Tips for Teaching Online
Parent Page(s): Online Course Delivery Options
1. Simplify and focus on key learning goals
The first step in putting your course online is prioritizing the key learning goals for your course and then deciding on the content, activities, and assessments you will need to develop. Mapping out your course structure can help to identify what parts of your existing course can be easily transferred and what elements require redesign or modification. Aligning content and assessments with key goals is particularly important when you’re trying to move your course online within a limited timeframe, in order to focus your time and energy where it will have the greatest impact.
- Create a blueprint or design outline for your course before you start developing materials that identifies learning goals, content needs, and learning activities for each module. Look for opportunities to simplify. What elements are most important, what will you have time to complete, and what elements could be removed ?
- When designing your course for the 6-week summer term, it is also helpful to think about how the materials can be reused for a full term. If you build two lesson topics per week for summer, these can then be broken out later into 12 weekly lessons.
- If you are using synchronous sessions, map out what will be done in the live (synchronous) sessions, what can be done independently (asynchrounously), and how activities will be connected across the two spaces. Be judicious with synchronous sessions and prioritize activities that benefit from live, simultaneous interaction.
- Identify where you can reuse existing content or open educational resources, rather than creating everything from scratch to save time.
- Arts Remote Teaching Canvas Template
- Course Map Template (Google Doc, Word)
- Course Planning with Backward Design – Indiana University Teaching Online
2. Simple and consistent course organization
Organize your course into topics and weekly modules, in order to make it easier for students to navigate the structure of the course and keep track of what they need to do each week. This organization allows for more flexibility for students to manage their time and provides a predictable rhythm of time and expectations each week. Ideas:
- Break apart hour-long lectures into shorter “chunks” based on topic. Shorter videos make it easier for students to maintain their engagement and provide more flexibility for you to reuse the videos later.
- Start by developing one module to refine the design, usually one from the middle of the course and not Week 1. Get feedback on the design and make adjustments before applying the same structure to the other modules.
- Organize Your Course – ACUE Online Teaching Toolkit
- Rethinking your traditional lecture for your online students – YouTube
3. Instructor presence and active communication
Online courses are not just “set and forget.” It is important for students to see you actively engaged in the course, being responsive to their questions and interacting with them. Online students can feel isolated. Having an instructor that is actively involved in the course helps bridge the social distance and provides a sense of support and motivation.
- Communicate frequently about important due dates, assignment expectations, etc. Online students often have even more difficulty keeping track of schedules and due dates across multiple courses than in your face-to-face courses.
- Post a short announcement each week to summarize the weekly activities, respond to student questions, and provide messages of motivation. These can be a short video or in text. Note that videos don’t need to be high budget. A simple cellphone recording is better for allowing students see you as a person and foster a sense of connection.
- Use the discussion forums to interact with students and respond to questions that stimulate further discussion.
- Seek feedback from students about how the course is going:
- Release an early to mid-course survey to get student feedback and suggestions about how to improve the learning experience.
- Create a discussion forum or anonymous form where students can flag issues or post suggestions.
- Being “Present” in Your Online Course – Indiana University Teaching Online
- Communicating with Your Students – Indiana University Teaching Online
- How to Be a Better Online Teacher – Chronicle of Higher Education
- Low Effort, High Impact Strategies for Remote-based Teaching Environments – Utah State University
- Transitioning to Teaching Online: Presence – UBC Faculty of Education ETS
4. Create community through peer interactions
Students in online classes often feel isolated and detached. They are commonly learning alone and can’t easily turn to another classmate to ask questions when they need clarification. In a face-to-face classroom, presence is implicit. Students can see the other students and talk to them. In an online environment, there is no sense of presence, unless students participate in some way. When you’re designing an online course, it is important to anticipate the sense of isolation and actively take steps to humanize the non-human online environment by purposely creating spaces for students to share and interact with each other.
- Add an icebreaker activity at the beginning of the course to get students comfortable communicating online. Set up a forum for course questions and encourage students to post there and respond to each other, instead of only messaging the instructor.
- Create regular discussion activities and provide expectations for participation.
- Utilize other tools for peer learning, such as social annotation activities using video, images, or text.
- For large courses, use the Canvas groups feature to break students into smaller groups where they can have more manageable discussions.
- Plan and Facilitate Effective Discussions – ACUE Online Teaching Toolkit
- Discussion Board Assignments: Alternatives to the Question and Answer Format – Faculty Focus
- Managing Controversy in the Online Classroom – Faculty Focus
5. Provide ongoing opportunities for practice and assessment
Students cannot be expected to read lecture content and learn by working through it independently online. Learning outcomes are more successful if students have activities where they can apply what they’ve learned and receive feedback. This is true for in-person courses, but even more important in online courses, where it is easier to become disengaged from video lectures or readings.
- Self-assessment activities along with frequent low stakes assessments provide more opportunities for practice and feedback than fewer high stakes assessments. For organizing large projects online, break them into stages with multiple checkpoints and feedback opportunities before the final project is due.
- Guided worksheets for readings or reflection questions can help students focus on the most important concepts.
- Online Instructional Activities Index – Illinois Online Network
- Learning Activities and Active Learning Online – Indiana University Teaching Online
6. Design opportunities for regular feedback
It can be easy for students online to fall behind, and it may be difficult for them to assess how they are doing. They can’t easily turn to another student and ask for clarification, so they require ongoing opportunities to check their understanding and get feedback. Online instructors also receive fewer cues as to how well their students are understanding the material, as there are no confused faces in seats indicating that something needs further explanation. For online courses, it is important to design regular opportunities for students to check their knowledge, for instructors to see how they are doing and to provide constructive or corrective feedback where necessary.
- While it may be overly time-consuming to provide individualized feedback in large courses, it is possible to identify common misconceptions or examples and then create a short video or announcement each week where you address them.
- Utilize peer assessment tools or discussion forums to create opportunities for students to share their work and get feedback from other students.
- Learner Feedback – MIT Digital Learning Toolkit
- Feedback Strategies for Online Courses – Faculty Focus
- Four Good Reasons Why Students Need Instructor Feedback in Online Courses – Online Learning Insights
- Ideas and Strategies for Peer Assessment – Arts ISIT, UBC
7. Be mindful of student accessibility, equity, and diversity
Online learners may encounter many differing challenges, such as varying access to internet and technology, different countries and time zones, and balancing home life and school commitments. Students may also be removed from support services available on campus and find it more challenging to connect with the support they need to be successful.
- Send out a survey at the beginning of the term to identify if students have access challenges or accessibility support needs.
- Be thoughtful with your use of synchronous sessions, which are high bandwidth and can present logistic challenges, particularly for students in different countries and time zones. If you do use synchronous sessions, make a recording available in case students can’t attend.