10 Tips For Teaching Online

Are you suddenly faced with teaching your class online?
Whether it is due to a planned migration to online, a sudden outbreak of a virus, or a last minute course addition, teaching online can be a very different experience.

As a teacher & professor who has been teaching online and serving a mentor to help others migrate to online education, here are 10 tips to make the migration easier.

1. Communication Is Key
While we all know that communication is key for teaching a class, your style is going to need to adjust. Many faculty are used to being able to lecture, lead discussions, and demonstrate during their class time. All of this is still possible online but will require a little more planning and adapting your expectations.

You will probably find yourself doing a lot more writing and including it in your Learning Management System (LMS). Make sure to include your expectations of your students and how they can reach you.

In the past, I have had some students that wanted to talk to me via phone. Others are fine with just email, text, or your LMS communications system. Remember to meet the students where they are and help them get to where you want them to be. My personal preference is to communicate via email. I did phone the student that wanted to speak to me one-on-one. He just needed to know that there was someone teaching the class.

Make sure to be a voice of confidence and reassurance for your students who are new to online learning, even if you don’t feel that way. Project confidence that they will be successful using online resources.

2. Record Your Lectures
Most of us are used to lecturing to share our accumulated knowledge with students. We might use the lectures to inform, demonstrate a concept, or to tell stories to help the students retain the information.

Websites like YouTube, Udemy, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning prove that this is a valuable skill and the knowledge you are sharing is very valuable. Now you just need to record your lectures.

Keep the lectures short; 5 to 10 minutes is optimal. It is better to have two or three (or four) short lectures than one long lecture. Students are much more likely to watch a lecture that they know is only 5 minutes in length. A long lecture will be put off until they have more time.

There are a variety of tools to create your lectures. I have listed some of the options at the bottom of this article.

If you have a lot of tutorials and lectures to create, I recommend hiring a student from digital media or journalism to help with the editing. Unless you enjoy video editing, this can save you a lot of time!

3. Schedule Online Office Hours
As you begin to teach in your fuzzy slippers, it is important to schedule times during your week when you will respond to student’s questions. Just as you have office hours when teaching face-to-face, be sure to offer the same for your students – virtual office hours.

I also recommend that you let students know how quickly they should expect a response when they send a question. Generally, 24 hours is recommended.

If you are fortunate enough to have a teaching assistant or tutor for your online class, make sure they have an appropriate level of access to the LMS system so that they can help you respond to questions or problems.

4. Be Flexible
Remember, you aren’t going to create a perfect online class right off. Give yourself permission to learn and improve your classes over time.

The same goes for your students. If this is your first time teaching an online class, this might be their first time taking an online class. They are going to have questions and concerns. Be flexible and understanding.

5. Be Clear In What You Expect
One of the first things learned in teacher education is that you need to repeat instructions multiple times in several different ways (usually at least three times).

Online is the same way. Students need to hear, read, and be able to ask questions about what is expected. It might be perfectly clear in your mind, but that doesn’t mean that they understand your expectations.
One way to help with this is the use of rubrics (more on rubrics shortly).

6. Create A Resource List
As students are learning knew things, it is a good idea to keep a resource list of articles, books, websites, and videos that help to communicate the idea.

You can either reserve the list for when students ask questions or publish it to the LMS so that it is readily available to help them get started.

7. Use Discussions To Spark Reflection
A keep part of all learning is conversation (Bruffee, 1999). Whether that conversation is internal, external, conducted in a face-to-face environment or online doesn’t matter. People need time to discuss and reflect on what they are leaning to help it become part of their knowledge.

Require either discussion posts or reflections to help your students assimilate the knowledge that is being provided to them.

Many LMS systems allow you to specify that each student must contribute their own thoughts on a topic before they can see other students thoughts. This helps to avoid copying and forces each student to create their own reflection.

For several classes, I have begun to setup a discord server. This has proven very popular with many of my students. It has sparked some great discussion and reflection!

8. Create A Wiki Or Forum
Get your students involved in creating resources for the class. I have frequently had students share that they have found a great outside resource. By creating their own resource system it will encourage your students to dig deeper and share what they have found.

Many LMS systems include a forum or wiki feature.

9. Send Regular Messages
This is critical and goes back to the communication mentioned in number 1. You must communicate with your students regularly. Let them know that they are not alone, trying to do this by themselves.

I send an email every week (usually on Monday) to each of my online classes, letting them know what I expect them to accomplish that week, upcoming projects that they should be preparing for, and how to best succeed in my class.

Keep the messages light, brief, and fun. Let it be a letter of encouragement. This can, of course, be in the medium of your choice. Some like text, others Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. I prefer email and announcements through the LMS. This reminds them to use the LMS and stay current. But sending a message regularly reminding them that there is content in the LMS is a good idea, just in case they turned of the notifications.

10. Make A Rubric
Posting a rubric for each assignment helps your students know what you expect and value in the assignment. It is worth the time and effort. One of the key benefits of a rubric is that it also helps you with grading. Whether you have a TA assist with the grading or grade the assignment yourself, most LMS systems integrate the rubric for the assignment, allowing you to quickly assign points for each category.

Bonus: 11. Ask Other Online Teachers
Many colleges and universities now provide centers to assist with online learning. Be sure to chat with others who are teaching online and share stories. Frequently you can learn from others experiences and make your online teaching experience that much better.

Bonus: 12. Put your TA & Tutors to work!
Your teaching assistant and tutors should be helping you! Get their feedback on how to make your material better and have them schedule virtual tutoring hours. They can use Skype, zoom, or Facetime, or one of the other communication tools to assist your students and help them through this period of adjustment.

Useful Software & Hardware
If you plan to record your lectures/demonstrations, here are some hardware and software suggestions to help you get started:

Camera and Microphone:
It’s no surprise that if you are going to record a lecture, at the very least you will need a microphone. While the microphone on a laptop will do in a pinch, I recommend getting a higher quality mic to record your lectures.
I have been using a Blue Snowball iCE USB mic for years and love it. It is perfect for recording a lecture or tutorial.

If you wish to include your smiling face in the lecture, then a camera will be needed. If you have a laptop, for most lectures and tutorials it will do the job.

However, if you like to move around or are on a desktop computer, you will need something nicer.
I use two different cameras depending on what I’m working on.
For simple recordings on my desktop, I use a Logitech camera that is mounted on my monitor.

For the fancy tutorials, I use a good DSL camera. This is much more flexible but does require more planning before you start recording.

Software (in alphabetical order):
Adobe Premiere Pro – For editing video, Premiere Pro has become the industry standard. It has a serious learning curve, so if you aren’t ready to commit time to learn to use it, go with something else.

Adobe Spark / Premiere Rush – Easier to use recording and editing. There is even a version for your smartphone.

Camtasia – Simple to use and very popular for recording and editing lectures and tutorials. With Camtasia you can do screen captures, talking head lectures, or inset your camera into the screen capture. Available for PC and Mac. This is the software I use on my PC

OBS Studio (open source) – This is the tool I recommend to my students (who have no money). Allows for screen capture.

Screenflow – Simple to use and very popular with the Mac crowd. When I’m doing screen recordings on my Macbook, this is the software I use.

What did I miss? Is there another tip that you would recommend for your fellow educators? Add your tips in the comments!

Brian Burton, Ed. D. has been teaching online for over 20 years and has served as a mentor and trainer preparing faculty for online teaching.

Bruffee, K. A. (1999) Collaborative learning. John Hopkins Press

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