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Instructional Methods: Online Teaching


Active Learning in Online Courses

As many of us have experienced, teaching online is more than simply teaching your face-to-face course virtually. While there are certainly classroom activities that can be translated to an online environment, the design of your course and how students interact with the content should take special consideration of both the limitations and possibilities of online teaching and learning.

Online Courses vs. Correspondence Courses

Regular and substantive student interactions - with you, with course content, and with each other - are what drive learning and success in the college classroom. In a virtual learning environment, these interactions are particularly important. Without these three types of interactions, an online course runs the risk of becoming a correspondence course.

In a correspondence course, the interaction between the instructor and student is limited, is not regular and substantive, and is primarily initiated by the student. Correspondence courses are typically self-paced.

Why does this distinction matter? While it is possible for students to learn from and thrive in correspondence courses, under the Higher Education Opportunity Act, students in these courses cannot receive financial aid. As a center for excellence in teaching and learning College of DuPage commits to offering distance education courses that provide regular and substantive interactions that engage and motivate students, create social presence, and support. student success.

Communicating Expectations for Online Interactions

Clearly communicating expectations to your students helps create an inclusive course climate and supports student success. In addition to clearly communicating your learning objectives, your online course should explicitly state how you expect students to interact with you, with each other, and with the course content. Click through the links below to learn more about these standards and to review strategies for refreshing your course.

  • Expectations for timely and regular feedback: What’s your timetable for responding to questions? What hours are you available via email? When will you provide feedback or grades on assignments?

  • Expectations for interaction: When and how often should students post to discussion boards? What guidelines or community norms should they follow in their posts? Consider providing models or examples of what successful interactions look like.

  • Expectations for assignments: Clearly state your course grading policies, including consequences of late submissions.


5 Principles for Effective Online Teaching

Effective online teaching combines awareness of course design with strategies for supporting learners. The principles focus on the interconnections between student success and teaching. Underpinning the principles is a focus on continuous professional development to support growth, adapt to technological innovation, and develop teaching strategies that support college students.

1. Effective online teachers are present within their course.

Community college students are more likely to come from underserved populations and are inclined to feelings of self-doubt in academic settings. When learning online, our students need to know they have an instructor who cares and is there to support them, and that they are part of a vibrant learning community. Effective online teachers mindfully cultivate their presence at the course level and one-on-one with students. These interactions foster a relationship based on trust, which is the foundation of a learning community.

This principle underscores:

  • Evaluating and incorporating digital tools to support the development of a learning community;
  • Providing a supportive environment for all learners;
  • Incorporating tools and activities to support student-to-student interaction and presence;
  • Using multiple tools to support instructor-to-student interaction.

2. Effective online teachers apply equitable methods to promote student access and success while acknowledging institutional obstacles.

Students find purpose in their learning process when they can connect with the instructor, and when learning objectives and the course content connect with their personal experiences. Applying equitable methods promotes student access and success while acknowledging institutional obstacles. This principle addresses learning barriers in the online learning environment and introduces effective practices to improve equitable outcomes across disciplines, moving us toward equity-minded online classrooms that are welcoming, supportive, and student-centered.

This principle enables:

  • Developing culturally aware course content and assessments, and inclusive pedagogies;
  • Supporting students as they navigate institutional expectations while enhancing their digital literacy;
  • Improving students’ sense of belonging and increasing engagement;
  • Building capacity for creating equity-minded institutions;
  • Aligning online teaching and learning to college success plans

3. Effective online teachers respond to student needs and use data for continuous course improvement.

Effective teaching is inherently dynamic. Each time we teach a course, present a lecture, or engage our students in a learning activity, we teach when we respond to student questions and feedback “in the moment.” Effective teachers use experience to modify a lesson from semester to semester. Great online courses are not simply copied from semester to semester without significant changes, or allowed to run on autopilot, but rather are taught dynamically and improved with each iteration.

This principle supports:

  • Applying student self-assessment to guide learning opportunities;
  • Using formative and summative assessment and course analytics to monitor student interaction and learning and responding appropriately; • Leveraging communication tools to support student success;
  • Developing plans for improving courses each time they are taught.

4. Effective online teachers teach and model ethical online interaction, while helping students develop digital literacy that will poise them for success. In the connected era, students will be most successful after college if they have a digital presence that promotes their unique abilities and strengths.

Online instructors are poised to play a powerful role in the development of our students’ digital footprint. Students aspire to be like their instructors who actively model safe and professional use of digital tools and resources. Effective online teachers understand that engaging students in the web is an important part of becoming digitally literate and, as such, learning is not tied to a textbook.

This principle emphasizes:

  • Developing one’s own professional digital presence;
  • Using and remixing digital Open Educational Resources (OER) to facilitate active learning;
  • Establishing a learning culture that promotes curiosity and critical examination of online resources while fostering digital literacy and media fluency;
  • Providing opportunities for students to create content that can be shared outside of a learning management system;
  • Fostering a learning environment that encourages students to connect with and learn from a global audience.

5. Effective online teachers recognize ongoing professional development is a central component of their success.

Because technology is dynamic, our understanding of the most effective and responsive means to connect with students must be as dynamic. Ongoing professional development, then, is a central component to effective online teaching.

Some ways faculty can meet this principle are by:

  • Participating in communities of practice;
  • Attending conferences focused on online teaching;
  • Engaging in ongoing professional development for online instructors;
  • Sharing in discipline-specific conversations about online teaching.


Resources from Learning Technologies

Preparing to Teach Online
Are you ready for the unique challenges of teaching online? We can help! We’ve got information, courses, support materials, videos, and more, all designed to help prepare you to teach online.

Setting up Your Blackboard Course
This Knowledge Base collections takes you through the basics of getting started in Blackboard and includes best practices.

Additional Resources

  • ACUE's Online Teaching Toolkit - Videos and resources covering: Welcoming students to the online environment, Managing your online presence, Organizing your online course, Planning and facilitating quality discussions, Recording effective microlectures, Engaging students in readings and microlectures
  • National Standards for Quality Online Teaching - The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching provide a framework for schools, districts, state agencies, statewide online programs and other interested educational organizations to improve online teaching and learning. The instructional philosophies, approaches and models for online teaching are practically endless. The standards are intended to provide guidance while providing maximum flexibility for the users.
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  • Last Updated: Sep 15, 2023 10:56 AM
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