Getting Started with Online Teaching
The demand for online course offerings is surging, and advances in technology mean that online courses can deliver just about any educational experience that face-to-face courses can with relative ease. Yet some importance differences between the two modes of delivery – and some best practices for online course delivery – should shape in some unique ways how online classes are designed and delivered. The following guide gives an overview of these fundamental considerations.
Differences between Online and Face-To-Face Courses
When developing an online course, it’s helpful to understand some differences between online and face-to-face classes that can affect how an online course should be designed and delivered:
- Because instructors don’t meet with students physically, the “presence” of the instructor is not built into an online course. Instructors need to take steps to establish a robust presence in their courses. (See below)
- The same goes for student connection and engagement. Since students won’t be sitting by each other every day, concerted effort must be put into creating opportunities for students to connect. (See below)
- While student populations differ for every class, some students seek online education because they have part- or full-time jobs, families, or other commitments keeping them from taking campus-based courses. This may affect when they can do the work of the course, which is often after hours or on the weekends. Instructors should know the general demographic makeup of their course in order to plan for such circumstances.
- While online courses can facilitate just about any learning experience face-to-face courses can, those experiences are mediated through technology, which adds a layer of preparation for instructors and a need to provide links to technology support for students.
Given some of the considerations outlined above, a number of best practices can help instructors create highly effective online classes.
- Start development early: This is especially true for instructors building courses they’ve never taught before. Though creating a robust course site in the learning management system can add to the overall time spent, research shows that for most instructors, the bulk of the time for online course development is still pedagogical – designing the syllabus, creating activities and assignments, and finding and creating course materials. Surveys show that even experienced instructors preparing a new online course can spend 70-100 hours in the development phase.
- Create a sense of presence: In online courses, we can’t take the visibility, or “presence,” of an instructor for granted. Instead, instructors need to create presence through dedicated efforts: introducing themselves (via video is best); communicating with students frequently; and giving detailed, timely feedback on student work. Research has shown a high correlation between instructor presence and student success in online courses.
- Create opportunities for student engagement: Engagement means creating a sense of community between students – having them interact, communicate with one another, and work on assignments together. Just as instructors would introduce themselves, it’s a good idea to have students introduce each other through a video or discussion board. Discussion boards (or forums) are also a great way to have students interact and think through course material together, as are group projects.
- “Chunk” the class: “Chunking” is the process of breaking down parts of a class – lessons, modules, assignments, projects, activities, learning materials, lectures, etc. – into smaller, more digestible parts that are easier for students to process on their own. Some good guidelines for chunking are:
- Media, such as lecture videos, should be no more than 5-7 minutes long. Instructors with larger lectures or presentations should break them up into 5-7 minute pieces.
- On LMS (Sakai) pages, create multiple sections that are organized by tasks students must do or parts of the lesson/unit/module. Consider sections that contain descriptions of the lesson or module; learning outcomes; materials to be read, watched, or studied; and assignments to be completed.
- For large or long projects or assignments, have smaller parts of those assignments due along the way, working toward the larger final artifact.
- Make the course accessible: Creating courses that are accessible to students of all abilities is required by federal law. Instructors working with the Office of Online Learning (OOL) can have their media captioned or transcribed by OOL, but need to create other materials – LMS/Sakai pages, Word and PDF documents, images, etc. – that follow accessibility best practices.
- Provide support for students: All courses should have a clear section of the course shell or syllabus about the support systems for students offered by the university. For online classes, resources for technology support are especially important to include.
- Promote academic Integrity: All courses share the University’s commitment to fostering academic integrity. There are many avenues to promoting this in courses, including syllabus statements, honor pledges, and the use of prevention tools. OOL provides a robust guide to promoting academic integrity.