CUR is excited to bring on Ashley Hagler from Gaston College to take over our 5-in-5 by offering up her top 5 tips on what has helped her with teaching online courses for the past 8 years. Yes, Ashley has been designing and teaching online courses for the past 8 years! These tips will help whether you are designing an online course as part of your typical semester course load, or as an alternative form of instruction due to unexpected circumstances.
TIP ONE: Organization and consistency are key!
- Whether you are breaking your course up into modules, weeks, or topics please be sure that you keep your layout and titles consistent.
- Make it easy for students to find what they need. You want students to focus on the content, not be frustrated by trying to navigate the online environment.
- Use folders and navigation links in your LMS to guide students to the correct item.
- Have assignments due on the same day/days each week. This consistency will help students more efficiently and successfully navigate the online learning environment as they will be able to plan ahead.
- Have someone else who is not familiar with your course try and navigate their way through and complete an assignment using the instructions that you have posted.
TIP TWO: Clear and frequent communication is essential!
- Be sure to detail all of your expectations upfront and provide a detailed course schedule for students from day one. Students want to know what to expect and by providing this type of clarity, it can ease some fears for the new online learner.
- Remember that you will need to be very specific in your instructions and announcements to students, probably more specific than you would in person. Remember that students will be encountering these instructions on their own, without you being present to clarify.
- Encourage students to ask questions about instructions and assignments. If you get the same question multiple times, it’s likely that your instructions were not clear enough. Post a group announcement to help clear up the confusion. If 5 students are asking, its likely there are another 10-15 that are just to scared to ask.
- Students who are taking an online course need frequent feedback from you in both individual and group formats. It is easy to forget to do this with online courses, because you may not see the students regularly. Be prepared for this to take up a significant amount of your time.
- You should be interacting with your online course at a minimum of once a week, but ideally more than that.
TIP THREE: Synchronous sessions are great, but don’t make everything synchronous.
- While we often think of synchronous sessions as the gold standard in online learning, and they are wonderful, please remember that many of your students may be taking the class online because the traditional format may not fit their life schedules. Also, some students (and instructors) may not have the ability to connect to a live session, depending on their internet situation.
- If you conduct synchronous sessions, it is best to record the session for those who cannot participate at the time the session is held.
- If you plan to require attendance at a synchronous session for a grade, it is imperative that you let students know the dates and times for these sessions from day one.
- Be aware of not only your internet connectivity but also your institution/third-party provider’s capacity for hosting synchronous sessions. The resources to conduct this type of instruction may be larger than you expect.
- Asynchronous instruction allows students to complete the required work on their timetable and may relieve some stress on your part and theirs.
TIP FOUR: Spend time becoming familiar with the technology you are using.
- Whether you are using just your institution's LMS, a third party’s website, or multiple technologies, be sure that you are very familiar with how they work and how to troubleshoot common problems. Some things you may be able to help the student fix and some may require outside help. If you are familiar with the technology that you are using, it is easier to make that determination and get everyone up and running again quickly.
- You also want to be familiar with the technology that you use, so that you can use it to best meet your needs.
- Do you want to record a video for your students to watch? Maybe use something like Camtasia or Screencast.
- Do you want to embed questions into an existing video (either one you create or find on YouTube) and then sync students’ grades on the questions to your LMS? EdPuzzle may be your answer.
- Want students to teach each other how to work a problem? FlipGrid may work well for that.
- Do you want to conduct live polling? Maybe use Poll Everywhere or Kahoot.
- Do you want to host a live synchronous session? Then maybe use Zoom/Loom or an LMS feature like Blackboard Collaborate.
- The possibilities are endless, but the technology is only as good as the user.
TIP FIVE: Be flexible and fearless.
- Have a backup plan or policy for when the technology does not work correctly, because it will happen!
- Your course does not have to be perfect the first time out. Try new things and then assess them. Find out what works and what doesn’t work, then tweak the elements of your course as you go along or for the next time you teach the course online.
- Look at it as an opportunity to continually improve and know that even if you are teaching in a more traditional format next semester, that you can still use what you have created in the online course to supplement your face to face instruction.
CUR thanks Ashley for her time and tips! We know these are valuable to our community. If you have any questions or comments, please write them below. If you are interested in volunteering to share your story or tips in a Five in Five video or blog, please contact our membership at firstname.lastname@example.org.