The Practice of Good Teaching and Learning

“And in our rush to move courses online, we’re all too often putting innovation ahead of pedagogy.” (Ben-Naim, 2017).

smartWhat makes a course “smarter” in today’s terms? Ben-Naim (2017) believes that smart courses are not the ones jammed packed with impressive technology, they are the courses that use technology to enhance the practices of good teaching and learning.  Having information is not the only criterion for learning, therefore, just offering learners pages and pages of slides or reading materials doesn’t accomplish the goal.  Learning begins to take shape when a learner uses the information provided to do things.  You want to offer your learners the right tools (materials) to embark on a learning journey but you also want them to know what to do with the tools.  Most learners don’t get the opportunity to practice and develop skills if they only read a textbook or listen to a lecture.

Mastering a skill is different than having knowledge, and if your students do not need to be proficient at what you are teaching then you are only seeking to impart knowledge but if you expect them to develop a skill, they will need practice.  Include opportunities for practice in your course and offer ways for students to interact with your material in a meaningful way.

Asking questions is a great way to get students involved with course material. You can pose questions through a discussion forum, use a polling tool or create an interactive asynchronous collaborative activity using something like VoiceThread. Think-pair-share is another way to get students to interact. Ask students to think about a question or topic and then pair them with another classmate to discuss their ideas and eventually share their thoughts with the whole class to compare answers/views.  Case studies and problem-solving activities are other options for providing engagement and opportunities for practice.

What Makes a Smart Course ‘Smart’? by Dror Ben-Naim

Happy New Year!  It has been an icy start to 2017 but Welcome back

studentsThe beginning of the semester is always exciting for me.  It is a fresh start, a new group of eager students and a new day to try things a new way.  The first introduction to you and your course can really shape your class environment and student attitudes; “it sets the tone for what is to follow and can greatly influence students’ opinions about the course and the instructor for the remainder of the semester” (Periman & McCann, 1999, p. 277).

As you prepare for the semester think about defining your goals for student learning rather than defining content. What knowledge and skills do you want your students to learn? Focusing on student goals will help you determine the appropriate content, teaching methods, assignments, and assessments.  Remember some students are motivated by desire, to learn but others need extrinsic motivation; if you feel a particular assignment will be extremely beneficial then make sure it is factored into the final grade.  Many students will skip assignments that are only strongly recommended.

Add a personal touch to your course, create a welcome video to give students an overview of your expectations and give them guidance on how you run your course. If you are teaching online this would be a great way to explain the functionality and navigation of the course.  A welcome video should not be limited to only online courses, it would be beneficial for blended and traditional f2f classes as well.  The millennial student is very comfortable with video content.  A welcome video would be a great introduction to your course and to you and can be created easily with Kaltura.

For more information on adding video to your course or techniques for getting started, contact someone at learning systems


Winding Down

koalaAs the semester comes to a close it is time to reflect on what was successful and what elements of your course you feel might need some adjustments.  The semester has its ups and downs, usually starting to flatten during the middle but hopefully, you ended on a high note. What can you do differently next semester to have more of an impact on your students or reduce your own stress going forward?  Debbie Morrison (2015) outlines what she believes to be the “Five Pillars of Quality Online Education.”

Take some time before the start of Spring semester to analyze your course. How do you feel about the past semester?  What would your students say about their experience in the course?  Are there things you would like to improve? What is holding you back?

The National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity offers a “Plan Handout” to get you jump started for next semester. You can also consider participating in a workshop to learn new skills to enhance your online or hybrid course. But for now, take a few days to relax and enjoy some quiet time.  Give yourself a well-deserved break so you can come back in the New Year with a renewed sense of energy and excitement to start again.

Thanks for following us, TLTech will be back again in 2017 with more tips and links to help you in your quest for successful teaching and learning with technology.

Happy Holidays


The challenge you set for your students should focus on course content and building skill sets; it should not center around access to learning.  A great way to help your online students navigate your course material and stay on task is to use an Announcement Page.

The very first announcement your students should see on the first day of class is a Welcome.  This welcome can take the form of a letter, it could be a video of you explaining how the course works, or you could use screen captures in a video to walk students through the layout of various course components.  You should include instructions on how to get started, a photo of you (if you are not including video), and information on where to find important elements in the course.

Continue to use the announcement page weekly or more frequently if you choose to remind students of important dates or update them on assignment specifications.  This area mimics the first moments in your f2f class where you inform students of what will be expected of them in the coming week.  This small gesture goes a long way to not only direct the students and keep them organized but it will help to personalize the experience and let them know you care.

Eight Ways to Increase Social Presence in Your Online Classes

Features of the LMS

e-learningIt is possible to teach online without an LMS but the University has invested in Blackboard to standardize the look and feel of our online environment to make it easier for students to navigate.  The use of Blackboard should also streamline the process of constructing and maintaining courses for faculty.

Each feature of the LMS you plan to use requires some setup before your course can go live, but each subsequent semester, the setup gets easier giving you time to develop new material or try new features. Some of the basic features of Blackboard are:

  • Announcements
  • Syllabus
  • Lessons
  • Discussion Forums
  • Assignments
  • Blogs
  • Journals
  • Self and Peer Assessment
  • Wikis
  • Synchronous Collaboration tools
  • Quizzes/Tests
  • Gradebook

But there are more options available through building blocks and LTIs:

Think about how you can exploit some of the benefits of online learning, things that you could not easily accomplish in a f2f setting.  The online environment allows for more types of active learning, which requires students to participate rather than just listen and receive information.

  • You can include brief questions-and-answers in a video,
  • You could send students a survey the night before you meet either f2f or synchronously online, to gauge their experience with a certain topic,
  • You can integrate discussion forums about specified lecture topics,
  • You could use a Journal and require reflective writing.

Always set clear expectations and develop strategies to offer feedback for these activities.

Remember — technology is only effective with good content and pedagogical approaches used to share knowledge!

Familiar Principles of Teaching and Learning

professorBlackboard tools allow you to perform many familiar tasks, but your experience and knowledge as a professor are also invaluable when teaching online; if you do not think a topic or activity will work in a traditional classroom, you can be confident it will not work online either.

Other familiar principles of teaching and learning hold true in an online course:

  • Expectations must be clear for learners.
  • Ongoing, frequent, and open communication is vital.
  • What students do with content is more important than the content itself.
  • The ability to motivate students is as important as the instructor’s knowledge.
  • Quality teaching considers the student as an individual, not just the class as a collective.
  • Solid planning is rewarded.
  • Showing students you care makes all the difference.

10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching are outlined In a Faculty Focus Special Report –

If you have questions or would like more information on teaching online using Blackboard, contact us at

Creating an Environment for Learning


Technology becomes your classroom in the online environment. You do not have to be a technician but it is important to be able to help students through some of the basic functions of your course so the interface becomes transparent.

Make sure you are comfortable with all the functions of your course before students are invited to log-in.  Point students to the proper technical resources here at VCU, so they are armed and ready should they have a problem. Try starting the course with a “warm-up” activity that gives students the opportunity to try the different areas in the course that they will need to be familiar with. I use a scavenger hunt project that sends them through all the different areas in the course to collect items or participate in different activities.

It is difficult when you cannot see what the students are struggling with because you cannot see their screen.  Consider offering online office hours with a synchronous tool like Zoom so you can see what they are doing and how they are doing it.  There are many variables that students are dealing with when accessing the online course: internet provider, mobile vs desktop, bandwidth, etc.  Be patient at the beginning but be sure to have students test all the functionality of the course in the first week so technical issues can be resolved before you get into the meat of your course.


The Social Aspect of the Online Environment

istock_85828659_medium-e1469130351472It is important to help students feel more relaxed in the online environment; this can be achieved by mentoring and coaching students and by promoting personal interaction and group cohesiveness. Students are more likely to contribute online if they feel comfortable and as their contributions increase so does their opportunity to learn.


  • Quickly develop your online presence, so students know you are there and ready to help
  • Create and maintain a collaborative environment
  • Provide reinforcement with timely feedback so students don’t feel isolated
  • Create assignments and activities that improve critical thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, integration, and communication.

Things to remember

  • You and the student are unable to read body language in online messages so misunderstandings can occur.
  • It is important to make students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences, right away
  • You may need to find creative ways to get some students to participate
  • Create a non-threatening environment; whether students agree with one another or not everyone should respect each other’s opinions
  • Group work is not always met with enthusiasm; it is important to be creative and encourage collaborative learning.

Meaningful Interaction in Online Courses

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.