Online Literacy Instruction Principles and Tenets
Approved and Published by the GSOLE Executive Board on 13 June 2019
As part of its mission to support educators who teach reading and writing in online settings, the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators offers this set of principles and tenets for online literacy education. The purpose of these principles is to establish a set of shared values related to the development of sound instruction. These principles are based on established research and shared experience across a range of disciplines, including traditional composition, online writing instruction, and digital rhetoric. Learn more about who we are by browsing our website <gsole.org>.
About this document
Purpose and audience: The document is written for multiple audiences and stakeholders, including teachers, tutors, program directors, and other administrators. The language of the principles is broad and general by design. We intend for the shared values articulated by these principles to inform conversations about the needs and circumstances of online literacy students and instructors at the local level.
How it's organized: This document provides operational definitions followed by principles and tenets. We define a principle as a fundamental or foundational truth or proposition that is both desirable to follow and essential to the development of sound instruction. We define a tenet as a belief relevant to the broader principle.
The Four OLI Principles and Accompanying Tenets
OLI Principle 1: Online literacy instruction should be universally accessible and inclusive.
Tenets of OLI Accessibility and Inclusivity
To make OLI universally accessible and inclusive, all administrators, instructors, tutors, and students should critically and rhetorically understand the unique literacy features of communicating, teaching, and learning in a primarily digital environment. Such understanding enables instructors and students to reach the pedagogical potential of that environment and take full advantage of what it has to offer. Further, part of understanding the digital environment is to recognize that learning the technical skills associated with using digital tools in an online literacy course should not supplant stated course objectives, whereby the “technology” can become an undue burden for instructors, students, or both. Specifically, students should not need to learn extraneous technology in order to meet the course objectives; teachers should not need to learn and teach extraneous technology when the LMS will suffice. While rhetorically grounded, multimodal projects are encouraged, both instructors and students need to be appropriately prepared to meet the expectations of these stated course goals; moreover, instructors and students should have or be given access to the technologies needed to design, develop, and complete these projects.
Another way of understanding accessibility is to understand that the user- or student-experience is at the heart of both teaching and learning. Therefore, to support the accessible development, design, and teaching of OLCs, all stakeholders must understand the technology use mandated by any particular institution (e.g., use of one particular LMS and/or certain features within that LMS) and be able to use it. Orientation and training for effective use of mandated technology (e.g., software, hardware, LMS, ancillary tools) must be equally accessible to all involved. As an extension of this professional support, all online literacy instructors should have access to equitable compensation, which includes, but is not necessarily limited to, remuneration, time off, paid professional development opportunities, and technology usage/purchase.
Another tenet of inclusive and accessible online literacy instruction requires that support systems for administrators, instructors, tutors, students, and OLI staff minimally be available in the same modality in which courses are offered. So, for example, if an institution offers a literacy course online, then students in that course should have access to tutoring that is online, while instructors should have access to professional development materials and opportunities online. For greater flexibility of choice, whenever possible, both asynchronous and synchronous support options should be available.
Issues of access and equity require a commitment to supporting instructors, students, and staff at all levels and are not solely course-level, compliance concerns. Equitable access to the resources, support, and training required to teach literacy online effectively is foundational to the principle of access and inclusivity taken in its broadest consideration.
OLI Principle 2: All program developers and institutional administrators should commit to supporting and implementing a regular, iterative process of professional development and course/program assessment for online literacy instruction.
Tenets of OLI Programmatic Development and Administration
Ensuring the integrity of OLI courses and programs involves a number of facets. To facilitate instructor effectiveness and student success, OLCs should be capped at 20 students per course, with 15 being a preferable number. Those courses, delivered in an online and/or primarily digital setting, should then function as do all other courses of the same title insofar as course objectives, stated outcomes, and instructor autonomy are concerned. OLC instructors should maintain reasonable control over their course content and the techniques they choose to use for conveying, teaching, and assessing student work. Use of master courses and/or prescriptive, standardized course materials may have an adverse effect on both teaching and learning and can skew teaching evaluations if good instructors are mandated to use poor materials. Administrators should support instructor autonomy across delivery modes. Instructor autonomy may result in wider variety of technique and course material, but that variety in technique and material choice must still be grounded in, and reflective of, stated course objectives, regardless of the educational environment.
Explicit administrative support is crucial to building new OLI courses and to improving existing ones. Administrators should actively provide ongoing OLI-focused training, professional development, and assessment. Further, they should ensure that instructors and tutors are seeking professional development opportunities. Additionally, administrators for OLI programs (e.g., online writing and reading support centers and programs) also should seek out, receive support for, and participate in ongoing OLI-focused training, professional development, and assessment, whether mandated by the institution or not. Some examples include:
Finally, to ensure the ongoing integrity of OLI courses and programs, all OLI stakeholders should commit to regular, iterative processes of course and program assessment and improvement, based in quality standards that are specific to OLI, as opposed to relying solely on non-OLI-specific measures (e.g., Quality Matters, Open SUNY Course Quality Review) that address any online course. The non-OLI-specific measures may be ill suited to assessing the effectiveness and impact of OLI.
A commitment by all OLI stakeholders to actively support and pursue both ongoing professional development and course/program assessment and improvement requires an equally foundational commitment to involving stakeholders in the justification, design, and development of pedagogically sound online literacy programs, courses, and support systems.
OLI Principle 3: Instructors and tutors should commit to regular, iterative processes of course and instructional material design, development, assessment, and revision to ensure that online literacy instruction and student support reflect current effective practices.
Tenets of OLI Design and Pedagogy
To work toward more effective, pedagogically sound OLI, both instructors and tutors should commit to regular, iterative processes that develop, revise, and refine all aspects of teaching and tutoring to include pedagogy. Online literacy tutoring and instruction should not occur in a vacuum or in discipline-specific institutional silos, but in the context of institutionally supported processes that include course and material development, implementation, assessment (including ample student feedback), and revision.
Effective OLI acknowledges that teaching in the primarily digital environment shares both important similarities with more traditional instructional delivery models and key differences and unique opportunities. So, while any section of a particular course should adhere to the same stated course or instructional objectives (for example, OLI instructors and tutors should research, develop, and apply appropriate reading, alphabetic writing, and multimodal composition theories to their instructional environment), there is no one-size-fits all approach, especially when it comes to working across various delivery formats.
OLI Principle 4: Educators and researchers should initiate, support, and sustain online literacy instruction-related conversations and research efforts within and across institutions and disciplinary boundaries.
Tenets of OLI-related Conversations and Research
OLI-related conversations and research efforts are the province of all of those involved in OLI, whether these are occurring within or across institutions and/or disciplines. This broad and diverse group has a stake in advocating for the effective preparation and development of all OLI-related instructors, support programs, tutors, and students. In addition to recognizing, as a field, that there are unique literacy skills required in the primarily digital platform, OLI scholars should insist that various OLI delivery models (including alternative, self-paced, and experimental) comply with the principles of sound pedagogy, quality instructor/designer preparation, and appropriate oversight.
As a cornerstone to promoting and working to maintain the ultimate integrity of any OLI initiative (from course development, to program building, to the allocation of resources), OLI administrators, instructors, and tutors should be committed to ongoing study of, research about, and exploration into OLI.