online teaching best practices
Online teaching is growing at a rapid pace. To meet the increasing demand of online education, many courses have been designed to enable the instructor to be more of a facilitator rather than an active participant in the classroom space (Ragan, 2009). However, building an active, student-centered learning environment in online classes is needed to prevent instructors from becoming stagnant and to motivate and inspire them to take on a variety of roles as the students’ “guide, facilitator, and teacher” (Ragan, 2009, p. 6). This article will discuss the unique needs of the online student and suggest three strategies to meet these needs through effective, innovative online instruction.
The majority of us teach the way we were taught growing up (Southern Regional Education Board, 2009). This presents a challenge for online faculty, who most likely received their education in a traditional, brick and mortar school. Online instruction is much different from face-to-face instruction. Over the past nine years, I have discovered four basic elements that contribute to being an effective online teacher.
Almost 25 years have passed since Chickering and Gamson offered seven principles for good instructional practices in undergraduate education. While the state of undergraduate education has evolved to some degree over that time, I think the seven principles still have a place in today’s collegiate classroom. Originally written to communicate best practices for face-to-face instruction, the principles translate well to the online classroom and can help to provide guidance for those of us designing courses to be taught online.
Developing an online course based on an existing face-to-face course requires more than learning how to use the technology and loading the material into the learning management system because, as Catherine Nameth, education outreach coordinator at the University of California-Los Angeles, says, “not everything will transfer directly from the face-to-face environment to the online environment.” This transition requires the instructor to rethink and reconfigure the material and anticipate students’ needs.
Years ago at a faculty meeting Larry Ragan, PhD, director of Faculty Development for Penn State’s World Campus, was trying to soft-sell the idea of performance expectations for online faculty. He didn’t want the discussion to be misinterpreted as an indictment against their teaching style, but he also saw an opportunity to share proven practices for improving the online teaching and learning experience. Finally a senior faculty member grew tired of the tip-toeing around the subject and said, “If you don’t tell us what is expected, how will we know what to do to succeed?”
Online teaching redefines the faculty member’s schedule. The feeling of being a 24/7 professor can lead to frustration. Managing one’s time as an online teacher can be a challenge. As the popularity of online education continues to grow, teaching faculty need to develop effective time management behaviors to be efficient and not just busy. Here are ten strategies I like to use:
Teaching any online class is time-consuming and can be a juggling act. The instructor must keep students engaged and motivated, adhere to a variety of deadlines, quickly answer all student emails and postings, react to in-class “emergencies,” stay on top of all school policies, and teach the subject in an easy-to-understand manner—while remaining a patient, upbeat, and constant presence through it all. This is no easy task, and while we each have developed approaches to help us, there is one often underused “tool” that online instructors can employ: the students in one’s course.
Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Harassment: Navigating the Murky Legal Waters of Online Teaching
If you teach online, here’s a simple quiz for you:
- Are you familiar with your college’s intellectual property policy?
- Do you know if you own the class material you have created?
- Do you have permission to use all copyrighted materials you use regularly?
- Do you know how to prevent defamation and harassment issues online?
- Do you have a disability expert on campus that regularly assists in the development of online materials so that you do not violate disability guidelines?
When we teach online courses there are many fundamental issues that concern us: knowledge of our subjects, teaching strategies, engagement of students, school policies, deadlines, grading and returning of assignments, posting announcements, and responding to students—the list goes on.
A survey of senior campus officials responsible for managing online and distance education programs revealed some interesting findings, including almost half of the participants not knowing whether their program is profitable.