Things to consider

Modern business man using smart phone and laptop computer in light loft interior, young hipster busy using smart phone at office desk, male student texting message on phone at wooden coffee shop table

The most obvious difference in online learning is the absence of the physical classroom; this completely changes how you interact with your students. Students will now be interacting with the lesson material on a variety of devices: smartphones, iPads, or computers. They could be learning on the bus, in their office, or at a coffee shop; the experience will be very different than the traditional classroom.

Communicating is much different in the online environment because you don’t have the benefit of reading a student’s body language, hearing the tone of a comment, or expressing words of encouragement with excitement. Your writing style will become important to your online course so you can offer clear, straightforward information. It is also important to anticipate questions in order to articulate instructions and help to clarify before students get frustrated.

The online environment is a very visual space, therefore, it is important to keep your pages clean and organized. Make sure your material is simple and supports clarity. Audio, video, or animation should be used when necessary but not just because you can.

The online classroom can be more flexible than the traditional setting. Think about how much structure you would like your course to have and build a schedule or timeframe that fits your needs.

Class participation happens in different ways; this can be used as a form of attendance or it can become a critical part of assignments depending on how you use it. Student discussions can reinforce lecture topics, or collaborative groups can be used for participation and for completing assignments. You can require synchronous or asynchronous communication/collaboration.

Tips from the Online Learning Consortium: <>

What should you be doing

timeIt is difficult to estimate exactly how much time is spent teaching; in a face-2-face (f2f) format you know that a class is 50 minutes but do you stay later to answer a question, how long does it take to grade assignments each week, are you creating new tests every semester? There is no exact accounting for time. The same can be said for the online classroom but probably to a greater degree; there is a rumor going around asserting that teaching online takes more time because of the initial front-loading of course creation but think about the time you gain not having to drive back and forth to class or find parking.

You should be logging into the course regularly, you can be checking in, working with students in online activities, initiating discussions, posting announcements, reading and responding to learners’ comments or questions. You should be adding to the experience continually as needed; you could spend 30 minutes one day and two hours the next, it will depend on the requirements you set for your students.  The flexibility of online teaching may make it seem like less time spent “in class” because you can grade while taking the bus home or holding a class discussion while sitting on the beach enjoying the sun.


Thoughts about teaching online:

  • Create/design the course – this really should be done before the course begins. It is very difficult to build and teach a course online especially if you are teaching online for the first time.
  • Develop an online persona, show your students that you are present and responsive, offer quick reminders, short video briefs, or personal notes about the material.
  • An advantage to online learning is that you can add to the experience continually as needed. You can adapt and add to the knowledge base as variations on topics emerge and updating course materials can happen on the fly so students can have the latest and greatest as you decide it is appropriate.
  • You should post announcements, upload new learning material, introduce new discussion topics, initiate learning activities etc., as needed.
  • Interaction is an important part of a successful online course, be prepared to post topics for discussion and require students to respond to not only your post but other learners’ posts as well.
  • Just as in a f2f class, you will need to offer feedback on assignments or assessments. The time spent should be about the same as it is in a f2f course but may take a little longer if you are typing rather than talking to the student. Feedback is extremely valuable to all students but it is especially important in an online environment.

Creative Ideas for Teaching an Online Writing Class


I was asked by a faculty member for suggestions on creative ways to offer a writing class online. These are some of the options I proposed. Please comment with any thoughts you have on successful techniques for teaching writing online.

One option would be to offer a synchronous session using something like Bb Collaborate Ultra. Break the class into small groups and give each group several thesis samples. Ask them to work in their groups to decide if they are good or bad examples and discuss why.  Have them work together on a shared Google document to make needed changes to fix the poorly written statements (this document can be shared on the screen through Ultra so you can pop in and out of each small group session to guide the discussion if needed).

Student doing online class, moocThis can also be done without requiring a whole class synchronous session. You could provide the Collaborate link and tell students to organize their own group meetings to complete the assignment by a specified date. This option will not allow you to pop into the session to observe their progress unless they have notified you of the date and time they will be meeting.

Another option for an online synchronous meeting would be a writing challenge. Break students into small groups and have them competing against one another. I always find my students learn better by doing and they try harder if they are concerned that their work will be seen by the whole class. Someone mentioned the Thesis Statement Throwdown. This was done in a classroom setting but it could be reproduced in synchronus online session.

kaltura-type-meetingAnother option is to create short interactive videos with example thesis statements. You can show the document on the screen and include your voice explaining what is good and bad and why. You can then embed questions (Example: which of these statements is correct?) after they answer the question the video will continue describing which one was correct and why.

peer_review3Creating Peer Review assignments that require students to review at least 2 other student’s statements and make corrections where necessary is another technique. These could be posted into a discussion board so other students can read them.


blogYou could post several thesis statements to a blog in your LMS (good and bad) and require students to analyze each to explain which ones are good and why as well as which ones are bad and why.


Another technique would be to require a weekly journal reflection. These can be informal writing assignments that allow students to practice writing. You can view and make comments on these journal entries but you do not have to grade each individually. I would suggest grading the journal on overall effort rather than individual writing assignments. This is a good practice technique and it allows you to require writing that you don’t necessarily have to grade every week. You can just check to make sure they are on the right track, and comment when needed, but grade the overall effort at the end of the semester.

portfolio_secMake use of the portfolio function in your LMS and require students to compile all of their writing during the semester so they, and you, can view the progression.

Peer Instruction

3g-ipodWhat makes students in 2016 different?

Technology has been a part of their lives since birth. The class of 2020 was born the year that the 1st iPod was sold and the year Wikipedia came out.  Students are so engaged in the fast-paced Internet era that many find it difficult to switch gears when they have to study an issue that requires in-depth analysis and patience (Ehrlich & Fu, 2013).


How do we reach today’s student?

peer-instructionResearch conducted over the past few decades show it is nearly impossible for students to take in and process all the information presented during a typical lecture, and yet it is a tradition that dates back thousands of years and continues today (Hanford, 2016).  Dr. Joe Reddish, physics professor at the University of Maryland, has found that Peer Instruction works in his classes.  He encourages faculty to find ways to engage students in the learning process.  Required discussion forums are a great way to get a dialogue started. Teaching by questioning forces a student to think not just listen.  More Information on Peer Instruction


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