23 Helpful Tips for Online Instructors!

  1. Commit to learning. Study and explore teaching online resources. There are too many resources to list here, but starting with this blog may help. 
  2. Start with the students in mind. Your ultimate goal is to promote learning. Think about the learner throughout.
  3. Course objectives. Course objectives should guide teaching and the course. Course objectives should be square one for all activities, planning, materials, etc. It is effective for students to know what objectives (or goals) are being met by each course assignment, discussion, quiz, and or module. This also ensures your course activities are meaningful and contributing to learning.
  4. Active learning. People learn more when they are active in the learning. See the Pyramid of Learning. Listening to a lecture, for example, produces low-level of retention whereas discussion, practice by doing, or teaching others produces higher-level of retention and learning. Design learning activities that activate the learning DOING SOMETHING – the more active the better. (Note: Ensure activities are guided by objectives. A fun, active learning assignments is not effective if it does not achieve a course goal.)
  5. Teaching first, technology second. Use technologies to reach your learning objectives. Start with your learning objectives and ask yourself “what am I trying to do here?” then go to the technologies to find the best fit for your need. (Do not try to fit a cool, exciting technology into your course, just because.  And do not stress if you are not a “techie” aware of all the latest trends.) Use resources available to you, such as CIRT at the University of North Florida, to get support and help identifying the best technology to achieve your teaching goal.
  6. Clear, complete syllabus. On the first day of class, share a complete syllabus that describes ALL learning activities and clearly communicates policies.  This type of document is more like a course packet and may be organized with a table of contents and or appendices. Students appreciate and benefit from this one-stop guide tremendously.
  7. Modules. Use modules to to “chunk” material. This will organize the content and the learning. Modules may also help reduce the amount of due dates and reduce the perception of busy work without purpose. Keep the schedule simple and predictable (“all work is due on a Friday at 10am and you have 6 due dates in this course” or “you have one module every week and all work is due by Saturday at midnight”).
  8. Simple course site.  Do not repeat information in multiple places (syllabus and on the course site). This opens the door to error and confusion. Give the student one source for all information (they can trust the answer is THERE) and keep the course website bare bones, clean and simple. Students appreciate and benefit from this clarity and simplicity. 
  9. Early welcome students. Send an “early” welcome to class email a week or so before the first day of class. Be friendly and introduce yourself and share the syllabus if you are ready to do so. This helps reduce anxiety and builds excitement for the course. It starts everyone off on the “right foot.”
  10. Take responsibility.  Take responsibility for student learning. If students struggle, make an effort to get to know students and ask “how can I effectively facilitate learning? What can I do to help?” Avoid blaming students or other external factors.
  11. Respond to students’ needs. “Instructor presence” is important to students. Sheridan & Kelly (2010) found that online students reported that timely email response (along with a clear syllabus) was really important to their learning in an online course. (Hearing or seeing the instructor in recorded videos or synchronous sessions was not important to this sample).
  12. Be accessible to students.   Because the online environment can create “distance” between us, instructors need to be accessible. What is best and most immediate contact? Would you consider sharing that with your students? There are services such as Google Voice that allow you to share and be in control at the same time. With this service, you can give your students your “cell phone number”,  that is actually a different number routed to your cell with the option to disable.
  13. Individual student feedback. Provide individual-level feedback to students. Because of the shift in instructor time in an online class, students have the benefit of more individualized, personal feedback than in many traditional face-to-face courses.
  14. Discussion boards. Discussion boards are central to an online course – they are a must have. Discussion boards involve students exploring new content (you determine or students research), students responding to questions, and students responding to peer response. “Students responding to questions” may involve: all students respond to instructor’s question, student responds to instructor’s assigned question, student chooses one instructor question to respond to, or student writes a question for other students to respond to. It is helpful to use a rubric or a grading check list. In my opinion, instructors with a good discussion frame do not need and should not participate in discussion boards. This may stifle student sharing and interaction.
  15. Module reflection surveys. Student surveys that assess student learning and perceptions are important. Read survey post below that utilized Survey Monkey for more.
  16. Try synchronous. There are many services available that allows instructors and students to connect live online. This provides the opportunity for real-time collaboration, interaction, and questions. However, be cautious and do not overuse. Read post below on Blackboard Collaborate / Eliminate for more.
  17. Try videos. It is really helpful to use good materials that are available and not to “recreate the wheel” unnecessarily. However, there are times when students need to hear from you (or see you) about content or a project in YOUR course. Below I highlight the use of Jing for creating screencast videos and describe others as well.
  18. Try blogs.  Blogs can be a valuable source of current information in many disciplines. Managing RSS feeds through services such as Bloglines may enhance learning for students, especially those in dynamic fields of study. Read the post below for more.
  19. Try social networking.  Social networking such as Facebook and Twitter may enhance course interaction and collaboration. In addition, these networking opportunities may provide important opportunities for professional development. Read the post below for more.
  20. Try polling. Text or computer polling can be an effective way to interact with students and the material. Review post below on Poll Everywhere.
  21. Reuse good materials. There are tremendous materials developed and available for your use. These podcasts, videos, etc can supplement your course and promote active learning. There are many sources of  information, such as Youtube, iTunesU, Ted Talks, and discipline-specific sources, for your review.
  22. Update. Update readings and course based on student feedback and your perceptions throughout semester.
  23. Be open minded.  Be open minded as you approach developing your online course, while teaching the course, and during the evaluation period at the conclusion of the course.
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Prezi for Teaching (& introduction to MOOCs)

I developed my first Prezi on MOOCs. MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses. These courses are generally free of charge and open to anyone who wants to learn the skill or gain the mastery covered. My Prezi below highlights a few examples of current MOOCs. Stanford University research professor, Dr. Thurman, for example, delivered a MOOC in Fall 2011 entitled “Artificial Intelligence” and had over 160,000 students enroll from 190 countries.  A recent NYT article (March, 2012) describes the MOOC as a way to “democratize higher education.” MOOCs offerings are fast increasing especially among elite universities as described in this (April, 2012) Inside Higher Ed article.

View my Prezi “MOOC in Higher Education” here:  http://prezi.com/eia76flib7-m/mooc-in-higher-ed/

Prezi is an interesting tool for teaching. In some ways, I think it may be more complicated than other methods for communicating information. There is a lot of screening in and out and some have said they feel “dizzy” after watching one.  But a well-designed Prezi may be more helpful than a traditional PowerPoint when the learner is just “flipping through” the slides without the speaker or narration. This is because the Prezi grounds the viewer in the context and reference visually. Main points can be more easily discerned visually and intuitively (if Prezi is organized and clear) than with a linear PowerPoint presentation.

More resources from TT1221:

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Use Surveys

Surveys are a great way to collect information from your students.  Insturctor and course evaluations are one way that surveys are commonly used at the conclusion of a course, but student feedback surveys can be helpful (more helpful!) during the progress of a course.

Surveys can be used to learn your students’ “baseline” on the course content. This can help you know where and how to start the course. Anonymous student surveys can also be used throughout the course to get “course and instructor” evaluations at a time when you can adjust if a problem is presented. I have done this type of mid-review in my courses for years and find that the students also appreciate the opportunity to express concerns at a time when THEY and THEIR LEARNING is the focus of the change action (as opposed to future courses).

Student surveys are commonly at the conclusion of a learning module. My 16-week courses generally have 5-6 learning modules. A survey with the following questions is helpful at the conclusion of each: What did you learn? What do you still need help on? Describe your effort? These reflection questions can reinforce learning and identify areas that are still unclear that may need to be addressed.

I created a ‘module reflection’ survey with a free Survey Monkey account. Here is the module reflection whole survey FYI: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KYH2N3Q .  It looks like:

In most cases, I would use the Blackboard survey because it is linked to the Gradebook.

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Create Screencast Videos

Screencast videos are great in online courses! Basically, these media are a video of what you see on your computer screen and your voice as you explore it. The screencast may be a PowerPoint presentation, website, Blackboard, map, whatever.

Jing provides free account to record 5-minute (MAX!) screencast videos .  (If you are more serious, you may consider a paid Camtasia account).

The video below is a Jing screencast video I recently used to welcome my online undergraduate students to class on the first day.

Watch video: http://www.screencast.com/t/1ahAwr5Qjx

Once I “shot” and recorded the Jing video, I transferred the video to another related account at Screencast.  Screencast is like Youtube or Vimeo; it’s a service for storing and sharing videos. In the past, I’ve used Youtube and Vimeo. I like screencast because the privacy settings are great – I could make a folder PRIVATE, yet share the link of a video in the folder. And Screencast is linked to Jing so the transfer/upload is really fast and simple too. (Vimeo has additional benefits for storing videos – i.e. screencasts or narrated PowerPoints –  because there are additional privacy settings that allow you to remove the option for viewers to embed the video randomly online. This provides additional control over where your lectures, videos, etc  end up on the web.)

Some TT1221 resources:

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Reusing Podcasts, Videos, etc

There are many ready-made quality resources available to include in our courses. Using these material adds QUALITY and is a STRENGTH to online teaching. Finding these resources will vary by discipline.

The CDC (Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention), for example, has many videos and podcasts that would enhance a public health course. Here is an example of a 15-minute streaming  video on healthy community design.  The video covers important topics such as urban sprawl and public health and 7 health community design principles. I currently use this video by requiring students watch it (LEARN) and then participate in a discussion board that prompts specific questions (i.e. “What is urban sprawl and how does this design influence public health?”) and I ask the students to post the 2 largest take-aways from the video.

iTunesU is also a valuable tool for ready-made materials. Access these materials through your iTunes and click on your subject area to review.

Here are some TT1221 resources:

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Blackboard Collaborate (Elluminate)

Blackboard Collaborate is an amazing tool for student learning. This tool is synchronous and allows for real-time interaction, questions, collaboration, etc. From my experience as a student in this TT1102 course, participating in the these sessions is simple and engaging.

There are many options for teaching with this tool, but my personal preference is to use this tool is by facilitating an online course similar to how I would lead a face-to-face course. Basically, I would provide a day/time for my students to log-in and join the session. I speak into the microphone on my computer and they all hear my voice as I’m talking. I use the “whiteboard” in Blackboard Collaborate to present a PowerPoint lecture and or show other documents and websites. The students use the hand-raising function to text their questions (or request microphone ability to speak their question) as we go through the material together. The poll option is also very easy and helpful to use. I speak a question and provide a poll with A, B, or C or yes/no options that students respond to. I see those poll responses immediately as do all the participants. In addition, the facilitator can transfer the moderator role to a student. This allows students to present their PowerPoints or projects to the class.

Here is a summary of what the platform looks like:

Here are how-to tools for faculty at UNF.

Although there are many advantages to using this tool, there are also disadvantages to consider. Students are flocking to online classes because they are primarily asynchronous – and thus convenient and self-paced. This tool is synchronous. I think it’s important to consider the students’ expectations and schedules before requiring these sessions. You can also record a session so students could watch the “class” as a video. They would not have the benefit of participating, questioning real-time, but they could see the interactions that took place.

Here are some TT1221 resources:

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Text Polls

Poll Everywhere is an amazing service. You can poll your students via text message (or internet) for FREE, up to 40 participants. The way it works is you create an online account at Poll Everywhere and share a code for your students to text to. The responses are tallied immediately on your online account. You DO NOT get text messages on your phone (wow, that would be a mess!).

Here is a 2 minute video that explains:

Text polling can be used in the classroom as described in the above video. Text polling could be used online by providing the text code (as the video shows) and asking students to provide feedback on a question within the day (or some time frame that you determine).  Remember, the feedback you receive will be tallied and summarized as shown in the video on your online account – NOT YOUR CELL PHONE!

I really look forward to incorporating this in my courses!

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