January 1st, 2009

Online Teaching Tips to Ensure a Productive New Year


Well, it’s a new year, and with it comes new hopes, new dreams, new possibilities…and, for online teachers, new courses and/or continuation of existing courses. While we can certainly do course adjustments any time during the year, the beginning of a new year is always a great time to do this, if only because it’s a psychological kickoff to doing things different and better.

By the end of a year, online teachers have spent many hours parked in front of a screen typing in bits and bytes to both inform and motivate a myriad of students. Typing chairs may have become a bit worn, desks a tad cluttered, offices somewhat askew, and our motivation—well, by the end of the year that once perky and full-of-sunshine motivation to greet and teach our charges may have waned and become drained.

Take a few minutes to consider the following online teaching tips to help you start out the new year revitalized, enthusiastic, eager, and just happy as hell to be teaching online:

Get yourself REALLY organized. When you consider all the parts of our teaching life—intimate knowledge of the online teaching platform(s) we use, student assignments to read and grade, admin emails and notices and memos to scan, individual student personalities and needs to cope with, professional development we must or want to do, etc.—not being organized can be extremely hazardous to doing a good job. Add to this the daily hemi-demi-semiquavers of our lives, and it becomes crucial to stay organized. Whether you use planners, software, file cabinets or cubbyholes, find a way that works for you.

Create a supportive teaching environment. Do you have an environment that fully supports your online teaching? From what’s on your desk to the seating height and comfort of your chair to computer configurations to accessibility of frequently used resources—the more these work with you, the better you will feel, no matter what time of day and how long a stretch you teach.

Understand all deadlines and responsibilities. Each school and each course has varied deadlines and responsibilities; multiply these by more than one course, perhaps more than one school, and you quickly can be overwhelmed. Make a master list of the “must-do” deadlines and responsibilities, then check it daily—you never want to lose control of what must be done and when.
Assess what went wrong or what was so-so last year. We learn and grow only when we correct, edit, fix, and build upon what we have done. I doubt anyone can look back at the past year and say, “Yup, everything I did was perfect in my online teaching—I just ain’t gonna fix a thing!” Start keeping a log of your errors, uh-ohs, and this-is-what-I-need-to-do-next-times: it’s the only way you can be really sure to develop a nearly perfect class the next time around.

Read all course evaluations from the past year. Yes, you’ll be reminded of what needs to be improved, but it’s also important to once again see the positives that students and/or supervisors have listed for you. A new year often focuses so much on correcting what was wrong that we forget about building upon or continuing what was right. Checking over your evaluations for your teaching strengths can remind you of an effective activity you did several months ago or positive teaching approach: all are good to keep your confidence high, remind you of what works, and stimulate new ideas.

Get “peripherals” ready for your students. Gather websites, articles, essays, photos, videos, etc. that support the subject(s) you are teaching. While they’re not required, these all help a course “come alive” so that it’s more exciting for you and your students.

Add one new activity or teaching approach this year. You may be satisfied with what is going right, but it can become boring to you and possibly your students, if you put it on cruise control. So add a new wrinkle or two to your teaching this year with an added activity, strategy, approach, etc.

Errol Craig Sull is a columnist for Online Classroom newsletter and has been teaching online courses for more than 12 years.

Adapted from Teaching Online With Errol: Make It a Productive New Teaching Year! Online Classroom, Jan. 2007.