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Online Pedagogy

Teaching online, to put it simply, is not the same as teaching in a face-to-face classroom, and therefore, requires some adjustment in the way you teach. If you are brand-new to teaching online, first see our Quickstart Guide to Online Teaching (and it's not a bad overview for all instructors).

Overview of Best Practices in Teaching Online

Although your content may remain the same as in your face-to-face class, the way you teach a course online requires a different application of good teaching principles. To put it very succinctly, an online course is one where students become active learners, responsible for their own learning, rather than passive recipients of knowledge. Of course, that has been the goal of traditional classroom teaching for some time as well, but in the online environment, by necessity, it can become more of a reality.

Thorough planning. It's not that you do not have to plan a traditional class, but online, a greater variety of elements must be preplanned before your course starts. For one thing, you need to be sure you can accomplish your learning goals in your Learning Management System (GeorgiaView in our case). So after you design an assignment, for instance, you must make sure it is possible to actually do it online. In a traditional class, you are much better able to "wing it" as you go along. And while we are on the subject, no matter how you put it together, be consistent in the layout and navigation. Each unit or week, for example, should have a similar outline and set of resources. Reducing confusion about what to do next is important in designing your course. Fortunately, Vista does a lot of that for you. See more about the basic elements of your course here.

Engaging students. One criticism of online higher education is that students miss-out on the educational community a campus provides as well as regular contact with professors. But while it is true that you do not have much, or any, face-to-face time with students, this does not mean you cannot create an online learning community and make meaningful connections with students. Learning how to make these connections is, in fact, an essential part of being a successful online teacher. Online students can feel disconnected from the instructor and other students if the instructor does not plan for good communication.

When you teach in a classroom, there are many ways to pick-up on how students are progressing with their learning. From the student who smiles and writes notes vigorously to the one sleeping on the back row, you get a lot of feedback about how the class is going. Online, you do not have those cues, and therefore, you must rely on other means to not only monitor progress but to connect with students and meet their learning needs. Frequent communication with students is one of the cornerstones of good practice in online teaching. This means you have to plan for these communications within the course as well as in your schedule. Learn more about communications.

A cornerstone of teaching online is the use of discussions. Online discussions can be a major part of the interactivity of your course and increase students' understanding of content and sense of involvement in the course. But building good discussions and managing them requires more than just posting a question for discussion. Learn more about using discussions.

Content delivery. The way you teach content online is different. You may be used to primarily lecturing in class to supplement students' reading assignments. But online, you generally do not want a lot of content delivered in lecture format as your exclusive method of "teaching." For one thing, it just gets plain boring to watch a lot of video lectures. The current thought is that getting students to use the information they get in your course—whether through readings, lectures, websites, or however—is an important method of teaching the material and keeping students interested (hence, the "active learning" mentioned above). So students may be required to read a chapter of a book and a document you put online; then use that information to complete a task. The task could be contributing to a wiki, participating in an online discussion about a subtopic from the readings, or any number of other activities. This "learn and use" approach not only accomplishes more in-depth learning ("application of knowledge"), but also provides you with other ways to assess students' performance in your class. Furthermore, a long line of educational research supports the notion that the more students are actively engaged in their learning, the more motivated they are and the more learning that takes place. The provision of different ways of learning also allows you to vary instruction according to students' learning styles.

Assessment. How you evaluate students' work in an online class is another topic of continued discussion and development in higher education. In general, it is suggested that you use as many different types of assessment as you can meaningfully incorporate in a course. Just as in a traditional class, not all students take tests well. A variety of assessments provides a clearer picture of how well students are acquiring knowledge and skills. Learn more about assessment and using rubrics for grading.

Other Resources

Here is a useful course you can work through on Best Practices in Online Teaching.

Here's a nice collection of teaching strategies from the University of Michigan.

Some guiding principles for teaching online.

Assortment of articles about online teaching and other faculty issues from Faculty Focus. A free membership is required to view complete articles.

An excellent article discussing nine principles for web-based teaching.

A rubric from Blackboard to help build and judge the appropriateness of an online class.

Discouraging Dishonesty in and online course (PDF).

Qualitative Assignments to Enhance Online Learning.

Nice blog by Joni Dunlap of Colorado on teaching issues