Best Practices for Teaching Online

1. Learn the difference between online and face-to-face teaching.

In online courses, all instruction and collaboration are mediated by technology. When students "go to class," they open their computers and view web pages. Much, if not all, of the coursework is done asynchronously – at different times for different students.

Learn more about transitioning to online teaching

2. Create a Community of Inquiry.

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) model creates an engaged, powerful online or technology-enhanced course where deep learning and critical thinking are supported through three key elements: teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence.

Learn more about Community of Inquiry

3. Ensure alignment.

Alignment refers to consistency across all elements of a course. The information (text, videos, resources, etc.) should reflect the learning objectives. Clearly defined and measurable course objectives set the foundation for an aligned course. An aligned course can be mapped to link the objectives directly to the program goals and course description. To complete the alignment, all learning materials, assessments and activities should directly support course and module objectives. When all of these are aligned, students have the best chance of success. However, if students are assessed on skills they have not practiced, or on material not included in the course, they are likely to be dissatisfied and demotivated.

4. Apply quality standards to your online materials.

A great deal of research has been conducted on factors that make online instruction successful, and this research has been integrated into standards of quality. These quality standards focus only on how courses are designed – how the materials are arranged and what students are asked to do, rather than on what content is taught.

5. Enhance academic integrity.

Academic integrity is critical in online instruction, just as it is in the traditional classroom. It can be enhanced through online course design as well as through instruction:

  • Directly address the subject, defining acceptable and unacceptable behaviors (e.g., when sharing of work is acceptable). Tell students the penalties for violating academic integrity.
  • Request students to either write or endorse a pledge acknowledging your policies and maintaining academic integrity.
  • Use tools such as TurnItIn to identify plagiarism for major papers.
  • Use test proctoring software, and/or tools that lock down browsers and restrict the ability to copy-paste.

Learn more about Academic Integrity at Miami

6. Orient students to online learning.

All online courses should have an orientation to online learning.

  • Identify the level of personal responsibility of students in order to succeed.
  • List the technical, organizational and time-management skills needed to succeed.
  • Canvas training/resources for students
  • Download the Miami University "Getting Started" materials for students.
  • Describe the specifics of your course, including how to navigate, find resources and assignments, and communicate with you and fellow students.
  • Explain your expectations for online participation, communication and netiquette.
  • Iterate course policies such as academic integrity, working together, late work, etc.

7. Provide resources.

It is critical to let students know how to get help when they need it. Here are a few key resources:

8. Be warm, present, and responsive.

Your tone is critical to creating an environment in which students will push themselves intellectually and take the risk of being wrong. The online venue is "cold" in that it lacks the emotional content of face-to-face settings. You can create a warm tone by:

  • Using a picture of yourself in your profile, so students see you every time you post
  • Inserting short, self-recorded videos
  • Using (respectful) humor; you may want to identify it as humor, with words or symbols, and avoid sarcasm or put-downs
  • Using students' names
  • Complimenting the group
  • Showing emotion through videos, words or punctuation
  • Enhancing a sense of community by directing students to interact informally, such as using icebreakers in small groups. This can be especially important in the first part of an online course.
  • Invite a discussion early in the course about the way students expect one another to behave in the discussion forums, and summarize key features such as respect, clarity, critiquing ideas rather than people, collegial engagement, etc.
  • Supporting critical thinking and higher order learning
  • Enabling affective as well as cognitive learning

Students cannot see you teaching an online class as readily as they do face-to-face. It is only possible to maintain a close connection and sense of presence if you are often visible in the online class.

  • Go into your course at least five days each week. Let students know ahead of time when your "weekend" away from the course will be.
  • Post regularly in discussions; reading without posting will not let students know that you are there. Actively guide learning by commenting, asking questions and probing. When students post questions, answer quickly -- even if your response is to invite others to answer.
  • Create announcements at least weekly, whether with text, audio or video.
  • Providing timely feedback – weekly on discussions, and within a week for longer assignments.
  • Be transparent—in online courses, it is very helpful to let students know directly why you are taking the actions you are taking. In the absence of that information, students often assume the worst. Direct, simple explanations enhance presence, clarity and metacognition.

9. Lead discussions efficiently and effectively.

Leading asynchronous discussions in an online environment is very different from leading them in a traditional classroom, Because the environment and time frames are so different, the instincts and habits that lead to success in the classroom can create problems online. For example, allowing silence to build in a room creates a tension that students resolve by speaking up; in an online venue, they are more likely to become frustrated and leave the course. On the other hand, when an online discussion is engaging, students can spend far more time and dig much deeper into concepts and applications, without affecting the pace of your course. Read the articles below to learn how to create and lead effective online discussions.

Leading online discussions can be very time-consuming. Here are some tips to manage your time effectively:

  • Respond in the discussion forum when possible, rather than by email. This gets students turning to one place – the course – for help, and slows them to share information.
  • After the first few weeks, you can post less often as students share the facilitation role -- if you emphasize and reward that behavior.
  • Provide open-ended formative feedback weekly the first few weeks to teach them what kind of participation you expect, and then after your norms have been established you can provide only numerical evaluations.
  • Direct students to resources rather than explaining everything yourself.
  • Guide students to respond to others' questions, and to collaborate, compare, contrast, analyze and explain to one another

10. Engage and motivate students.

There are many ways to engage students and keep them motivated. Review these resources for some ideas: