Online Teaching and Learning Best Practices

Create an online presence – Online learning is structurally more isolating than meeting in a classroom, so instructors need to be welcoming through the computer interface as well as structure learning and teaching so students can interact.

  • Inform students, more than once, in class and online about what communication methods you expect them to check and how frequently. Indicate how promptly/often you will respond to their messages.
  • Communicate weekly expectations of student engagement online (more than once a week is preferable).Cultivating a sense that you are present with the students in a meaningful if non-literal sense is crucial to successful online teaching.
    • The Announcement tool in Blackboard is a good way to reach out to students in your course and also gives you an option to send the announcement as an email so students see the announcement outside of Blackboard.
  • Provide a safe space for students to interact with each other.
    • Create discussion forums using the Discussion Board tool in Blackboard. Some examples would be to create an introduction forum where students can build a rapport with one another.  Create topic specific forums where students answer a discussion post inspired by that week’s reading, or surface questions that learners have around the material.
    • It is imperative that this is something you will have to manage and participate in so students feel the instructor’s presence throughout the course.

Structured delivery of learning resources – course materials should be in order, in a way that is understandable to students and in appropriately small ‘chunks’ or segments.

  • Create weekly folders organizing course materials.
  • Within these folders, provide links to external resources/content. Support your ‘lesson’ with PDF files, websites and media that support the content of your lecture.
  • Record longer lectures into smaller, separate video lectures, organized by topic, idea, or skill. By watching video lectures of less than 15 minutes each, learners are more likely to maintain focus and retain key information.
  • Similarly, when using PowerPoint slides, chunk the content. Consider creating segmented Kaltura videos using the slides where you can control the pace of the presentation.

Synchronous Online Class Lectures (Zoom) – Having students listen to a lecture attentively on a small screen can be challenging. Consider taking advantage of various features in Zoom to keep them engaged, such as Chat, or invited Q&A (using Raise Hand).

  • Keep your normal pace but check in regularly to make sure they follow the material and remain engaged.
  • When you are transitioning to a new topic, be sure to state clean, well-defined transitions.
  • Be more diligent about pausing and asking if anyone else has more thoughts before jumping to the next topic.

Focus on learning outcomes – Understanding what you want the students to know and be able to do once the course is over; even if you need to adjust the specific activities that contribute to those outcomes.  Keep students moving toward those outcomes.

  • Learning outcomes should be clear, measurable, and observable with a focus on the appropriate level of student learning.
  • Prioritize course activitiesand focus on delivering the ones with the most significant impact on learning outcomes.
  • Ensure that your assessments and activities are aligned with the learning outcomes.

Evaluation of students’ learning – Use the Blackboard tools (see below) to create authentic assessments that focuses on students’ ability to use skills and knowledge and apply what they have learned.  Think about which of your classroom teaching strategies translate well to an online delivery and which do not.

    • Clearly describe what needs to be completed in the assignment. Provide the tools students need and explain how to use them.
    • Provide self-assessment activities giving students opportunities to check their learning and for you to monitor your teaching.
      • Create pre-assessments at the beginning of each week or topic to gage a better idea of student’s prior knowledge on certain topics covered in your course.
      • Create a post-assessment at the end of each week or topic to engage students in reflection of the course material and how their understanding of the material differed from what they initially thought.

Provide clear and effective feedback – there are two types of feedback:  Summative, which can be a final grade on an assignment or assessment, and formative, where information is provided so students have an opportunity to improve their performance.

  • Provide students with strategies to use feedback for improvement.
  • Provide clear communication channels to discuss instructor’s feedback (Should they send you a message? Are you receptive to questions about feedback? How do you communicate this?)
  • Understanding how to use technology that delivers feedback. (Do students know how to access your comments in the grade center? In the journals?)
  • Some of the elements that make up effective feedback:
    • Clarity
    • Turnaround time is important. Feedback given after students have already moved on to the next topic or stage of learning will not be helpful.
    • Formative feedback must be provided in time for students to put the feedback into practice–to learn from failures.
    • Inclusion of strengths as well as weaknesses.
    • Opportunities for improvement (safe failure).