course materials should serve as a bridge where the students can participate by making connections and associations to the outside knowledge they can find in the web (Germain). Thus, the instructor serves as a “curator” or moderator of such practice.


Coppola, Nancy Walters, Starr Roxanne Hiltz & Naomi G. Rotter. “Becoming a Virtual Professor: Pedagogical Roles and Asynchronous Learning Networks.” Journal of Management Information Systems, vol.18, no. 4, 2014. 169-189.  

Germain, Elizabeth S. “Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design.” Faculty Focus, 6th Jul. 2011. Accessed 20 May, 2019.

Reinhardt, Jonathon.“Social media in second and foreign language teaching and learning: Blogs, wikis, and social networking.” Cambridge Core. State-of-the-Art Article, vol. 52.no.1,2019: 1–39.

Russell, Whitney. “Teaching with Digital Technology: Online Classes.” Society for Cultural Anthropology. 17 Aug. 2017. Accessed June 2nd, 2019.

Suggested Further Readings

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on June 7th, 2019.