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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