Campus & Community

Online Teaching Tips for Instructors

Laura Saunders photo

We recently shared Associate Professor Laura Saunders’ online learning tips for students. But as many of our alums find themselves presenting materials to their computer screen, they are facing similar challenges when adapting to online teaching. Saunders acknowledged this in her recent webinar and offers these tips specifically for instructors. 

Keep it simple

If you had months to get your course ready, you could create animated case studies and branching scenarios... but we don't have the luxury of time right now. What is most important is that the necessary learning happens, and that usually doesn't require a lot of bells and whistles. The same goes for the course site itself — keep the organization and layout simple so students don't have to waste time just trying to orient themselves and find materials.

Be present in the class

This is especially important for asynchronous classes. Sometimes, once an instructor creates and posts the materials, they don't engage in the weekly flow of the course. This is never a good strategy, but especially not when students didn't sign up for a remote class to begin with.

There are a lot of things we can do to remind students that we are involved, paying attention, and that we care about them. We can create weekly welcome and wrap-up posts (or videos). We should be involved in discussion forums the same way we would be in class: ask probing questions, highlight important points, redirect if the conversation gets off track, and sum up the major points and take-aways at the end. Even if we are teaching asynchronously, we can offer students some opportunities to engage with us in real-time through virtual office hours or optional drop-in live sessions.

Find ways to interact and build community

Again, this is especially important in asynchronous classes, which can feel very lonely and disconnected. We can use discussion forums, chat rooms, collaborative Google docs, and online polls and surveys to give students a chance to interact with each other and with us. To facilitate discussion, we recommend a site called AnswerGarden, where people can answer an open-ended question and the site creates a word cloud in real-time; this could be used in an online class to take a poll and create some interactivity. AnswerGarden really only works for synchronous sessions, but you could set up a Google Form and then share the results for a similar experience in an asynchronous course.

Try to develop assignments and activities that integrate those opportunities. In addition to course-related assignments and activities, you can create a "fun" discussion board for students to share news and stories not related to class.

Overall, Saunders encourages flexibility for both instructors and students. “It's normal to feel like absolutely everything in our course is essential, but there really is a difference between ‘essential’ information and ‘good to know’ but not absolutely necessary. It's okay to let some things go — be guided by your learning outcomes."

Saunders also keeps students in mind during this stressful, uncertain time. “Our students are dealing with the same anxieties and stresses. The best thing we can do for them, and for ourselves, is to keep things simple and to be supportive and flexible.”

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