April 3rd, 2015

Taking the Leap: Moving from In-Person to Online Courses


online instructor female

The landscape: You have taught a class in-person for five years and due to a variety of reasons you have the option to teach it online … next semester. You need to quickly transition your in-person curriculum into a creative and successful online course. Here are five steps to get you there.

Start by Chunking. Chunking refers to simplifying your content by breaking it into smaller, more manageable pieces. In thinking about the core elements of your units, you could chunk the content in many different ways to ensure a logical progression. The ultimate goal is to keep the work load about the same each week for students and offer a variety of learning tools and assessment within each unit.

Decide on Overall Structure. Course design, a critical element to any course, is crucial for online learning. It can make or break the class. A consistent and clear structure allows students to successfully engage with the material and meet expectations. Think about the overall structure. Outline the large picture content you cover each week as well as how you evaluate students. Will you have a quiz and forum each week? Do you give a small quiz each week and then a larger assignment or midterm and final? What are the point values? Decide on your changed point system. You will want to transition the course in two main ways: The first is the content (lectures, in class discussions, hands on work, etc.) and the second are the evaluations (pop quizzes, practice problems, midterm, and final).

Select your tools. Use the flexibility of your online environment to your advantage. In-person content can transition nicely to the online classroom if you select the right tools. For example, convert your PowerPoints to online lessons in your LMS or as well-organized handouts that students can print off and later reference. Class discussions can easily translate into an online forum with questions prompts by the instructor and a required number of responses by students to encourage and support dialogue. Here are some other examples of face-to-face activities that transition well to the online environment:

Class discussions → Online forums
Group work → Private group wikis
Midterms → Online timed quizzes
In-person peer edit assignment → Online Turnitin peer editing assignment
End-of-term study sessions → ‘Must know’ handouts for final study prep
Hands-on work → Interactive online tutorials
Worksheets → Interactive LMS lessons

Do you have a lecture that you absolutely have include in the online class? Take a video of yourself and provide a transcript of the content and captions to accommodate accessibility requirements as well as different learning styles. A key to remember with online learning is the flexibility of this teaching style. You can transition any instruction into something online.

Trades and Edits. Stepping away from the content is important. You will find that attempting to gauge the reception of new online material can prove difficult. Getting another eye on your online course can be of tremendous value. A trusted colleague or student (such as a teaching assistant or intern) would be the ideal impartial observer and could be added to the class as a guest. Also, consider trades. In our department we regularly discuss and trade content. (Example: Oh, you have a week zero unit for students getting used to the Moodle platform? Hey, how about I trade you my media evaluation unit for access to that?)

Stay Current and Journal. There will always be changes to make, from week to week during a live course and from semester to semester on the same unit. Keep a journal as the class progresses. If there are a lot of student questions on the same topic or assignment, it is a good bet directions need to be expanded or redefined. Make note of that for the next semester. Also, consider making available only the current unit for students as opposed to the whole semester. This gives you the flexibility to adapt future assignments and lectures based on the feedback from the previous unit.

Online teaching is an active and dynamic process. You will find that an online course with clear structure and considered content goes a long way to support the 24/7 access expected by online students. Set yourself up for success with a transition supported by chunking, thoughtful design structure, tool selection, peer-edit, and the ability to redefine future needs.

Jessica Harris is a librarian at Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa, CA. Sami Lange is a full time librarian and instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, Petaluma, CA.

  • Tracey

    This has some good advice, but the suggestion to put PowerPoints online often leads faculty to just record their lectures, post them online, and call it an online class. Faculty tend to think that the online version has to be exactly like the F2F one. I try to encourage faculty to use the online environment as an opportunity to innovate, try something different and think outside of the classroom. Too often, they torture students with hour long voice-over PowerPoints each week and then have their usual exams and a paper or two. A ppt can be a good study guide or reference, but it's often not the best way to being your design for an online lesson.

    • Tom

      This article agrees with you. In fact it invites faculty to NOT post powerpoints but to convert in to a more helpful handout or interactive online lesson.

  • Dana

    This article offers some nice, practical tips. I think we often rely too heavily on powerpoint, and then engage students less in active discussion or experiential learning. When I started creating courses for online, I began with the question: "what do I want the students to leave this class knowing about this subject?" Effectively, I started with the preferred or hoped for student outcomes and then designed from there. That way I kept the learning outcomes uppermost in my mind, and used this as a reference point to create many ways for students to learn and practice content, in live sessions, in asynchronous posts and discussion forums, and out of class activities. The other thing I thought about as I course designed was who the students would be- and what I know about our online students is that geographic diaspora brings increased diversity- of experiences, learning styles, educational backgrounds, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity. Being mindful of their diverse social locations and needs also contributed to varying the assignments to meet a variety of learning styles. This actually inspired me to think more creatively about course assignments, introduce more small group work to build connections and community, and add assignments that were not all written, but maybe asked students to "talk through" ideas to demonstrate emerging knowledge and competencies. It was time consuming, but I think this has also helped me reshape my pedagogical approach to teaching in a campus-based classroom as well.