6 tips for teaching online during Elon’s summer terms

Posted on: April 28, 2015 | By: Stephanie Bedard | Filed under: Instructional Technologies, Moodle, Online Instruction, Teaching & Learning

2262847115_7291cec124_bHow do you engage students without seeing them face-to-face? How does the time commitment of teaching an online course compare to teaching an in-class course? How should I communicate with my students? These questions are among the several Elon faculty members might have as they navigate the challenges of designing and teaching online courses for the first time.

On Thursday, April 2, faculty who will be leading online courses this summer met with members of Teaching and Learning Technologies along with Dr. Steve Braye of the English department, who will be mentoring online faculty throughout the summer. Dr. Braye shared his experience teaching online and had many valuable tips and hints to share with fellow faculty.

How does the time commitment of teaching an online course differ from the commitment of teaching an in-class course?

No more time should be spent teaching an online course than an in-class course. However, time should be spent much differently. It’s necessary to spend more time preparing an online course, because they must be entirely mapped out in advanced, whereas in-class course schedules allow for more spontaneity. Prep work for an online course goes beyond lesson plans, as professors much also decide how they’re going to teach. Video lectures? Online quizzes? These decisions must be made in advance. As Dr. Braye explained, the time commitment is equal, but tasks are different.

Is there a particular attitude or approach necessary to teach an online course?

Of course; online teaching isn’t for everybody. It takes a certain attitude to make an online course successful. Professors shouldn’t forget to ask themselves why they decided to teach online and make sure that their course reflects both Elon’s educational values and their individual teaching philosophy. Finally, it’s important that professors don’t get caught up or frustrated by technology. Remember – Teaching and Learning Technologies is there to help every step of the course! Professors should be willing to learn and unafraid to ask for assistance.

How important is scheduling to an online course?

Scheduling is vital to every online course. It’s essential that students be provided with a weekly, or preferably daily, class schedule. Schedules should include readings, assignments, and all other class activities. According to Dr. Braye, students are then “free to roam within that structure.”

Dr. Braye also recommends sending out an e-mail at the beginning of each week (professors determine the class week – most choose Monday through Friday) to give students a preview of the week ahead.  Because online courses are taught in such a short period of time, professors must have defined course objectives aligned with their schedule. As Dr. Braye explained, organization is key to teaching an effective online course.

What should I consider when designing a syllabus for an online course?

A syllabus is essentially a road map for an online course. If daily assignments, readings and deadlines are well laid-out in front of students, they are more likely to keep up with the fast pace of an online course.

All information included in a syllabus for an in-class course is useful for an online syllabus. Don’t forget to include important, necessary sections such as disability statements, as well. The more specific your syllabus can be, the better. Dr. Braye also recommends including a “How to Behave in an Online Course” section near the end of syllabi to outline proper conduct and behavior in an online course environment.

Additionally, the syllabus is the ideal place to outline communication policies for an online course. How quickly will you respond to emails? Can students text you? How should students contact you? While preferred methods of communication throughout online courses vary from professor to professor, popular methods include online “office hours”, e-mail correspondence, and Skype. Whatever the professor’s preferred method, it’s vital that it be specified in the syllabus.

What are some Moodle-specific strategies and tips?

Using Moodle, Dr. Braye opens and closes assignments and quizzes, so that they’re only available for a certain time period. Once the time period for an assignment has passed, the assignment disappears from the Moodle page to prevent confusion and clutter. Readings, background materials and other resources generally do not disappear and are available for students to review as they wish.

Dr. Braye also adds elements to his Moodle page as time progresses, rather than post every assignment and every quiz at beginning of the course. As the course goes on, Dr. Braye is constantly updating the availability of certain items on the course Moodle page to keep students up to date with the flow of the course.

While professors should try to replicate what they do in the classroom on the web, a common mistake is trying to transfer an in-class course that’s already been taught to the virtual world. Such transitions are rarely successful; it’s best to start from scratch and create something fresh and engaging.

Students are often busy in the summer with vacations, internships, summer jobs – how should I address scheduling conflicts with students?

It’s common for students to be interested in taking summer courses amidst other summer commitments. As Dr. Braye explained, there is a bottom line: if students cannot fit the course into their own schedules, they should not take the course. It’s entirely possible for students dealing with time changes, summer jobs and internships to succeed in an Elon summer course; however, they must be willing to work with the professor’s schedule and put in extra effort to meet deadlines. At the very minimum, students must expect to be engaging with the course at least once every other day.

One final note: Taking challenges in stride

As a final note of the workshop, Dr. Braye encouraged the online faculty to take the challenges of teaching an online course in stride, accepting that courses won’t always be perfect the first time around.

“Get your course where you want it to be and then upgrade it,” Dr. Braye said.

MORE: Read more questions and answers from other Elon faculty who have taught online.

Photo by Flickr user Roberto Greco / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Stephanie Bedard

Stephanie Bedard is a junior at Elon University's Love School of Business. She writes all of her tests using a pink pen.

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