Once an institution has made an earnest commitment to developing robust online courses and has put the necessary infrastructure into place, it falls to individual instructors to determine the best tools and methodologies to use in their courses.
This can seem like a daunting task for faculty new to teaching online, so it helps to keep in mind that there are no tried-and-true recipes for a successful online course. All the guides, tutorials, and online designs speak to a proverbial truth but do not represent a bible for online course development and teaching. Instructors will undoubtedly need to experiment with which methods of lecture, interactive activities, and assessments work best for them in their online classes. It helps if they share the results of these experiments with other faculty.
There are common recipes for online course success, and the ingredients include the following questions:
- Will lectures be synchronous (live) or asynchronous (recorded)—or a combination of the two?
- What methods can be used to engage students and build an online learning community among them?
- What are effective ways to assess students, and how can online tools assist in those assessments?
These are just a few of the many variables instructors need to consider as they develop their classes, which is why institutions need to provide faculty development on remote and/or online teaching, as well as training in the educational technologies they will be supporting.
At the end of the day, however, the traits that ensure successful teaching online are not substantially different from those of a skilled in-person instructor. Effective online instructors typically possess the following strengths:
- They know and love what they are teaching. This also means they are good at helping students learn and navigate their respective experiences in an online course, often on an individual basis. They set clear expectations of students from the first day of class and provide a clear blueprint of how the course will be structured and facilitated in an online environment.
- They are easy to get along with. Kindness and empathy go a long way, especially with students new to online learning and educational technologies. While students will hopefully receive resources from their institution that help them use the online tools and technologies, a little initial hand-holding may also be needed from their instructors. Flexibility is essential. It is also important to note that this friendliness extends not just to students but also to instructional designers, IT staff, and student advisors to ensure the class is a success.
- They are organized and prompt. Having the course organized and ready (often with contingencies in place in case of technological glitches) will provide a sense of safety and clarity for students who may feel disconnected and confused by online learning. Providing prompt feedback on assignments and responses to emails is also important, as is being available for online office hours to facilitate a student’s online learning experience.
These three simple abilities are coveted for both online and in-person teaching, and those possessing them stand a great chance of success in their instructional endeavors, whether on-ground or online. Digital learning tools are just that—tools—not a panacea for online teaching success.
As instructors begin to transition courses online, it is important for them to both examine their attitudes toward the use of educational technology as well as listen to the ideas and viewpoints of their colleagues. If enough of these colleagues are advocating the use of a particular online technology for their classes, it is well worth looking into the merits of utilizing that technology. It also helps to pay attention to student feedback and course analytics for clues on how to best enhance the online learning experience.
In a nutshell, faculty must communicate with both students and colleagues to achieve the following goals:
- creation of activities and an online learning space that engages students
- development of an involved and supportive learning community within the class
- content presented in such a way as to inspire students into further self-directed learning
The recipe for meeting and exceeding these goals is there; it merely requires an instructor’s consideration, ideation, and experimentation to succeed.
- Assessing Institutional Readiness for Remote and Online Instruction (Part 1 of 3)
- Developing an Institutional Approach toward Digital Learning Quantification (Part 3 of 3)
- Chronicle of Higher Ed’s “How to Be a Better Teacher Online” Advice Guide
- Online Learning Blog – Dr. Bernard Bull, President of Goddard College, has some great posts and links to his books on human-centered online learning.
- Insider Higher Ed—What Online Teachers Have Learned from Teaching Online
Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.