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Your teaching goals for online courses will be similar to those for face to face courses. However, the way you achieve them may require new techniques.
You can find practical information about online teaching techniques at Best Practices in Online Teaching (developed by Penn State World Campus) and about using online course tools at Ohio State at our Carmen help pages. Before you start with those details, though, we recommend envisioning how your course will work in an online format. How do the different components of teaching relate to each other in the online environment?
The grid below can help you think through which techniques and tools you’ll want to explore in more detail. You might also return to this grid as you make use of feedback from students and others about fine-tuning your course.
As the instructor, you will set up the learning environment for your students, providing materials and activities, guiding progress toward learning goals, and assessing performance.
Choose how you will present your material. Syllabi, assignment descriptions, readings and other resources are probably already in digital format, but you might want to expand what you have to improve clarity and provide information that you would otherwise have conveyed in person. Consider whether you want to provide some version of lecture material in digital format (transcripts, outlines, voice-over PowerPoint, recorded lectures) or will convey that information to students through another activity or assignment.
Think about what you want your students to do while "in your class." If you ordinarily lecture and students listen, you can replicate those activities in the online environment. However, since students are not as tied to a daily schedule in a online course, you might have them engage in other kinds of learning activities. You might, for example, choose to have students read additional texts, conduct web-based or in-person information-gathering projects, or discuss how readings might apply in real-world situations. Print and online resources can provide ideas for online activities.
As you plan your activities and assignments, consider which activities will be graded and how you will do that. You might find it useful to allocate points for online activities that you wouldn’t grade in a face-to-face course. Course discussions usually work much better in online environments when students earn points for quality participation. On the other hand, readings quizzes and even objective exams can be auto-graded in online courses, saving you time for other tasks. Use the LMS gradebook to manage and calculate student grades. This allows students to follow their own progress as assessments are completed and encourages them to communicate with you.
As the instructor, you will want to set up the learning environment in a way that lets you communicate easily with students, but also encourages them to communicate with you.
In a face-to-face classroom, you can provide information as needed based on interaction or non-verbal cues. In online settings, you will want to anticipate when and how to make announcements and provide clarification of difficult concepts. You will also want to provide ways for students to communicate their questions and needs back to you. Clear and predictable patterns of communications can make for a more smoothly functioning course.
Your ability to focus on teaching will be enhanced if you have an organized approach to collecting and returning assignments. Setting consistent expectations for how students will submit assignments and how you will return feedback and report grades will reduce frustration and anxiety for everyone. Take advantage of online tools to provide automatic feedback where appropriate. Other online tools let you collect and provide feedback on assignments in a variety of digital formats that might have been awkward in a face-to-face course.
In addition to providing formal grades, you’ll want to build in opportunities to give common and individual feedback and respond to student concerns. Participate in online discussions to help students stay on a productive track. Use announcements to give general feedback, with e-mail to individual students about their particular performance. Take advantage of commenting features in word-processing and other programs to provide comments in context. Use surveys or specified forums in discussions to invite feedback from students on where they need more guidance.
Much student learning takes place during exchanges between students. As the instructor, you will want to provide opportunities for both formal and informal student interaction.
Consider creating activities that will encourage students to connect with each other. Relating their course work to their experiences and sharing their ideas with classmates helps to build a learning community. Online resources can help students connect with classmates whose life experiences and daily schedules would have prevented meaningful interaction in a face-to-face course. Peer feedback can supplement your individualized comments to help students move toward learning goals.
Asking students to work together on assignments can help them better master content as they teach each other. It also encourages group and social skills and provides experience with collaborative tools that many students will need in their professional lives. Some online resources provide version control, so you can review which student contributed what material. You can also ask students to log, comment on, and discuss their contributions.
Many contemporary online tools are designed to encourage individual contributions of content, with comment from peers. If you create activities that take advantage of the contribution and comment formats, consider providing clear guidelines for what kind of peer commentary would be useful and how you will deal with inappropriate feedback. Your grading plans and assessment can take both the original contribution and the quality of commentary into account.