10 Best Practices for Teaching Online

Decorative: A word cloud on "teaching online" but presents on an apple


"Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online" (pdf) outlines "best practices ... [that] [r]esearch and experience suggest ... contribute to an effective, efficient and satisfying teaching and learning experience for both faculty and students."

  • Each practice is elaborated more fully in the pdf.

1. "Be present at the course site."

  • "[U]se ... announcements, discussion board postings, and forums [to] communicate to the students that the faculty member cares about who they are, cares about their questions and concerns."
  • "[S]how [your]r presence multiple times a week, and at best, daily."
  • "Se[t] clear expectations -- as to when you will be present and when you will not -- at the beginning of a course with course policies."
  • "Se[t] regular times when you can meet in a virtual classroom or be available by email or texting."

2. "Create a supportive online course community."

a. Make "the three dialogues of faculty to student, student to student, and student to resource ... about equal."

  • "[T]he dialogue of faculty to student is provided with (1) mini-lectures in text or video or audio podcasts, (2) weekly coaching and reminder announcements and (3) explanations/interactions with the students." 

b. Use "[s]trategies ... to encourage peer-to-peer, student-to-student engagement."

  • "Launch the class with a personal introduction posting so that students can get to know one another and you get to know 'where students' heads are' ... include a note about [your] teaching philosophy and research projects."
  • "Encourage use of a general open student forum for students to post and request help and assistance from each other through the various student-to-student tools, such as discussions, help areas, etc."
  • "Set up small groups where students can assume responsibility for supportive mentoring of fellow students and summarizing key points of a class assignment ... similar to a study group."
  • "Set up problem-solving forums or discussions boards, and assign students or student teams to monitor and support or direct questions."

3. "Share a set of very clear expectations for your students and for yourself as to (1) how you will communicate and (2) how much time students should be working on the course each week."

  • "[M]any faculty tell students that they can expect a response within 24 hours during the week."
  • "Often before a major test or assignment, faculty will agree to hold special office hours by computer, being available either by chat/live classroom or email, or phone."
  • "Being clear as to how much effort and time will be required on a weekly basis keeps surprises to a minimum."

4. "Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences."

  • "[B]uilding in options and opportunities for students to work together and individually is highly recommended."
  • "Working in teams is particularly effective when working on complex case studies or scenarios for the first time."

5. "Use both synchronous and asynchronous activities."

  • "Sometimes there is nothing better than a real-time interactive brainstorming and sharing discussion."
  • "[O]ther times the requirement to think, plan, write and summarize is what makes learning most effective for an individual."
  • Use "[t]he variety of activities ... possible online ... to create many types of effective learning environments." 

6. "Early in the term - about week 3, ask for informal feedback on 'How is the course going?' and 'Do you have any suggestions?'"

  • "Early feedback surveys or just informal discussions ask students to provide feedback on what is working well in a course and what might help them have a better course experience."
  • "This ... is done early in the course so corrections and modifications can be made."
  • "It is an easy opening for students who might have comments or suggestions or questions."

7. "Prepare discussion posts that invite questions, discussions, reflections, and responses."

Seven "Quick One-Liner Hints":

  • "Create open-ended questions that learners can explore and apply the concepts that they are learning."
  • "Model good Socratic-type probing and follow-up questions. Why do you think that? What is your reasoning? Is there an alternative strategy? Ask clarifying questions that encourage students to think about what they know and don't know."
  • "Stagger due dates of the responses and consider mid-point summary and /or encouraging comments."
  • "Provide guidelines and instruction on responding to other students. For example, suggest a two-part response: (1) what you liked or agreed with or what resonated with you, and (2) a follow-up question such as what you are wondering about or curious about, etc." 
  • "Provide choices and options for students. Providing choices for students in questioning follows the principle of providing options for personalized and customized learning for students and a way of validating and affirming knowledge and skills. Working professionals are often grappling with many issues - providing choices and options makes it possible to link the learning more directly with their work experiences and needs."
  • "Don't post questions soliciting basic facts, or questions for which there is an obvious yes/no response. The reason for this is obvious. Once one student responds, there is not much more to say! Very specific fact-based questions that you want to be sure that you students know are best used in practice quizzes."
  • "Log in to your course at least 4 times a week - answer email, monitor discussions, post reminders, and hold online office hours."

8. "Focus on content resources and applications and links to current events and examples that are easily accessed from learner's computers."

  • "If content is not digital, it is as if it does not exist for students."
  • "A reference document with detailed instructions on accessing library resources is included in most courses."
  • "[B]uilding into a course discussions and links to current events is often motivating to learners."
  • "Encourage students to help make the best use of the world of Internet resources ... tutorials, simulations and supplementary stat material online."

9. "Combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning."

  • "[I]dentify the core concepts to be learned in a course ... and then mentor learners through a set of increasingly complex and even customized projects applying these core concepts."
  • "Buil[d] in options and choices in assignments and special projects."
  • "[A]pply concepts within case studies, problems, and analyses that combine concepts and principles within a context."
  • "[M]ak[e] students' thinking visible ... [by] requir[ing] students to create, talk, write, explain, analyze, judge, report, and inquire."
  • "These types of activities make it clear ... what students know or don't know, what they are puzzled about, and about what they might be curious."
  • "Discussion forums, blogging, journals and small group work ... engag[e] learners in clarifying and enlarging their mental models or concepts and building links and identifying relationships."

10. "Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course."

  • "A well-designed ending of a course provides opportunities for reflection and integration of useful knowledge ... a time to wrap up positive social and cognitive experiences."
  • "End-of-course ... student presentations, summaries, and analyses ... provide insights into just what useful knowledge students are taking away ... and a final opportunity for faculty to remind students of core concepts and fundamental principles."
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