Owning Online Learning and Teaching!

Online teaching…am I doing this right?




Hopefully, everyone has made it through the initial shock of a quick switch to online course delivery. As we wrap up our final lectures of the semester, I just wanted to give some tips on how to infuse a great deal of active learning into our new environment. Will teaching be the same as it was in January? No. Will it be perfect? No. Will students learn a great deal and faculty enjoy teaching? Yes! Feel free to send us an email if you have some great tips for a transition to online active learning!

Create community: One of the major hurdles for online learning (and our current quarantine restrictions) is isolation. I read one comparison of learning to exercising. If you go to group classes in the gym, you are motivated, you have a sense of community, and you commit to showing up with the others in the class. If you have a treadmill, it is on YOU to show up and power through. It’s easier to make excuses and inadvertently miss deadlines. With online course delivery, we do not necessarily have the classroom to be our group setting. We need to emphasize the sense of community that we are providing students, just in a different way.

We need to build connected, caring communities for our online students and the extent to which we respond and provide reassurance that we are here for them goes a long way in establishing relationships and building a sense of trust. It is amazing how receptive students are to quick email turnaround! Feedback should be timely as well, and specifically targeted to the work product being submitted.

The dialogue should be varied and can include video chatting, discussion boards, emails and comments providing feedback on assignments. An advantage of using such methods is that the students need to log in to the course frequently, and frequent log-ins help keep students on track and aware of assignment due dates. The ultimate goal is for the students to feel that they are part of a collaborative atmosphere with the professor as well as other students. This helps with the retention and performance of students in the course.

This can also be reaching out to your students, especially if they are your advisees. They may be facing housing instability, food insecurity, financial issues, health issues for themselves or family members, etc. Additionally, if you notice a significant change in how a student is performing in the course, it would be worth it to reach out to them or have their advisor reach out. I teach a course for students early in the program and I reached out to those who are less successful. With this change and how early they are in the program, they may be unaware of resources available or less likely to ask for help and feel that they need to “tough it out.”

Advanced preparation: This switch to online delivery requires even more preparation than live in-classroom teaching.

-How do you want to interact with students?

-Message board? Voice thread? Chat box? Have them unmute? Raise their hands?

-LEARN your technology. Reach out to your course design resources, youtube, etc. Do your research on the video conference/VOIP software you are using. It will make you feel more confident when working with students. Again, youtube tutorials are your friend!

In addition to teaching yourself about this tech, like any new idea, try a pilot. When I tried white board and breakout rooms/virtual small groups, I tried it out with my P4 students on rotation. In doing this advanced preparation, you will feel more confident and in control.

Incorporate direct interaction as much as possible. Engage with the students in frequent dialogue and provide opportunities for students to ask and answer questions. Encourage students to ask questions, or even establish opportunities for them to take charge of their learning by including student-led seminars. The more direct involvement your students have in the course, the more invested and productive they will be.

Like any new tech/active learning, clear instructions and anticipation of questions. Make sure content is clear, posted in the right place, and linked to working supplementary materials.

Strong rubrics with clear expectations and proficiencies will help with this and, in turn, guide the learning. Students can get frustrated when these tools are either not clear, not provided, or not used when delivering feedback. Feedback can also include a personal check in to each student in the class – a personal email or instant message to see how they are doing, provide encouragement, and to identify any supports they might need to be successful.

I have also found that students need more reminders than when they are interacting face to face and can remind each other. Also keep in mind that they are receiving a great deal of emails/course reminders from all of their courses. So, while we want them to be responsible for their assignments and showing up to class, additional reminders and setting them up for success will be vital.

Hold Q&A sessions/office hours-be available if students were only able to watch the recording, have clarifying questions, etc

Finally, convey your enthusiasm. Online courses are fun! Infuse your personality into your writing and engage them in your content with humor and a positive outlook. Take this experience as an opportunity to explore a different pedagogy that is sure to enhance your creativity and communication skills when you remain open to what you can learn as well.