September 19th, 2011

Tips and Tricks for Teaching in the Online Classroom


Online courses at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division are facilitated in eCollege in an asynchronous format. Below are tips for being more efficient as an instructor and improving the student experience in an online forum.

Acknowledge good responses publicly – Thank students publicly in the threads for submitting good comments. This will serve to model the types of responses you expect from other students as well as give positive reinforcement to the student.

Grade as you go – When reading a student response, make sure you are in author mode. Click on the pencil and pad icon to activate the grade book and start commenting on the student’s work. This is direct feedback to the student’s initial work stating that they were on track (or not) and covered all of the necessary terms and topics (or what you would have liked to see). You can uncheck share with student and use these comments as notes until it is time to grade.

Track changes – Microsoft Word has a commenting feature and a feature called “Track Changes” that allow you to enter comments into assignments that have been submitted in Microsoft Word. This is a good resource when marking up written student work.

Use the email icon in the threads to communicate with the student – This is just a simple way to have another “touch point” with the student. This can be used as a simple response before leaving actual feedback in the assignment threads by clicking on the envelope icon. An example would be, “Lori – wow, I can see that you put much effort into this thread. Thank you for this contribution!” A helpful time-management tool is to create a spreadsheet of “good phrases” to use when needed. These could be phrases used in the past that are general enough to get the point across. A program such as Texter is helpful here. Texter is a type of program that lets you save keystrokes for commonly used phrases. For example, if I created a special character such as “1HW” then hit a hot key, such as a space bar, the program will type a phrase such as, “Thank for the week one homework submission. Please see the attached spreadsheet with my solutions.”

Post emails to class as announcements – It is an unwritten law; students lose or delete emails. In the online classroom, repetition is the mother of skill. You will often notice that you repeat yourself. When sending emails to the class, it’s a good idea to also copy it into the announcements. If the information is really important, post it in a solutions thread or any of the main discussion threads. This way the students have many opportunities to see the information.

Use a Text Expander – Text Expander is a typing application that saves time and keystrokes by letting you assign short abbreviations to frequently used snippets of text. Reminders, phrases, or words that are commonly used in classes can be reduced to a short abbreviation that you can use whenever you need to. These can save you hours of time and frustration. Some popular Text Expanders include Breevy (PC) and Text Expander (Mac).

Embed videos or insert photographs – To make the online environment more media-rich, try embedding videos or photographs into the announcements and assignment descriptions to enhance the information. Photographs can also be inserted within the assignment responses themselves. The following tutorials demonstrate these methods:
Embedding Videos in the Classroom
Insert Images into Assignment Threads

Leave video feedback – More closely mimic a ground classroom by implementing recorded videos in your class. Jing is a program that allows you to record your screen image, including movements and audio. This is great for making visual markup critiques or demonstrating software techniques. Another tool for video feedback is VoiceThread. A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slideshow that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to navigate slides and leave comments. Group conversations are collected and shared in one place from anywhere in the world. You can also limit its use to just one presenter. This successfully creates a ‘group critique’ setting, or is a good tool for slide lecture discussions.

Jim Harrison and J. Diane Martonis have been teaching online courses for a combined 10+ years and have both contributed to Best Practices faculty workshops. Jim teaches primarily Accounting and Diane teaches Perspective. They are both full-time instructors for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division:

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