Be a Better Online Teacher

Decorative: A word cloud on the theme of "Teaching Online" with the words superimposed on an apple


"How to Be a Better Online Teacher: Advice Guide" (doc) provides "advice on how to make your online pedagogy as effective and satisfying as the in-person version, including" the following:

  • 10 essential principle and practices of better online teaching
  • Common misperceptions
  • How to find help

A. 10 Essential Principles and Practices (each elaborated more fully, often with examples, in the doc)

1. "Show Up to Class" 

"[B]e visibly present and engaged in your semester-long online class."

  • "Post a weekly announcement to provide an overview of the coming week’s topic or a recap of the previous week’s work, or both."
  • "Respond to questions posted in an online question-and-answer discussion forum or sent to you by email."
  • "Hold online office hours according to a schedule, by appointment, or both."
  • "Post a quick video to clarify misconceptions about a class topic or assignment."
  • "Grade and return students’ work in a timely fashion."
  • "Talk with students in online discussions."

2. "Be Yourself" 

"[S]trive to use a unique voice in your writing ... in such a way as to represent your true self."

  • "Infuse your writing with warmth. Convey your support."
  • "Be human... [Y]ou needn’t write in a detached tone. Instead, practice immediacy." 
  • "Whether by audio or video, capture your expertise, your empathy, your teacher persona ... (...I don’t mean videos of you lecturing)." 
  • "Students need to know you in order to engage with you online."

3. "Put Yourself in Their Shoes"

"Imagine that you are the student, on your own, trying to make sense of what is in front of you on the screen ... and design for clarity."

  • "Are your instructions clear on how long students’ discussion posts should be, and on how they should cite sources?"
  • "Do you include a detailed grading rubric?"
  • "Do you provide an example of a successful final project, so that students can see your expectations and don’t have to muddle through while they wait for a reply from you?"

4. "Organize Course Content Intuitively"

"[T]hink like a student when you organize course materials." 

  • "Think about how the use of menus, modules, folders, and other organizing structures helps or hinders students’ progress through the course."
  • "Strike a balance between scrolling and clicking."
  • "Students should be able to access content, assessments, and learning activities without constantly clicking more and more links."
  • "Help students move through content and activities smoothly and seamlessly, so that their attention remains focused on learning the material."

5. "Add Visual Appeal"

Don't offer  a course that is "ugly, dry, boring, and unappealing."

  • "Break up long chunks of text with subheads and space between paragraphs."
  • "Embed relevant images."
  • "Include thumbnail videos that you’ve either created or sourced from YouTube, news sites, or library resources."
  • "Aim for attractive yet appropriate."
  • "Note: All visuals should be accessible to all students." 

6. "Explain Your Expectations"

"[P]rovide as much meaningful support as you can — without going overboard — so that students don’t have to guess what you want them to do."

  • "Aim for a balance between thorough and digestible."
  • "Write down the directions as if you were having a conversation with a student, so they don’t read like a textbook."
  • "Create an informal two-minute explainer video to flesh out some details of an assignment."
  • "Provide a rubric."
  • "Share an example of student work that earned top marks. Maybe even share an example of mediocre work so students can compare the two."

7. "Scaffold Learning Activities"

"[E]xplain things — step by systematic step — to help students learn and perform successfully on tests, projects, papers, and other assignments."

  • In your online class, do "your students ha[ve] the opportunity to build — step by step, as they would in an in-person classroom — the knowledge and skills they will need do well on [your] assessments?"
  • See the doc for examples.
  • "Look for ways to break down complex tasks so that students make timely progress and receive feedback on their work while there is still time to adjust their approach if needed."

8. "Provide Examples"

"Online learners ... benefit from multiple explanations of difficult concepts and multiple examples of the kind of work you want to see."

  • "Source existing videos that put another spin on a particular topic."
  • "Record a short guest-lecture video to let students hear from another expert in your field."
  • "Structure ways for students to explain new information to one another — as novice learners, they may come up with examples and illustrations that make more sense to their peers than your explanations do."
  • "[G]ive ... examples of previous students’ work as appropriate."

9. "Make Class an Inviting, Pleasant Place to Be"

a. "Ask yourself":

  • "Do you enjoy going into your online classroom?"
  • "Do you like being there?"
  • "Do you look forward to communicating with your online students in the same way you look forward to interacting with students in a physical classroom?"

b. "[M]ake [your online classes] more inviting and pleasant ... [for] more interesting classes."

  • "Use plenty of visuals, media, interactive tools, and learning activities."
  • "Streamline course organization and navigation. Organize the furniture in the room, so to speak, to create maximum flow." 
  • "Convey positivity and optimism that students can succeed."
  • "Demonstrate compassion and caring for your busy online learners."
  • "Respect their time and engagement by being present and engaged yourself."

10. "Commit to Continuous Improvement"

  • "Join book-discussion groups with your colleagues to delve into books about effective online-teaching strategies."
  • "Subscribe to teaching-related newsletters, such as Faculty Focus and The Chronicle’Teaching Newsletter. Sometimes they feature articles specifically related to online teaching; other times, reading about a new approach in the physical classroom leads to an idea for your online teaching."

B. Common Misperceptions (developed more fully in the doc)

1. “Online classes are like slow cookers: Set and forget.”

  • "That is a recipe for disaster."

2. “Online students are lazy/disengaged/(insert negative adjective here).” 

  • Often, "we [have] inadvertently created conditions online that contribute to student disengagement."

3. “Online classes don’t work.”

  • "[O]nline courses can produce student-learning outcomes comparable to those of in-person courses."
  • "Much like the best in-person courses, the high-quality online versions require excellent online teachers. It’s on us to design and teach those highly engaging and effective online classes."

4. “Teaching online is not as enjoyable as teaching in person.” 

  • "[O]nline teaching can certainly be rewarding — if in ways different from the face-to-face version."
  • "Embracing those differences  — the advantages of online classes, the technological opportunities afforded by a classroom without walls — is how we find joy in teaching online."

C. How to Find Help (each elaborated in the doc)

  • "Make friends with your campus instructional designer."
  • "Seek an experienced online teaching mentor."
  • "Connect with colleagues who are trying to be excellent online teachers."
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