Tips for teaching online courses

Posted on: March 5, 2013 | By: Sam Parker | Filed under: Online Instruction, Teaching & Learning

Workspace for online teaching.Dr. Cheri Crabb with Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) hosted the first online course discussion working group for new online faculty on Friday, Feb. 22.

The goal of these discussion groups is to focus on enhancing face-to-face courses for online environments. Each meeting has an emphasis, and this one concentrated on modifying syllabi.

Dr. Dan Haygood, assistant professor of communications, shared information about his “Advertising in Society” course he taught online for the past two summers. Dr. Haygood shared his Moodle page and discussed the syllabus in detail, highlighting how he weeded out readings and assignments. He also discussed how for his online class, he had assignments and projects due at the same time and on the same day each week to provide consistency. He also held his office hours via Skype. Dr. Haygood concluded by strongly encouraging faculty to complete the course modification process before classes begin in the Summer I session.

Dr. Crabb offered tips to new online faculty including Dr. Alexis Franzese, assistant professor of sociology, and Dr. Scott Buechler, assistant professor of business communications. Below is a summarized list of suggestions on how to modify face-to-face courses for online environments:

Market your class.

  • At Elon, faculty must have at least 10 students enrolled in their online courses, and marketing is up to each faculty member. To better market a class, you can:
    • Post an advertisement on E-Net.
    • Create a Facebook page.
    • Prior to advising, ask the administrative assistant in your school to send an informational email out to students, faculty, and staff about the course and how it fulfills requirements.
    • Spread the word to students in courses you are currently teaching.

Cover this checklist of items before class begins.

  • At your face-to-face meeting with students in the spring, be sure to state your expectations for group work assignments, deadlines, and software requirements.
  • Bring a draft of your syllabus with you, and discuss your plans for due dates, when you will hold office hours, and when you will return graded assignments.
  • Remember to ask students if they will be traveling, taking other courses, interning, or working during the duration of your class. It is helpful to know what other commitments your students will have while they are taking your course.
  • Build a sense of community. Briefly get to know your students, and offer your contact information to them, so they can reach you if they have any questions or concerns before class begins.

Set your office hours for when you’re going to grade.

  • By setting your office hours during the time you plan to grade, you can create time for guaranteed availability to students. This also allows you to tighten your schedule, so you aren’t spending your entire day in front of the computer.

Have assignments due when you’re going to grade.

  • TLT internal research has shown students complete 80 percent of their coursework for online classes during the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. because they have other commitments during normal working hours. Because of this, it is helpful to have assignments due after 5 a.m. or when you are going to grade. By setting due dates for when you plan to grade, you allow students extra time to complete work who may be interning, working, or have other commitments during typical workday hours.
    • Tip: Try to respond to student inquiries and return graded assignments to students within 24 hours of submission. This helps to build rapport with your students.

Provide a sense of predictability to students.

  • Arrange your online course so that the same items are due each week, such as quizzes on Monday, forum posts on Wednesday, and projects on Friday.

Assign forums.

  • Forums are an excellent tool in the online environment because they build community, encourage professional writing, and allow introverted students to shine.
    • Tip: Set parameters on discussions. Provide rules and thorough samples to students, so they better understand your expectations.
    • Tip: Add positive comments to threads to encourage contribution.

Provide interactivity to students.

  • Staring at a text-heavy computer screen becomes boring quickly, and because student engagement and interactivity can be limited in online courses, Dr. Crabb suggests faculty implement voice-overs with PowerPoint or deliver lectures with Adobe Connect or screencasting. With audio and visual enhancements, students are more likely to remain focused and interested in course material. This also helps students learn at their own pace and review as needed.
    • Tip: Do not rehearse your voice-over or video supplements. Students prefer imperfections because they help to make the lecture seem more realistic—just as it is in class!

If you are interested in teaching online courses and would like to learn more, contact Dr. Cheri Crabb with Teaching and Learning Technologies, at 336.278.5006 or

Image by Flickr user athlwulfCreative Commons licensed BY-CC 2.0

Sam Parker

Sam Parker is a Marketing Student Writer Intern with Elon University's Teaching and Learning Technologies.

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