There are many things to consider when going online. Here are five considerations you should think about and decide upon.
Considerations for Teaching Online
Communicate with Students
Staying in touch with students is vital during any class changes, whether a planned absence or crisis impacting all or part of campus. Tell students about any changes in their schedule, assignments, procedures, and course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety and save you from dealing with individual questions.
Keep these principles in mind:
- Communicate early and often. Let students know about changes or disruptions as soon as possible, even if you don’t know all the details. Also, let them know when they can expect more specific information. Don’t swamp them with email. Consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes to in-class activities or updates regarding the broader crisis. For example, “the campus closure has extended for two more days.” What will students need to know related to your course?
- Set expectations. Let students know how you plan to communicate with them and how often. Tell them how often you expect them to check their email and how quickly they can expect your response.
- Manage your communication load. You’ll likely receive individual requests for information that could be useful for all your students. Thus, consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and send responses to everyone. Consider creating a discussion board or topic list titled “FAQ” in Canvas where you can answer common questions.
Distribute Course Materials and Readings
You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings. These additions allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.
Considerations when posting new course materials:
- Ensure students know when you post new material. If you post new materials in Canvas, you can notify students via the Announcement tool.
- Keep things phone-friendly. Many of our students use their phones to access documents. Consider providing PDFs, which are easily readable on most mobile devices.
- Note: Saving a document as a PDF does not make it accessible. (Please see our Accessibility Series tutorials and webinars to learn how to create accessible documents.)
Depending on your course, you may need to deliver some lectures to keep the course moving along. However, a 45-minute live lecture sprinkled with questions and activities can become grueling when delivered online without intellectual breaks. Here are a few suggestions to improve online lectures:
- Record in small chunks (segments). Even the best online speakers keep it brief; think of the brevity of TED talks! We learn better with breaks to process and apply new information. To aid student learning, record lectures in shorter (5-10 minute) chunks and intersperse them with small activities that allow students to process the new knowledge, make connections to other concepts, apply an idea, or make some notes in response to prompts. Smaller chunks also lead to smaller files, especially when using voiced-over PowerPoint presentations.
- Be flexible with live video. Lecturing live with Zoom or Collaborate is certainly possible, and it best approximates a classroom setting, since students can ask questions. But there is a chance that some of you students won’t have access to a fast internet connection, which can serve as a disadvantage to engage them.
- It’s not just about content. Consider ways you can use lectures to make students feel connected and cared about. These can include acknowledgment of current challenges, praise for good work, and reminders about the class being a community. Everything you might do in your regular class is useful here.
Foster Collaboration among Students
Fostering communication among students is essential because it allows you to reproduce any collaboration you build into your course and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some student-to-student online activity (e.g., Discussions) since students will be used to both the process and the tool.
Consider these suggestions when planning activities:
- Use asynchronous tools when possible. Having students participate in live Zoom conversations can be helpful, but scheduling can be an issue, and only a few students will actively participate. (Just like in a regular classroom.) In such cases, using asynchronous tools, like discussion boards, foster student interaction when used well. Frame slightly controversial or difficult questions that will solicit responses. Some effective strategies are to ask students to post reflections of learning or solicit areas of difficulty.
Assess Student Learning
It is relatively easy to give small quizzes to hold students accountable or do spot-checks on their learning. These quizzes might be ideal for keeping students on track during class disruptions. Providing high-stakes tests online can be difficult, and they place extra stress on students. Test integrity will be challenging to ensure.
General tips for assessing student learning:
- Embrace short quizzes. Short quizzes can be a great way to keep students engaged with the course concepts, particularly if you intersperse them between small chunks of video lecture. Consider using very-low-stakes quizzes to give students practice applying concepts – just enough points to hold them accountable, but not so many that the activity becomes all about points.
- Move beyond simple facts. It is good to reinforce concepts through practice on a quiz, but generally, it’s best to move beyond factual answers that students can quickly look up. Instead, write questions that prompt students to apply concepts to new scenarios, or ask them to identify the best of multiple correct answers.
- Check for publishers’ test banks. Check if your textbook publisher has question banks that can be loaded into Canvas.
- Consider alternate exams. Delivering a secure exam online can be difficult without a good deal of preparation and support. So, consider giving open-book exams or other types of exams. They may be harder to grade, but you can worry less about test security.