Success in a face-to-face environment does not always transfer to the elements needed for success in an online course; however, teaching online can be as rewarding as teaching in person. By including a variety of interactive strategies and maintaining communication, instructors can create a learning environment that encourages students to learn and to explore. The following tips include the key elements for success in teaching and learning in an online course.
The first week of an online course is very important for both the instructor and the learners regardless of the subject area, program, or level. Clarity is required because the students many not know how to utilize all the online course functions and features, or may be nervous if they have never taken an online class before. Be sure to be very clear on class policies, such as when and how to submit assignments. Some strategies that help the students feel less isolated are including a welcome page or email before the class starts and then having the students introduce each other can help guide how the rest of the class will run as students make connections to their classmates.
Including a general area to discuss things unrelated to a class such as weather, travel, pets is suggested so as to maintain a social connection that is often missing in online courses. It is also very important to clearly outline the rules of netiquette. Let the students know how you want them to frame communications and the tone that is comfortable to all class members. Have a clear organizational structure. For example, the syllabus should be very clearly outlined with dates and deadlines.
When facilitating the class, keep learners actively engaged in thinking about the course content through a variety of strategies such as active participation. For example, you can post thought-provoking questions that do not have direct answers and lend themselves to prompting even more questions and debate.
Make use of online resources that students can easily access. For example they can virtually access electronic articles in the library or repository. With the power of hyperlinks, this is quite doable. However, be sure to check your links each time you teach the course and several times during the course as these may change depending on the hosting service.
Plan interactive assignments that require students to work in teams to problem-solve. For instance, provide them with case studies that they can discuss in chatrooms and discussion boards and have them take turn being responsible for different tasks such as recorder or moderator. Organization is important – make it intuitive where and how to locate course content. Don’t switch out things to often and let them have multiple ways of accessing the information.
Use student-centered techniques. You can empower students by having them be responsible for summarizing the week’s discussion, being in charge of a discussion, or writing weekly reflections. This approach will empower them and save you time. Create activities where the students can integrate new ideas with existing knowledge, and provide them a frame of reference within the online environment.
Do not let the technology drive the instruction! Try to strike a balance between technology and content. Remember that good courses use the best aspects of multimedia but that do not leave the technology to do the teaching. You want the students to learn and use the technology but not at the expense of the course content.
Most important, be there for them! Remember they could be miles away and feeling isolated. Respond to requests as soon as possible and provide detailed feedback. Patience, availability, and accessibility will keep you connected to the students.