Preparing for successful online instruction
This article applies to: Online and Blended Learning
What does “teaching” an online course mean? What is your role once your course has been designed and built? Are you ready to teach online? Whether you are new to teaching or have been teaching in a classroom for a while, there are additional skills needed to be a successful online instructor.
Preparing to Teach
By this stage in the process, you have already decided how to deliver your content, and designed opportunities for students to interact with you and with each other. Before teaching the class, consider how you are going to convey your unique personality, facilitate interactions, and communicate with students.
It helps to begin by establishing clear guidelines for the amount of time you plan on spending in the course, and how frequently you will respond to student questions. Before you begin, you may want to take the Faculty Self-Assessment: Preparing for Online Teaching.
Additional resources for review:
For a detailed look at the benefits and limitations of multiple instructional responsibilities and strategies, please see these Effective Workload Management Strategies for the Online Environment.
Developing Your Online Presence
Online presence encompasses the extent to which you come across as an empathetic person, form connections, and respond to students throughout your course. Every instructor defines their virtual self differently. It is useful to consider what information about yourself and your work you want to share, and why you think it is important. Then, take time to think about the specifics.
Common ways to increase your instructor presence online include:
- Providing an intro video so that students can see and hear you.
- Posting still image(s) of yourself in the introductory materials.
- Linking or embedding social media sites or feeds like your Twitter name, LinkedIn profile, or Slack group.
- Sharing your website to help students understand who you are and what you do.
- Using video or audio to provide updates throughout the course.
- Providing prompt feedback on assignments (text, video, and audio).
Review the following information to help you be prepared for the experience of teaching online:
Facilitating Student Engagement
As you designed and developed your course, you had the opportunity to create areas and activities where students would be interacting with each other, or with you directly. In the online environment, you will find that your students come to class with a variety of different skills and comfort levels regarding interacting online.
In the early portions of your course, you may have to be more active within the discussion forums, and in responding to student questions, however, as the course progresses, it is likely that you will find yourself moving from a more active instructor to the role of facilitator.
Helpful ways to facilitate positive student interactions include:
- Modeling how you want students to use the discussion forums, social media, or other tools within the course.
- Providing specific feedback early in the course.
- Encouraging students to work constructively with each other. It is useful to instruct students to post general course questions in a public discussion forum. This will save you time so you won’t have to answer the same question through multiple emails, and offer the opportunity for your students to help each other.
- Be attentive to multiculturalism and other forms of diversity in your interactions, as well as when posting questions and responses. These may include not only race and ethnicity, but also age, religion, disability, and politics.
Communicating with Students
In an online course, counterintuitively, you may find that you have more opportunities to communicate with your students than you do in a traditional face-to-face course. In addition to the content of your course, you are able to send direct emails, course announcements, social media updates, post pictures, and summary videos at any hour of the day.
While you should not feel compelled to be present in your course 24-7, providing frequent and varied contacts with students will increase student engagement and learning. While many students will be getting used to immediate responses to emails and text messages, it is helpful to establish guidelines for how long it is likely to take you to respond at the beginning of the course. A simple note “I will respond to all email messages within 36 hours,” or “I respond to emails Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,” can go a long way toward ensuring students do not feel ignored.
Ways for ensuring effective communication with students include:
- Schedule announcements with the LMS at the beginning of each module to announce the opening/availability of new content.
- Create a summary discussion post.
- Promptly acknowledge any technical glitches that occur (such as Blackboard outages, or incorrect or broken links).
- Plan for the unexpected.
- Stick to your guidelines for providing prompt responses to student questions.
- Address areas where students are struggling and adapt content if need be.
- Provide a netiquette guide.