The most common complaint I hear about online teaching is that students do not get the same immersive, challenging environment available in physical classrooms. Online courses are often blamed for “watering down” the learning experience and allowing students to get easy college credit. Here, I offer strategies and suggestions for making online courses interactive and engaging. From instructional scaffolding and multiple media, to course blogs and video lectures, my experiences with online teaching have been very fulfilling and challenging. I would love to hear about other people’s experiences–successful strategies and lessons learned.
Read about my online teaching strategies in a brief report by clicking here (and opening the PDF file in your web browser): Teaching Business Writing Online (ENGL 420Y). Or just read through the final recommendation section of the report, which I copied below:
Recommendations for Future Online Teaching | After my first semester of teaching online, I have a number of recommendations:
- Uphold a Mental Rhetoric of Conversion | Conceptualize online courses as conversions of an original, face-to-face (F2F) experience. I highly recommend teaching a F2F version of the course before “converting” that course into an online experience. By teaching the course in person first, instructors can establish expectations for interaction, participation, writing, design, and teamwork that can then be applied directly to the online version of the course. While designing an online Business Writing class, it was essential that I apply the same expectations as my F2F class, but to utilize different media to help students achieve those standards.
- Make Your Course Site Clear | Use a consistent organizational scheme throughout your course site. In Blackboard Learn, I recommend creating unit modules under the “Course Content” tab. I release the second module only once we are completely finished with the first, and so on. Within each unit module, you can organize individual files, PowerPoints, videos, web-links (including embedded YouTube videos and SlideShare presentations), PDFs, quizzes, and assignments. By keeping all of the readings and assignments for each project together, students are less likely to feel lost or overwhelmed. For my particular course, I create a PDF for each unit schedule, which explains in detail the homework and due dates for that unit. Since we used on online textbook and an online course site, students sometimes felt confused about the location of their many homework readings. Therefore, after my first unit, I developed a consistent scheme for explaining the location of each reading in my syllabus. I now give procedural directions for locating readings using arrows, as follows: Blackboard > Course Content > Unit 1 > Project 1 Prompt.
- Involve Students Weekly | By utilizing instructional scaffolding, instructors are better able to monitor student progress and encourage regular involvement. By requiring weekly writing tasks (from responses to project plan memos to report drafts), students are less likely to drift from the class, procrastinate on projects, and face writing blocks. Weekly writing and responding also encourages the same (if not deeper) level of discussion-involvement by students.
- Provide Example Projects and Feedback | In my final evaluations, most students commented that it was extremely helpful to read example projects and my feedback on those projects. In my F2F classes, I often display examples on the projector and discuss with the class the strengths and weaknesses of the project. Without that direct interaction, it is invaluable to provide your online students with examples of the kind of the feedback they can expect from you.
- Reimagine Modes of Transmission | Perhaps the richest opportunity of online teaching is the constant need to reimagine the ways we deliver information and interact with students. During my first semester, I created vidcasts, slideshows, and PDF handouts; emailed revision suggestions; provided marginal and end-comments on digital drafts; and sent email announcements and updates. Other digital possibilities I hope to explore this semester include: audio feedback, video announcements and welcome messages, and more regular email interactions with teams as they write collaboratively online. Reimagining the possibilities for delivering and responding to our students is perhaps the most creative aspect of online teaching.