online teaching and learning

Supporting Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning

How can institutions support excellence in online education? The question is one of paramount importance to all institutions with online course offerings, but it may be a particular challenge to residential, research universities, which are not necessarily designed with online education in mind. But Julie Schell, EdD, Director of OnRamps and Strategic Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin, is meeting that challenge. She is passionate about the way that course design can be used to foster excellence in online teaching and learning.

First, she explains that it is important that institutions not “use technology to take old methods and [scale them up].” For example, she notes that many online courses such as MOOCs may take pedagogical methods that work in the face-to-face classroom and uses technology to scale it up to reach a (sometimes much) larger audience. “That’s not supported by research,” Schell says.

Instead, she urges departments, faculty, and instructional designers to “think about who is the user and what…they need.”

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Legal Issues in Course Design and Delivery

In this article, we look at some practical ways for how to lawfully utilize the common types of materials used in course design and delivery. But first I must begin with the requisite disclaimer. The information contained herein is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice nor is it to be construed as the rendering of a legal opinion.

Who owns your course?
One way to think about course design and delivery is to break it down into its component parts. What is the body of knowledge or course content? What kinds of resources, books, articles, media, et cetera do you want to use? How do you utilize them in a manner that is copyright compliant?

Typically, the compilation of resources utilized in any given course is drawn from a variety of sources. We will look at those most commonly employed. We will do that by examining three common scenarios involving materials you create yourself and what happens to them if you leave your institution.

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Three Simple Ways to Energize Online Discussions

Online course discussions are routine in online and blended classes, and they are gaining popularity in face-to-face courses as well. Proponents of online discussions tout that their use can help with community- and relationship-building, can push students to go deeper with course content and demonstrate critical thinking, and can allow students to share their knowledge and previous experience with course-related concepts and ideas.

Although the use of online discussions is becoming more common, I frequently hear faculty express concerns and challenges they have with them: the time it takes to read and grade each post, keeping students interested and engaged with the forums, and wrestling with how much they as instructors should be participating.

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online courses

Rubric Options for an Online Class

Athletes are often “graded out” by their coaches after a game, and they always know ahead of time the exact criteria that will be used to grade them. An offensive lineman knows that he will be graded on the number...

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How to Make Online Group Projects More Effective

When we look at the value of collaborative group work, the research is clear: group work is beneficial to learning. It improves retention, critical thinking, persistence, motivation, satisfaction, engagement, time on-task, and the list goes on and on.

Now, these benefits are not unique to the online classroom. Collaborative group work is valuable whether you’re sitting in a face-to-face classroom or in an online classroom. But it’s important to remember that some of these benefits are uniquely suited for the online classroom.

Think for a minute about students in an online course. Most of them are sitting at home, maybe at work. They’re alone at a computer. It’s just them and the monitor. It’s not the most engaging atmosphere.

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Online Course Activities to Increase Student Engagement

I have learned that a few simple instructor activities greatly increase student engagement in an online course. Here are some of the most effective activities you can use in your courses.

Connect icebreaker discussions to content
The use of icebreakers has become widespread in online learning. But what kinds of icebreakers are best to use? My observations suggest that great icebreakers are those that pique students’ interest in the content while also helping them learn more about each other as whole people. For example, an icebreaker in a course about forensic biology might ask students to share an experience in their lives that made them think forensic biology is an intriguing field of study (their own experience, a film they’ve seen, or stories they’ve read).

The key is that the students begin to get to know each other through shared stories, but these stories are connected to the course content in ways that are personally meaningful to students. This allows the icebreaker discussion to flow into the content discussions that follow rather than create a space for “social chat” that is disconnected from the goals of the learning. Some students will immediately find peers they feel personally connected to through this story sharing. For students who are highly motivated by their relationships with peers, this gets the semester off to a great start.

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Top Online Course Design Mistakes

Although online education has been around for nearly 20 years, I still see a number of common mistakes among online course developers. Here are the top course design mistakes in online education and how to avoid them in your courses.

Too much content
When I hire someone to design an online course, I invariably get too much content. Developers will assign over 150 pages of dense, academic reading per week, along with websites and other resources. Covering all of this content would take far more time than can be expected of students, leading them to pick and choose what they think is important, not what the course developer thinks is important.

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Three Common Mistakes to Avoid When Teaching Online

Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that there is no significant difference in learning outcomes between online and face-to-face courses. But many students still report having a bad experience with online education because their instructor makes some easily identified mistake when moving courses online.

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Tweeting as an Alternative to Discussion Forums

There has recently been quite a bit of discussion on ways to use Twitter in education. But commentators have said little about whether Twitter offers advantages over traditional LMS discussion forums. Should the online instructor use Twitter instead of the tried and true LMS?

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Using Online Protocols for Discussions

After teaching online for a number of years, I grew weary of the normal “make an initial post, then respond to two others” discussions. Was there another way to engage students? How could I make discussions more meaningful and in-depth? Were there ways to ensure that all students had a voice in a conversation?

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