Best Practices for Teaching Online
Brown University faculty from the Online Pre-College Program worked together to establish a set of best practices for teaching online. These are consistent with those established in the field of distance education.
Engaging with Students
- When the class has started, reach out as soon as possible to establish communication channels. If the student has posted a bio to the site, comment on their interests. It is important to make contact with students as early as possible and throughout the course to give the perception of teacher presence.
- Check in on forums and comment daily. If students can tell you’re putting time and energy into forums, they will follow suit.
- To encourage deeper discussion, include a question for the student to research and answer when commenting on posts. Asking students to answer each other’s questions can be highly effective.
- If an activity is crucial to learning outcomes and is required, it should be incorporated as part of the students’ grade or completion criteria.
- As part of an initial assignment, ask students to describe how they will manage the course work and to detail any activities they engage in that may cause them to have difficulty completing work on time.
- Set expectations with students with respect to instructor response times. Indicate when you will be grading assignments, responding to email and posting to discussion boards. Also tell students if late assignments will be graded on the same or extended timeline.
Working with an Instructional Designer
- Instructional designers bring a focus on learning theory to the course development process. One key contribution is tying all course content and activities back to learning objectives and outcomes.
- Faculty are deep in the course content and have valuable classroom experience to inform the online course development. IDs bring the experience in learning theory and online methodologies.
- Faculty and instructional designer should develop a shared vision for the content/course -- this includes providing faculty with examples of how the content will be presented online.
- For subject areas in which the instructional designer has limited exposure or expertise, faculty may want to spend some time at the outset educating them on the course content.
- Prepare learning objectives and content overview before engaging with the instructional designer. This will guide the overall course development.
Challenges Faced by Online Faculty
- Students who don’t connect within the course are disheartening. In a face-to-face course, there are numerous ways to engage the student -- even taking the student out for a cup of coffee. In online learning, those opportunities feel limited.
- Without seeing students in person, it is more challenging to hold them accountable for on time submission of assignments. Students tend to submit assignments in batches rather than on a well-paced schedule.
- Written feedback is not always the most effective delivery method. It is sometimes more straightforward to discuss an issue with a student in person rather than via email or discussion forums.