Some thoughts on best practices for online learning & teaching

What Is It?

Some thoughts on best practices for online learning & teaching.

Who Can Use It?

Montana Tech Instructors

How do I do It?

I’ve been working on a series of short handouts for best practices based upon a lot of work by a number of institutions.  There are some pieces that are more critical than others in being the best that you can be when teaching online. The following is a discussion on what I have learned over my last 20+ years in online learning. If you look up some of what I am advocating in this article, you’ll see that none of it is particularly revolutionary or even the least bit controversial. It is pretty much all accepted practice for being successful in this medium.

If you are a seasoned lecturer in the classroom, online delivery is going to turn your normal routine on its head. The rules of engagement are going to be different because you are not in the same room with your students. If you are holding synchronous meetings using Zoom or similar technology you can get somewhat close, but there is no way to quickly scan the room to see if they are getting it, let alone whether or not the impact of your lecture is translating across the miles. If you are teaching using recorded materials or a text-based approach the differences are further compounded since you are unable to interact directly with your students at all. Most of what you are doing in adapting your courses to online modes is simply trying to find alternatives to what you do well in the classroom and in the lab.

Let’s be honest. Many or most of you reading this did not want to teach online. Instead the current circumstances forced you into a situation you would have preferred to avoid. This could be because you simply are not interested, don’t see the value in teaching online, or just plain don’t have the time. Maybe you are very good at what you do in the classroom and don’t see need to change. I have met many people who are much more comfortable in the classroom than online and it shows in their presentation. They are meant for a live audience. For those types I would normally recommend a hybrid approach or maybe a hybrid flipped approach, where some of your coursework is put online so that you can focus more on what you do in the classroom. Unfortunately, I’ll have to sell you on that approach later. Right now, we are stuck with Moodle. Literally stuck in the Moodle with you.

Be present in your online courses

So, one of the key themes in just about every best practice article or study that I have read in the last 20 years is the need to be present in the course. That requirement, as I mentioned above, is considerably different than the classroom. And it takes a lot more time. Students are going to need the same amount of attention that they do in class, but since they are not able to interact with you in the same way or as spontaneously, they will need more of it. The article is right on in one important way; the more time you commit to your online course the more time students will commit. If you are online and engaged in conversation and exploration they will want to be part of that experience. If you are not, they will do the bare minimum. After all, if the course is simply a set of assignment and talking head videos there is nothing to engage them and no active guidance. This is a lot more work to do right. Since the majority of the course components are asynchronous there is a time lag between when a student needs help and when they receive it by the very definition of asynchronous.

Let’s think about that from a student perspective for a minute. Your students did not come to Tech to be part of an online school. I’m sure a percentage of them have had online course experience in High School or other places, but they are at Tech to be part of your live classroom. For the rest of the semester and probably summer, that experience as they are accustomed to it no longer exists. So they are grappling with the same sorts of issues adapting to the online environment as you probably are. In some ways it is probably worse. They are used to regular lecture, regular office hours, and being able to get to you when they need to in person. Now they can’t do that. So, the best alternative to providing that experience is for you to make yourself actively available as much as possible. That can mean setting up specific online office hours, telling students you will be active in any discussions at specific times, and also making certain to inform students of realistic turnaround times for assignment submissions (including copious feedback as possible on their work). It is what they expect of you in the classroom and it is just if not more important now in online courses.


Organize your course

This isn’t quite as critical as being there for your students, but it is close. We as human beings only have so much working memory. If a large portion of that working memory is being taken up by trying to figure out how to navigate and interact with the course and the course materials, there is less available to intake and process the content in the course. That is why many schools have an imposed template for online courses, it makes it easier for students to find their way around. I’m not going to present an exhaustive list of different ways to organize your course. I’m only going to present one possibility and you can decide what works best for you.

Your students are very much used to interacting with courses on a weekly basis.


Article ID: 104397
Mon 4/6/20 9:41 AM
Mon 7/25/22 2:35 PM