Office of the Faculty Teaching Fellow

Recommendations for Teaching Online Courses

Course overview and introduction

Establish communication with your students early in the semester. In addition to the Campus Pipeline welcome message, create an announcement in your online class (regardless the educational platform that you use – Blackboard, Moodle, MyLab, etc. -  that tells the students how to begin the class and where to find study materials. This announcement should be specific and clearly explain to the student the first couple of expected activities. There are "Getting Started" documents for most systems. A link to one of these should be prominently featured.  If students don't respond in a reasonable amount of time, use Campus Pipeline to locate the student's preferred email address (yahoo, hotmail, etc.) and/or phone number.  If it is a student's first online class, sometimes the student is not proactive in contacting the instructor.  It may save faculty time in the long run by taking the extra effort to get the student on track early in the semester.  The welcome message might ask for specific information, like "windows or mac, broadband or dialup, ipod or no ipod" so that they have a reason to respond to your welcome message and you can glean some information that might be useful for troubleshooting later.

Clarify navigational instructions. Make sure that all the students in the class know how to navigate the web site and use all the critical tools of your online course. You can use a Scavenger Hunt type exercise and force students to explore the web site or design a quiz that covers the basic features and tools used in the course. With the adaptive release function you can force the students into satisfactory completion of the scavenger hunt or computer literacy exercise before they can open class materials. Establish a quiz, set the minimum score, and allow multiple attempts. You might consider taking the time to provide feedback to each quiz question to cut down on the number of multiple attempts. The first week's online activities should not be graded harshly - let students get comfortable with the course design, practice how to submit a quiz and/or assignment, where to find instructor's feedback, etc. Give a grade for participating and trying the online activities.

Make the first two weeks’ content and activities available at least two weeks before the semester starts. It allows students to see the structure of the course and helps them to decide if it is for them or not.  If the course uses a platform other than Blackboard, it might be a good idea to send this information at least two week prior to the semester.  This is particularly useful if students have to purchase a software license, download software, and/or establish an account.

Give the students your contact information (an alternative e-mail and/or phone number).

Conduct all class activities so that they take place in the online classroom, rather than by personal e-mail, phone, or Campus Pipeline mail.  Create a Q&A Forum and encourage students to post questions on the website where all students can see questions and answers about the class requirements/policies. Having a record of collaboration helps resolve any conflicts with participation. When some online activities take place outside the online class environment, the instructor has no proof of student’s participation if all the collaboration was done via hotmail and telephone calls.

Resources and materials

Develop a detailed course syllabus in accordance with the HPU requirements. The more detailed the explanation of online activities and class policies is, the better students understand what is required.

All instructional materials should be easily accessible to and usable by students (files and links are updated and work, save and upload your word documents as PDF files.

Integrate additional web, textbook, and library resources into the course Online students expect opportunities to explore beyond the assigned textbook(s), including faculty commentary, web resources, and multimedia. It’s important that students feel these additional resources are intrinsically valuable and relevant to the course. Faculty should provide guidance as to the appropriate use and purpose of all course content. Interactive websites that support course content can be fun and educational.

Provide resources and referrals as a way to offer personalized support and demonstrate concern. Include links to services such as the Helpdesk, Library Services, Center for Academic Success, Career Services, Advising, ADA requirements as well as appropriate books or Web resources. Help students become aware of free, publisher-hosted learning resources, such as online tutoring centers, student solutions manuals, or technology help.

Post materials and discussion topic threads on a consistent schedule, and give enough time for students to prepare.

Update your teaching materials on a regular basis.

Assessment and measurement

Include student learning outcomes (SLOs) that are measurable. SLOs are the most important factor in instructional design. What does the instructor expect the student to learn by the end of the semester? The SLOs help to design the activities, assignments, exercises and the results the student needs to achieve on each activity to meet the SLO. This helps the instructor to review the quality of instructional design at the end of the semester by analyzing measurable results for each of the activities. Almost each textbook lists learning objectives for each chapter which might be used to design SLOs – contact your program chair for guidelines about SLOs.

Align learning activities with all student learning outcomes, particularly those stated in the syllabus, and adequate practice should be provided to master them. Be explicit with students about the objectives for each assignment and also explain how the assignments are inter-related and build upon each other. This could be accomplished by explaining the learning outcome right before or after the overview of the assignment.

Clearly state the criteria or create rubrics/grading forms to manage student expectations on grading. For example, use the grading rubrics in the LMS.

Use a framework in which grades are distributed over a variety of assignments rather than establish grades that are heavily weighted in favor of just one or two exams or deliverables, especially when these are due only late in the term. This also has the added advantage of helping to reduce academic dishonesty. By giving the student a large number of smaller assignments with smaller point values, the incentive to cheat is not as great. This also gives you a foundation from which to identify abnormal performances.

Make participation in the online classroom a significant portion of the grade, and ensure that part of the participation grade is for responses and interaction with classmates, not just with the instructor. Discussion should be focused and task-oriented. Faculty should clearly communicate their precise guidelines and explain what constitutes participation. Establish precise guidelines that constitute participation.

Encourage students to take midterm and the end-of the course evaluations. Analyze students’ comments and suggestions and revise your course as necessary.

Be reasonable.  Technical glitches do happen, be prepared and explain to your students how you are going to handle those. If a student has an emergency, let her/him hand in work late; you can decide if you'll take points off or not or if you want proof of the emergency.  It's important to be flexible, because things do come up; not all students make excuses.   You can incorporate a late work policy on your own terms to avoid confusion.

Class interactions

A variety of learning approaches should be used, including whenever appropriate, small group and peer-to-peer activities, project-based assignments, case studies, role playing exercises and debates, problem-based learning, and multimedia-enriched presentations and resources. Through the use of collaborative work (class discussion, study groups, etc.) or public presentation of some assignments in the classroom, students are also able to develop a sense of a learning community. You can create private discussions for groups.

Each class should contain an optimum mix of three types of interaction. The instructional design needs to include interaction between the student and (a) instructor, (b) fellow students, and (c) the course content. The interaction between the student and the instructor doesn’t have to be synchronous, it can be done via the e-mail, individual feedback for assignments and/or quizzes, and class announcements. More feedback is needed early in the semester to set the class standards and establish the instructor’s presence. Student-to-student interactions could be accomplished as students respond to their classmates’ discussion posts and/or participate in the group activities. Student-to-course content interaction occurs when students take online quizzes, view lecture slides or notes, or visit additional web sites.

Start initial discussion topic threads for each weekly, subject or unit-based conference.

Specify how you’ll participate in the class discussion (respond to every student, observe without making comments, or summarize a discussion at the end) Participate in the class discussions (including the monitoring or participating in study group discussions as needed) a minimum of three, but preferably four times or more per week. Students don't know that a faculty member is reading their postings unless there is some indication in writing on the part of the faculty member. Frequent appearances, however short, do more to establish the instructor’s presence than do those at less frequent intervals.

Facilitate but don’t dominate the discussions. Ask follow-up questions and redirect to elicit responses from classmates. Faculty should be “visible” (even if in a minor way) in each week’s conference to let students know that they are “listening.”

Instructor’s feedback

Respond to all student inquiries in an expeditious manner (ideally within 24 hours but no later than 48 hours), even if it is just to let the student know that you are working on the issue and will get back to the student in due time. If you are going to be absent for any period of time, you should indicate the duration to the students.

Follow up with students who are not participating in the class. Use the View Performance report or Course Reports in the LMS.

Provide adequate and timely feedback on all assessments and especially on the first major assignment. Your feedback will help set expectations for students about future assignments. Assignments on which future projects depend should be returned as quickly as possible so students have plenty of time to make corrections based on your feedback that will carry over into the next assignment (e.g., annotated bibliography that will support a major paper) Comments and grades for individual work should be placed in the Grade Book in a timely manner as specified in the syllabus.

Provide feedback that suggests areas for improvement and growth as well as reinforcement and acknowledgement, pointing students to possible use of what’s learned in forthcoming assignments. Discuss grade, congratulate those who performed well, suggest ways to improve for students who performed poorly.

Maintain professional standards when corresponding with students. Carefully compose all electronic messages. Remember that your class discussion and correspondence is a permanent record.

Have an alternative way to communicate with students in case the primary educational system (LMS, Course Compass, etc.) is down.

Preventing cheating

Inform your students about and enforce HPU's Academic Honesty Policy.   Set clear expectations.

Design your course to minimize cheating. Consider using the Turnitin.com to avoid plagiarism, for example.