We bring our love for working collaboratively with students into the design of fully online courses. While teaching practice varies by discipline, here is some good advice to start with from our own faculty experts!
Kenneth Bray, C.C. Chapman, Sara Donaldson, and Leanna Lawter framed this set of best practices from their own scholarship of online pedagogy as well as their shared experience as teachers and learners online.
On this page
- Start with Learning Objectives
- Set Clear Expectations and Use Consistent Technology
- Be Yourself; Build Community
- Use Multiple Modes of Online Interaction
- Helpful resources
Start with Learning Objectives
What do you want your students to learn?
Content, your pedagogical beliefs and your passion for the subject are central… as they would in-an in person course
It is essential that all activities in your course link back to your learning objectives. Any assignment that feels like “busy work” by a student will distract from their learning, so be sure that each thing you ask them to do links to a learning objective.
Once you have learning objectives….
Create Learning Modules
To help students compartmentalize and feel more successful, break down your course into distinct learning modules by essential question or by topic. For example, in each module, there might be an essential question, a lecture, a discussion topic, and a quiz/assignment. This builds uniformity into your course and familiarity in expectations for your students.
As you frame your course don’t forget…
- Resources that you need to share with your students.
- Important information for students without connectivity or software that they might need for your course.
- Remind students to check for campus-specific updates and to think through how to continue to connect with advising and career centers.
- Share some tips prepared by Professor Sara Donaldson for Online Learning Success.
- Considerations for designing a “humanized” online space.
When students begin to conceive of themselves as part of a larger community, they are more likely to be motivated, be satisfied with their learning, and succeed in achieving the course objectives.
Instructors have the opportunity to design remote course materials to be as accessible as possible from the beginning. Wheaton has a variety of accessibility services that you can share with your students.
Set Clear Expectations and Use Consistent Technology
What do effective online learning environments need?
Clear expectations for communication, student work, and your consistent use of technology
Set Expectations at the Beginning
In addition to the syllabus in detail, communicate to your class what level of interaction and communication you are committing to and expecting from them. This should include establishing preferred modes of communication for both teacher and students.
Be clear on the amount of work that they should be spending in onCourse to be an active part of your class, in terms of participation, general communication, and proactive communication around issues/concerns.
Check-in with your students regularly and ask for feedback on what is and isn’t working early on so that you can adjust accordingly.
Standardize Your Due Times
Have a clear checklist for students within each topic/module in OnCourse. You might consider making all of your assignments due at standard times during the week and reiterate your deadlines in regular announcements. This also cuts down on confusion that can be caused if assignments are due at different times.
Be Consistent with Technology
As much as possible, our students are served best learning one set of tools.
Whether it is a combination of Zoom or Google Meet and onCourse you should be consistent. OnCourse is Wheaton’s chosen learning management system. The choice between Zoom and Google Meet depends on your course needs as these have slightly different features. Both allow for built-in security measures and recording. In terms of differences, Zoom has the option of setting up and using break out rooms which is useful for discussion or team based courses and Google Meet provides instant closed captioning. More information on using technology can be found on the Library’s website.
Alison Yang has produced a great visual for thinking about simplification, transparency and organization in online learning.
As you think about transitioning assignments online, particularly exams, consider this visual from Guilia Forthsythe.
Be Yourself; Build Community
What builds the most effective learning experience online?
You do! As does the community of learners (you included!) that you foster.
Be Present and Be You
When students can’t physically see us in our classrooms, around campus, or in our offices, it is vital that it feels as if we are still present and available to them. Be yourself and allow them to get to know you as a person, not just an instructor. Professor Sara Donaldson designed an infographic to summarize our presence online. And get to know them! Don’t forget that we have a global student population, so checking in during the morning and at night might be essential for your course.
Some quick tips for one-to-one connections:
- Let students request virtual office hours using e.g. Google calendar appointment slots.
- During the meeting, encourage students to share their screen with you so that they can show you their written work on their screen. You can also collaborate using Zoom’s whiteboard feature or GoBoard.
- Be accessible: make sure students know how to find your “office” by keeping the link to your Zoom or Meet in a central place on your onCourse site.
- If you are comfortable using online live chat, you may want to consider using Slack or Google Chat.
This also means active engagement and timely responses in onCourse, grading, email, and scheduled office hours. There are lots of ways to be involved, but the most important thing for students to know is that you are reading their work.
- For more information on the way you present yourself online, Jessie Borgman and Casey McArdle have written on this in Personal, Accessible, Responsive, Strategic.
Make Your Students Comfortable
When holding synchronous classes do not require your students to be on camera. They can ask questions via voice or chat. We do not know what will be going on around them when talking to us, so give them the options that make them most comfortable so that they can focus on learning first. Once comfort is established, you might consider encouraging students to see and hear each other live or recorded as research shows that their asynchronous discussions and feeling of being connected within the course increases when they have experience seeing and hearing each other.
Use Groups to Build Community
Use small and large group activities for low stakes assignments so that students can get to know each other and form relationships. This is vital if larger group projects will be part of your course. Both onCourse and Zoom have built-in group features that can be leveraged.
There are many ways to do this!
Consider new ways to structure your forums by scripting the roles of student participation. More information on scripting forums can be found at in Emerging and scripted roles in computer-supported collaborative learning. Computers in Human Behavior by Jan Willem Strijbos and Armin Weinberger.
Consider new technologies such as those Professor Sara Donaldson shared:
- Kami – Collaborative PDF and document annotation tool
- Flipgrid – Video based discussion tool
- Or consult the Teacher’s Guide to Technology 2019. A digital binder highlighting the potential uses of technology tools that is put together by Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy
Consider adding in some fun synchronous activities such as the set of ideas put together by Dr. Siva priya Santhanam.
Use Multiple Modes of Online Interaction
Is it a choice between synchronous and asynchronous learning?
One of the advantages of online courses is that they allow for different forms of engagement and interaction.
Combine Synchronous and Asynchronous
Because online learning attention span is short (some researchers estimate 20 minutes!) and our students each learn differently, a variety of modes works best.
The use of live meetings (lectures, discussions, group-based interactions, etc) with your class is encouraged, but these need to be recorded and shared. Share both video and audio-only recordings. This allows students with limited bandwidth the ability to still take part in any live sessions they may have missed.
If you do choose to do live meetings, remember that mandatory attendance in live meetings does not accommodate students residing in different time zones.
Encourage Asynchronous Interaction
Discussion forums are a powerful tool to get all students involved in their own time. These can be easily set up on onCourse forums.
Consider having students respond to each other. When choosing topics to start discussions, do so in a way that invites reactions, reflection, and personal responses. Use specific, structured questions, and let students know what you expect from their responses.
For effective discussion forums consider putting students into small groups and having the group “discuss” prompts within a single thread as this produces a much more authentic conversation than lots of separate threads.
- Flipgrid allow students to have asynchronous video discussions to help cut down on the amount of writing they do and allow students to show each other work (ie: I have STEM methods students show and compare their solutions to problem tasks).
If you are seeking collaborative knowledge construction, consider….
- “Virtual whiteboards” allow students to collectively place post-it notes, add drawings, circles, arrows, etc. Zoom has this option available in-house for live classes.
Three options for asynchronous collaborative work are Miro, Mural, and Stormboard, and padlet.
- Beyond virtual whiteboards, there are great tools for collaborative knowledge construction. Professor Sara Donaldson has curated some examples.
There is much more to learn! Here are three texts that offer a wealth of information on online learning that are available in ebook format from Wallace Library:
The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips by Judith V. Boettcher , and Rita-Marie Conrad
Online Teaching at Its Best : Merging Instructional Design with Teaching and Learning Research by Linda B. Nilson and Ludwika A. Goodson