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Center for Teaching Excellence

  • Student Online Course

Teach Your Course Online

Building Community and Teaching Presence is Crucial

Build a positive learning community online just as you would with a F2F course. Create opportunities for student-to-student as well as student-to-instructor interaction.

  1. Let your students get to know you and a few (appropriate) personal details about you and your life. Put together a short video that introduces you – link to it in the syllabus, post it on the main page. 
  2. Encourage regular contact and reminders: Use Blackboard to set due dates and reminders.  Include any late penalty information in these reminders as well. 
  3. Give students an opportunity to express opinions and respond to questions that have diverse answer possibilities. Consider discussion boards as an avenue to do this.
  4. Develop opportunities for student-to-student interactions. Have an online café discussion board or GroupMe page where students can ask each other questions or share with each other.
  5. Every week or class period, incorporate a short “Housekeeping” video with information on upcoming assignments, due dates, module materials, readings, etc.  

Responding to Questions From Students

With students working more at their own pace, expect an increase in questions from students. Recommendations include:

  1. Make a FAQ discussion board (or pdf) and ask students to check there before emailing you any questions.
  2. Instead of responding to many emails, send an Announcement as an email that answers all (non-personal) questions at the end of each day asked by students that day, or week.

Virtual Office Hours

One of the primary concerns reported by online students is the feeling of isolation (Abrami & Bures, 1996). One way to connect with your students is through live, synchronous office hours using web conferencing tools, such as Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, and GoToMeeting. These tools can be used for any online, collaborative meeting with an individual student or a group of students and are well-suited for online office hours. Benefits of virtual office hours include building instructor-student rapport, helps students feel connected and motivated, gives students a chance to ask questions individually, allows instructor to address concerns or misconceptions in material. Even when students do not take advantage of the opportunity to meet with her live online, they often appreciate having the option. Recommendations include:

  1. State clearly in the syllabus when office hours will be and how they can access you.
  2. Tell students what to expect in terms of format (submit questions in chat or send instructor questions beforehand?).
  3. Schedule office hours for different purposes (e.g. separate office hours for reviewing material, answering questions about an assignment, general checking in). 

Cut Down on the Material You are Trying to Cover

this is called the “Problem of Content Tyranny”. Put on your critical glasses and cut the material that is not absolutely essential. Lectures, particularly in large enrollment courses, should cover the following kinds of material:

  • key points and general themes
  • especially difficult material
  • material not covered elsewhere
  • examples and illustrations
  • material of high interest/relevance to students

Take the main point or general topic for each lecture video section and make it a Socratic, critical or analytical-leading question so that there is an answer to be found in the material, not just facts and figures. This also helps students to format their notes and understanding as they study.

Best Practices for Graduate Teaching Assistants Help and Facilitation

Communicate tasks clearly to the TA (for example, “write 10 challenging self-grading assessment questions that require synthesis of knowledge from the book and lecture” vs. “write a 10-question quiz”). TAs have likely recently taken online classes —ask them questions about how students will perceive elements of your online class. Be open to feedback. Consider which synchronous course elements could be done well by a TA. Train, delegate, check in.


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