Rutherford, T., Karamarkovich, S.M., Xu, D., Tate, T.P., Sato, B., Baker, R.B., & Warschauer, M.(2021). Profiles of instructor responses to emergency distance learning. Online Learning, Vol. 25, No. 1

I’m continuing to mine this special edition of the Online Learning journal, and I keep finding some real nuggets buried in the 300+ pages. This one looks at the extent to which different instructors engaged in effective online instructional practices, and the benefits of highly interactive in-person environments for learning, and how instructors shifted in their practices during the pivot to emergency remote learning (EDL: emergency distance learning) .

Once again, I am providing a very brief summary. The details in this study though are important and as always, if interested, I suggest you read the full article.

Effective teaching practices

The authors start by identifying some effective teaching practices in both online and in-person teaching, as identified through prior research.

The authors argue that overall, the literature points to nine interaction-oriented practices that may be particularly beneficial for online learning:

    • providing formative feedback,
    • providing opportunities for collaborative work,
    • providing practice opportunities,
    • conveying personality and humanity,
    • encouraging students to get to know each other,
    • giving reminders,
    • assisting with the learning management system (LMS),
    • encouraging student reflection, and
    • answering questions 

Given the critical role that the nine effective practices play in both online and F2F settings, the authors focus on these nine practices as “promising practices.”

Research questions

  1. What profiles of frequency of and confidence in promising practices emerge in both F2F and EDL (emergency distance learning) courses?
  2. What predicts membership in EDL frequency profiles?



222 instructors in one university in California(?) who, at the close of the spring 2020 quarter were teaching a large undergraduate course online with at least 50 students enrolled and who had previously taught the same course F2F, according to administrative records, were included in the survey. Usable responses were collected from 137 (36% of all 374 instructors in the total population). 68% had never taught a class online before. The sample of 137 was reasonably representative of the overall university population of approximately 1,600 academic instructors.


The survey asked each respondent to report both the frequency with which they engaged in each of the nine practices and their confidence in successfully carrying out these practices, separately for the spring 2020 (EDL) course and for when they had taught the course F2F in the past.


The results from the survey questions underwent a statistical analysis to identify ‘profiles’ or categories of instructors based on their survey responses:

EDL profiles:

  • highly supportive (27%), characterized by high reported frequency of all nine practices
  • instructor centred (21%), characterized by high frequency of instructor-student interactions, such as conveying personality and providing reminders, but lower frequency of student-peer interactions, such as collaborative work and encouraging relationships
  • more detached (52%), characterized by lower frequency of all reported practices, including over 25% and for some practices over 50%, reported as occurring “never” or “once or twice a quarter

F2F profiles

  • highly supportive (32%)
  • instructor centred (30%)
  • somewhat supportive (38%), characterized by a similar frequency pattern to those in the Highly Supportive profile, but at slightly lower levels, with few practices being reported as “never” or only “once or twice a quarter.”


  • In terms of frequencies of practice, instructors tended to shift “down” from a more-supportive to less supportive profile when moving from the F2F to EDL context.
  • Instructors who, on average, gave formative feedback and practice opportunities more frequently in their face-to-face course(s) were more likely to be in the Highly Supportive profile during emergency distance learning
  • instructors who, on average, did not frequently help their students with the LMS in their face-to-face course(s) were more likely to be in the More Detached profile during emergency distance learning

My comments

This paper uses extensive statistical analysis which tends to bury the results a little in the paper, and I may have over-simplified the findings as a result. However, I compliment the authors in examining the extent to which effective teaching practices were employed both in the prior in-person courses, and how this shifted as instructors pivoted to emergency remote learning.

It is perhaps not surprising that under the pressure of delivering courses in an entirely new way, instructors tended to drop the more interactive approaches to teaching. Just getting the courses out online very quickly would have resulted in a heavy focus on content delivery (and assessment). But it also illustrates clearly why institutions need to provide training and support for instructors when they move their courses online. Although interaction with students is important for all teaching, it is particularly so for online students.


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