Best Practices for Online Instructors

Organization and Time Management

  • Successful online teachers are very organized. For example, it is recommended that you post assignments months—if not a whole semester—in advance. Your students are likely working and/or balancing other commitments, so they may need to work ahead. Let them know what assignments are coming up well in advance and set reminders early and often.
  • Successful online teaching requires a substantial time commitment, especially in the initial development phase (instructional design, grading, etc.). That time commitment lessens once you gain experience and have courses set up the way you want them.
  • Timely feedback on assignments is crucial. Providing substantial feedback so students can resubmit assignments that require the application of instructor feedback is critical to engaged online learning.
  • Build time buffers into assignments for students to submit late, and for you to grade the assignment. If your course has hard deadlines, the students must know the consequences. Be sure to have it written explicitly in your syllabus/course materials.

Technology

  • Know who to go to for help/resources before you need them. Do not wait until the last minute.
  • Work with an instructional designer or LMS expert to know the full capabilities of your course (screen sharing, assessments, embedded videos/decks, and multiple platforms to access Canvas).
  • Instructional designers are here to help. They are a critical resource that can help you design the learning environment that best fits your course. Explain to them what you are doing in your class, and they can help you design the course to facilitate your desired outcomes.
  • Talk to an instructional designer every year to learn about LMS updates or other new instructional technologies so your course can stay up to date.
  • Know how to route student inquiries about technology questions. Provide resources for often-asked technology questions.
  • Before the start of your course, double check that your links are functional and direct students to the intended websites.

Communication

  • All instructions must be crystal clear. The amount, quality, and timing of communication are all key. Because you don’t meet face-to-face or have the ability to extemporaneously answer questions, it is very important to communicate early and often. Remember to be very thorough when explaining expectations and rubrics—this will save you time from having to answer questions later in the course.
  • Understand student schedules and that they will be working on your courses at night, on weekends, etc. For example, provide 1 time you will check and respond to questions on the weekends so they always know when they can have their questions answered outside of normal working hours.
  • You will want to have a policy about turnaround time for assignments, as a general rule. This policy will again save you time from answering questions about when students can expect feedback.
  • It is very important that you check your email every day, ideally more than once. Respond as soon as possible, even if you just let the student know when to expect a more thorough response.
  • Accommodate different learning styles + 1 method (video clips, lecture, case studies, text). Instructional designers can help you accomplish this.
  • Having a regular presence within the course—posting questions, getting to know students (get to know them assignment or forum), posting announcements, etc.
  • Be clear about when you are available for consultations: days of the week, time of day, etc. Similar to face-to-face class time, online availabilities should be consistent so the instructor and students know the routine.
  • Be cognizant of how tone is conveyed online, as written communication can sometimes be perceived as cold and detached.
  • It is recommended that you have reminders for everything. Creating patterns of reminders (for example, every Monday) is helpful.
  • Use a calendar that you update. This can save you a lot of time answering basic scheduling questions.

Learning

  • You cannot just retrofit your face-to-face course into an online environment and expect that it will produce the same learning outcomes. Consult with people who have taught the online course, if possible, or an instructional designer. Provide all relevant resources: writing center information, technology center, support services, disability services, accommodations, etc.
  • To do online teaching well requires a lot of time and work. Almost all instructions need explicit examples and supplemental materials to help students learn. The clearer the instructions, generally the fewer questions you will receive from students.
  • Educate your students about what it means to be an online student—how long assignments should take, the number of hours to complete specific assignments for that course, etc.
  • Facilitate peer-to-peer interactions/assignments (e.g. projects, online chat/office hours, forums to post questions). Try to facilitate a learning environment where students learn from each other. Set up the discussion boards with deadlines to submit and a second deadline for students to respond to others. Require student engagement peer-to-peer and with the material.
  • Make assessments transparent—allow the student to see the exact criteria/rubric you are using to assess their graded submissions. Make sure feedback is consistent with the assigned grade. To that end, make sure your feedback clearly explains what improvements need to be made.
  • Give a lot of feedback on all assignments—this shows the student that you care about their work. Requiring them to incorporate your feedback ensures student engagement with the material. Revising and resubmitting assignments is a very useful way for students to learn—avoid “one and done” or “submit and forget” assignments.
  • Know that many online students have a tendency to work on assignments and then not engage the course for a few weeks. It is recommended that you have smaller assignments that require students to engage on a regular basis, and have those assignments build into a larger assignment. This will prevent them from putting things off until the last second and missing the deadline.
  • During each course, take notes about what went well, what didn’t, and how you might revise the course moving forward. Keep this file to inform the next time you organize the course. Don’t wait until the end when you are slammed with grading and wiped out. Focus on continuous improvement.