Teaching Online

Many people believe that online classes require less effort from both the student and the instructor. However, effective online teaching involves much more than posting files to Canvas and sending out a few emails. In addition, students must be aware of the increased accountability that comes with the flexibility of an online course.

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This page will help you gain a sense of what makes for effective online teaching, how students learn online, and what kinds of resources are available to you right here at the University of Kansas. We hope this information makes teaching online feel less daunting, but we also hope to communicate that this mode of teaching and learning isn’t as easy as many people believe it to be.

Online teaching resources

In The Excellent Online Instructor: Strategies for Professional Development, Palloff and Pratt claim that “there is a myth that has existed in the world of online teaching since it began. The myth asserts that it is easy to teach online—all one needs to do is move exactly what was being done in the face-to-face classroom into the online classroom.”

Although there have been technological advancements to learning management systems in recent years, Palloff and Pratt question whether these technological developments result in good online teaching: “technologies such as lecture-capture video and PowerPoint have made it easy for an instructor to lecture online, and simply writing up and posting assignments by copying and pasting into the course management system in use is not difficult. But can this be considered good online teaching?”

As you can probably guess, the answer to their question is no. Good online teaching does not stop at transferring material online. As Palloff and Pratt explain, there are several necessary changes that must occur for instructors to initiate a successful online learning environment:

  • The balance of power needs to change—the instructor online acts as a learning facilitator, allowing students to take charge of their own learning process.

  • The function of content needs to change—as noted by Carr-Chellman and Duchastel (2001), good online course design makes learning resources and instructional activities available to students rather than providing instruction in the form of a lecture or other means.

  • The role of the instructor needs to change—by establishing an active and strong online presence…the instructors demonstrate their expertise and guide the students in their learning process.

  • The responsibility for learning needs to change—with the instructor acting as guide, resource, and facilitator, students need to take more responsibility for their own learning process.

  • The purpose and process of assessment and evaluation need to change—traditional means of assessment, such as tests and quizzes, do not always meet the mark when it comes to this form of learning. Consequently, other forms of assessment, such as self-assessment and application activities, should be incorporated to assess student learning and evaluate areas for potential course improvement.

The following pieces of advice are helpful for the purpose of assessing learning in an online classroom:

  • Design learner-centered assessments that include self-reflection.

  • Design and include grading rubrics for the assessment of contributions to the discussion as well as for assignments, projects, and collaboration itself.

  • Encourage students to develop skills in providing feedback by providing guidelines to good feedback and by modeling what is expected.

  • Use assessment techniques that fit the context and align with learning objectives.

  • Design assessments that are clear, easy to understand, and likely to work in the online environment.

  • Ask for and incorporate student input into how assessment should be conducted.

As instructors, we should be wary of assuming that our students have mastery over technology. In Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology, Michelle D. Miller explains that “just because students are in their teens or twenties does not mean that they use technology as naturally as they breathe air. Many college students, even traditional-age ones, lack the technical skills needed to do online learning activities” (26).

In order to avoid confusion over how an online class functions, it’s best to include an early lesson in which you navigate through the various elements of the course. Students should not be perplexed with difficulties in finding their way through the course. As Miller points out, however, “having well-designed modules that show exactly how to use the technology is half the battle, but it’s also important to require that this content be mastered, much as you would for any other major concepts within the course” (27).

You can incorporate learning about technology into the course, and you can assess that learning just as you would any other assignment. For the students who struggle mastering the technology, be patient, contact them to offer support, and understand that both traditional and non-traditional students can find it difficult to translate their roles as students to an online environment.

Your primary access for assistance with teaching online is in the Center for Online and Distance Learning located in 4 Budig Hall. CODL hosts many programs and has instructional designers ready to help sort out the steps needed to transform courses, revise existing courses, and create new courses.

In addition to CODL, there is a page devoted to instructor resources for help with Blackboard. The topics covered on this page cover a wide range of issues, including quizzesSafeAssign, and discussion boards. We also recommend viewing their content accessibility page to make sure that the material you post online can be accessed by all your students.