Three Lessons Learned: Redefining Course Preparation for Online Teaching

Woman talking on the computer with a headset and smiling

If you are teaching courses online, have you considered that the planning and preparation to teach online is markedly different than teaching in-person? Although higher education courses have been offered online for many years, the COVID-19 pandemic forced most courses to go online in a rush. Some of those courses have continued to be offered online and professors have realized the bulk of course preparation must be completed prior to the first day. Online teaching preparation is quite different than the traditional in-person course.  

As teaching professors during the pandemic, we had to learn not only to teach online, but to shift our preparation practices to best practices for online learners. At our university, we subscribed to Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Effective Teaching Model (1996), where one of its four domains focuses on planning and preparation. Additionally, we made changes to traditional in-person courses and our online courses based on the Community of Inquiry Model relative to higher education (Garrison et al., 2000). The model indicates that three things must be present for successful online teaching and learning: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence. We suggest that when you are preparing to teach online, thorough planning for these three aspects should occur before the course begins rather than predominantly during the semester, as is typical in traditional face-to-face classroom settings. We combined Danielson’s planning and preparation best practices with the Community of Inquiry Model to reimagine online teaching preparation. This perspective embraces knowing and valuing students, building responsive learning environments, and engaging students in learning, as outlined in the Framework for Remote Learning (The Danielson Group, 2023).  

Lesson one: Planning teaching presence 

At our university training during the pandemic, professors learned that enhancing flexibility for online learners involved making all assignments and activities accessible on the first day of class—this way students could work at their own pace. For instance, we offer a 400-level undergraduate literacy course to pre-service teachers. Our university uses an online learning platform, Desire to Learn (D2L). Students are required to complete online chapter quizzes based on the course objectives and textbook for the course within D2L. When the course was taught in-person, three tests were administered to students and evenly spaced throughout the semester. During the first semester the course was online, and we decided to offer 13 shorter quizzes. All quizzes were prepared prior to the start of the semester and open/available throughout the semester, this way students could take the quizzes whenever they desired. During that first semester, all quizzes were due on the same date at the end of semester. This design was assumed to provide our students with the greatest amount of time to complete the quizzes. There were no intermittent due dates throughout the semester. We noticed that some students waited for weeks to begin taking quizzes, which did not correspond with the curriculum and other learning activities. This approach also did not allow students to recover from poor performance.  

In subsequent semesters, we learned to balance student flexibility with test-taking by establishing due dates throughout the semester, as well as setting point deductions for quiz-taking after the due dates. The changes in our teaching preparation actually provided students with more options so that learners could begin reading and taking quizzes immediately, but also set specific due dates to keep students on track for success. Adding quiz due dates also provided students with grades and feedback earlier in the semester. Walvoord and Anderson (2010) and Wiggins (2012) suggest that a standard timeline to return graded work is five to seven days after the assignment is submitted. Online learning can exceed those expectations by providing students with immediate quiz feedback.  

Lesson two: Planning social presence 

Before the semester begins, we create a social presence by sending a welcome email and sharing a welcome message on D2L, accompanied with a link inviting students to view a welcome video from the course professor. Students are also asked to respond with their own video and share information about themselves. They can then watch their classmates’ videos and respond with a video or written response using Flip. Students engage with both the professor and peers before and during the first week of the course. This approach establishes a social presence within the learning environment.  

Students have commented that receiving the welcome email and seeing and hearing the professor helped alleviate new semester nerves and worries. Students’ comments to classmates also tend to provide linkages of similar interests or commonalities. One of the assignments in the course involved small groups of students working together. Because students have connected through videos, connecting with peers in class relative to coursework helps the flow.  

We also require students who work together on the group project to complete an online form documenting the specific work contributions of each group member to further an equitable social presence.  

Lastly, we monitor student log ins on the online learning platform. If a student does not log in for a few days, we contact the student to inquire about the absence from the platform. This contact informs the students we are noting online presence and monitoring participation in the course.  

Lesson three: Planning cognitive presence 

Part of the change in how course quizzes were delivered lies in the cognitive presence aspect, characterized by the extent to which learners can construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, 2000). Without regular quiz-taking, students do not receive scoring feedback, so instituting weekly deadlines for quizzes provided healthy cognitive discourse. Although we wanted to give students some flexibility with logging in and taking quizzes, we also expected our students to learn considerable information throughout the semester, which required regular feedback on quizzes. We settled on half of the quizzes due just before mid-term and the other half due near the end of the semester. We noticed that after the mid-term, students were more committed to a regular schedule of test-taking than the first half of the semester.  

We also made note of commonly missed quiz questions and posted further explanations and examples after quiz due dates. This demonstrated an ongoing cognitive presence by monitoring student participation and progress in relation to understanding the course curriculum and objectives.   

Conclusions 

By using best practices from Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (FFT) within the planning and preparation domain and combining those with the Community of Inquiry Model, which was specifically developed for online teaching, university professors can reflect on how our preparation for online teaching differs significantly from in-person teaching.  


Susan M. Sibert, DeAnna M. Laverick, and Kelli R. Paquette are all professors from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

References   

Danielson, Charlotte (1996). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching. ASCD. 

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6 

The Danielson Group (2023). The framework for remote learning. http://danielsongroup.org/the-framework-for-remote-teaching/ 

Walvoord, B., & Anderson, V. J. (2010). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment in college (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass. 

Wiggins, G. (2012). 7 keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10-16.