Online Teaching Basics: what I continue to learn


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This is presentation was presented to the Koinonia Professional Development seminar group at the Princeton Theological Seminary on Wednesday, November 14, 2012.

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  • Thank you! Today I’d like to talk with you about my experiences in online education, including what I think of as the basics. These include online course development and course facilitation.
  • When I started at my college, I taught face-to-face courses only. There were no online courses at my college in any of the science departments, and I felt that the online education train was departing without us. Taking the initiative, I developed Earth Science to run fully online in 2009. Later, I developed General Geology, the first (and currently only) online science course with a lab offered. I’ve also developed our Survey of Oceanography course, which is only offered online. Since 2007, I have taught over 550 students in the online format. I have also served my college as the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Online Teaching Fellow since Fall of 2009 through the present. One of my roles as the online teaching fellow is to facilitate our Preparing to Teach Online course, which is an in-house training course for online faculty.What I’d like to talk about today are the basics I’ve learned as an online course developer and facilitator to help you all continue/begin on your online experiences. Please feel free to ask questions as they come up and to tweet any questions/ideas you have to #KPD12
  • Before we can begin any discussion of online education, it helps to start at the very basic. To get a sense of who we are, how many of us have taken an online class? (show of hands). How many have taught an online class? Overall positive or negative experiences?
  • As course developers and facilitators, it is important to recognize which type of course we want to offer or are facilitating. This is especially key for adjunct faculty looking to teach online classes, as the type of course can affect the work load required. As there are many varieties of online classes, I think a quick comparison of types is important. Review:Asynchronous versus synchronousClass sizeInstructor-led versus self-paced  role of engagement and interactionClosed versus open  registration and OERTraditional online course versus massive open online course (MOOC)Basic definitions: online v. blended v. web-enhanced
  • Not surprisingly, there are a wide range of attitudes about online education. Many who are doubtful and against it have no experience or no good experiences with the format. While there are plenty of negative arguments you might hear (see top of slide), my experience has been positive. Yes, the online is challengeing, both as an instructor and as a student, but its worth it. Students must be highly organized and motivated, and also be independent learners (they have to be able to teach themselves!). Because the online format has no standard meeting time, we cannot require them to log in. The responsibility of attendance is on the student. Ultimately, this format is great for many people, including full time workers, workers with alternating schedules (such as retail), shift workers, disabled students, students without transportation, students with childcare issues, and quieter/shy students. When I design my courses, I design for mature, motivated students and make sure that this is clear to the students from the get go.
  • Based on my experience as an online instructor and student, I’ve found a few basic qualities that stand out in the best online courses. They are highly organized from the basic course design to the level of detail in the instructions on assignments. The course is designed to be relevant to the student.... the student’s experience matters! The best online classes involve a high level of student interaction, instructor involvement and the students can expect detailed feedback from the instructor, including individualized feedback.So, the next question is often: “How do we make this happen?”
  • It is difficult to discuss how to be a good online instructor without looking at all the components required to create or build an online class. These three processes are course design, course facilitation and course improvement. If a course is poorly designed, not amount of instructor awesomeness will be able to overcome the course’s basic flaw. So, we’ll start with the important aspects of course design.
  • Course design is often the killer for many would-be online instructors. This is a time-intensive process that occurs well before the course runs. When we sit back and think about a course we want to offer online, we first need to decide what the general course design will be so we can understand how the online classroom will work. In order to do this, we need to understand the goals or outcomes of the course to make sure that we select a design (case-study based, discussion heavy, lab requirements, etc.) that works. This process also involves developing the learning activities and modules for the whole course and selecting a delivery mode (synchronous, asynchronous, class size, LMS, web tools, etc.) that will work best for the course. While the process of course design is huge, I’d like to share some basic ideas today.
  • How to create a course:Focus on the course competencies/outcomes/goals to determine the course objectives. Don’t teach beyond the competencies or leave out anything.Match summative learning activities for each competencies. Determine how much time is needed to reach the end point.Determine the steps leading up to meeting that competency, including learning activities and formative assessments leading up to the summative assessment. Focus on student’s time to complete, time required for instructor feedback and the amount and type of feedback received, and look overall at the types of activities used to focus on a balance of types.Determine how long that will take to develop and go through a quality review. Step back and be realistic... can you do it?
  • This slide provides a range of things to keep in mind as you are either developing an online course or updating an online course. Does it have a learning cycle built into each week or each learning unit?Are the activities student-centered, or are they mainly read and take a quiz?Does the course include offline activities, like connecting with the student’s own community in some way. For example, does the course ask the student to interview a professional in the field on a particular topic? Or are there elements of service learning?While it’s not appropriate for every assignment to meet the needs of every learner, does the course have variety, in terms of both assessments and activities?What types of interaction are required in the class? Are there student-to-student, student-self, student-content and student-instructor interactions included?In terms of facilitating the course, are there built-in spots to pull in students and spot where you must push out content?And can you create a course that creates evidence that a student participates in the learning activities--or do you only rely on 3-4 high-stakes tests? If you feel disconnected from your students and are concerned about academic integrity—ask more from your students. Remember, the research indicates that a bare minimum of 3 hours per week is required for lasting learning on any subject. While students may like courses that don’t ask much from them (and sometimes, it’s easier for us to give in to that pressure), learning anything requires time and effort. Consider whether your course encourages students to put in time and effort, or rewards them with a C even though they’ve not put in much effort.
  • Once we’ve designed a course, the next step is offering it and facilitating it. Course facilitation involves humanizing the course, managing communication, the online community and interactions and also the grading and feedback for the course. I’ll talk about each in turn. For instructors who are facilitating a course developed by someone else, the best recommendation I can make is to spend time getting to know the course before it begins. If an instructor manual is available, use it. If one is not available, make yourself a weekly to-do list that includes what you need to prepare each week before the week starts, what communication you need to “push” out of the classroom, what interactions you need to do during the week (like monitoring or participating in a discussion), the assignments which will need to be graded from the previous week and the type of feedback needed for each. Planning this out before the course will save you much time and headaches and avoid problems once the class starts.
  • One of the first components of facilitation is humanizing your classroom. Many naysayers of online ed say that online classes are impersonal. By adding personality to your course, you will be reminding your students that there is a real person teaching the course. We also humanize our class when we focus on building the online community, which must happen very early in the course. When students feel part of an online community, you’ll see an improvement in their engagement in the class and the material and in participation on group projects. The week before the class starts and the first quarter to third of a class should focus on community building. While there are many ways to build community and humanize your online course, there are three basic points that will make a difference: using profiles in the online classroom, being available/present in the online classroom, and using video blogs.
  • I use profiles in my “introductory activities” which occur one week before the class starts. Here, I’m showing my instructor profile in the Preparing to Teach Online course. I have students create their profiles using the native wiki tool in Blackboard (version 9.1). All profiles are visible to all students in the “Our Class Wiki” that I create specifically in my online courses for this purpose. I definitely share information about myself, including pictures and ask the students to do the same. Humanizing the class also helps me connect with my students and gives me insights to some potential challenges individual students may face (i.e. veterans, childcare issues, work/school schedules). I recommend having an ice breaker activity that requires students to read through each other’s profiles, too!
  • My next example on humanizing the course also ties in with course communication, another aspect of online course facilitation. YouTube was one of the first tools I fell in love with for the online classroom. Its free, easy to use and allows me to make closed-captioned videos. I use YouTube to create/share weekly blogs, mini lectures, field trips, and online tutorials. Here I’m showing an example of a weekly video blog (vlog) for my General Geology course. The video to the right is a duplicate so we can view the actual video within this presentation.
  • Another aspect of course facilitation is managing the online community. This includes dealing with student questions and demands, promoting the student interaction that was designed into the course, and managing group interactions. Some thoughts on each:Student Questions and demands:Use a class-wide “I Need Help!” discussion to make a class FAQ. Encourage students to try to answer questions for each other when you’re not available.Make sure students know your availability during the week and weekends, including response times for phone calls, emails and other communications. Be (realistically) available.Student InteractionsMake sure students know how participation in group activities, like discussions and projects, will be assessed. Use rubrics if possible.Provide reminders of what is required each week and consider having staggered deadlines for group activities.Make sure there is a range of interactions, including student-content, student-self (reflection) and student-student.Group InteractionsGroups are a great way to make a larger class feel small. Students won’t know there are others present if they work in smaller groups.Ideal size for groups 6-10.Pay attention to group interactions. Look out for personality troubles and also lack of interactions. If students don’t participate, those who are will complain to you.Small groups are ideal for discussions (ease of making connections between students) and wiki assignments (breaking up material to learn/present).Two tips for managing the online community are: 1) Decide what your role in online discussions and activities will be (active or background monitor). I don’t often partipate in discussions, but instead watch how they progress to avoid group issues and help students out by summarizing the discussions each week making sure to answer any unanswered questions when possible. 2) Use an “I Need Help!” discussion or FAQ to encourage students to help each other when you’re not available.
  • Here’s an example of the “I Need Help!” discussion I use in my classes, this one for General Geology. Note I’ve keep questions from previous classes (shown as anonymous) to help current students. This is done in a class-wide discussion using Blackboard’s discussion tool. Its accessible in the main menu of the course along with other help, including basic Blackboard help, our technology help desk information for students, student email help, and advising/academic help/services available at the college.
  • Communication is another key to successful course facilitation. Definitely email or mail out a pre-course Welcome Letter to your students so the know what the course expectations are, the time commitment required for the course, the course outcomes and how (and when) they can access the online course. Use both push (sent out to the student, hard to avoid missing) and pull (requires student to go to) communications. Think of push communications as those you send out from the online classroom, like individual and class-wide emails and pull communications as those stored within the Blackboard course, which require the student to log in and pay attention. Using both is key, as is using a variety of communication tools and strategies. Here are some I’ve used:Email – weekly emails sent out to students with updates on grading, reminders for special course deadlines or information.Phone – yes, the phone. Great for contacting students who aren’t logging in to the course or answering emails. Make sure they are still present. Many appreciate this effort.Skype – “pull.” Students can contact me with questions via Skype when I’m online. Great for quick questions, usually asked via instant message. Video calls great when students email you and say “I just don’t get it.” Pulling up the assignment on the screen and walking through it really makes a difference.Twitter – “pull.” Trying to use this more. Very popular for some students, but not for all. Vlogs – “pull.” Already mentioned, but a great way to post reminders and humanize the course.
  • Twitter can be used as a supplement for announcements, as some students will see these before they check their email. Great for quick updates, current events and additional resources. Not a Tweeter yet? Try it out! Get to know how to use hashtags, shortened URLS ( and how to be succinct! Also a great way to connect with other online instructors to see what’s new to online.
  • One problem you need to keep in mind as you design a course is the amount of grading and feedback you’ll need to make each week. I highly encourage having a variety of learning activities for both student interest and your sanity. Find a way to incorporate assignments which have auto-feedback, individual feedback and group feedback, making sure you have at least one assignment per week that students will receive individual feedback from the instructor.Major suggestion is to keep track of common comments you make on assignments. I save mine as word documents and then use them to copy/paste into my students’ individual assignments. For example, the students turn in labs for general geology as Word documents. I use the Track Changes feature to go through and correct their work, with the “common comments” file open. I can then easily copy/paste the detailed comment I need and add additional, personalized comments when necessary. I also love using screencasts to provide feedback to my students.
  • Screencasts, like those available for free with Jing or allow you to verbally record your comments and your computer screen. I use them a ton on student projects so they can hear my voice and I can highlight important points in the assignment they submitted. This is a great visual for the students and definitely humanizes my comments as they hear my voice instead of just reading text comments. I’ve also used screencasts for group feedback on assignments, including some which required looking at real time data. The visual just adds significantly towards helping the student understand the concepts.One potential drawback to a screencast is not having captioning. Neither Jing or screencast-o-matic have auto-captioning available, but you can upload a transcript. If you have a visually impaired student, you’ll need to make sure you also have a transcript available.
  • The final component of the online classroom is course improvement. Basically, any online course which doesn’t involve continued improvement will become obsolete. So, it is important to take the time to assess how well your online class works. Use student feedback at various points in the course to evaluate what is working and what is not. Mid-semester evals can be as simple as a journaling assignment. A final course survey is a must, as well, though you will want to make sure your survey is specific to your course (many schools have “standard” surveys that are not relevant to the online classroom). The instructor should also take notes each week on which learning activities and assignments work well and those that can be improved or changed completely. Remember, like our own instructor development, the process of course development is a continual process!
  • With that said, I know many of you are interested in resources for your own growth as online instructors. Three that I’ve found useful are listed here.
  • Thank you for your time today. Please feel free to ask any questions that you have. Additionally, if you have questions after today’s presentation, don’t hesitate to contact me!
  • Online Teaching Basics: what I continue to learn

    1. 1. Online Teaching Basics:What I Continue to Learn Jennifer Lewis November 14, 2012 Koinonia Professional Development Seminar Princeton Theological Seminary
    2. 2. About My College: Wisconsin Technical College System (1 of 16) Total unduplicated enrollment = 40,030 FTE=10,671 More than 140 Associate Degree programs and certificates Online offerings: • 7 fully online programs • 10 online certificates • ~208 unique online course titles; more than 400 online classes each semester. • Online class size 15-25.
    3. 3. About Me Started at Madison College 2007, teaching F2F No online courses in sciences, train departing Developed Earth Science (Summer 2009), General Geology and Survey of Oceanography Taught over 550 students in the online format CETL Online Teaching Fellow (2009-present) Facilitate Preparing to Teach Online course
    4. 4. What is online learning?From Wikipedia: “the computer and network-enabled transfer of skills and knowledge.”
    5. 5. Types of Online Classes Asynchronous versus Synchronous Small versus Large Instructor-led versus self-paced  Interactive versus passive Closed versus “Open” Traditional Online versus MOOC Online versus Blended (Hybrid) versus “Web-Enhanced”
    6. 6. Attitudes about Online Courses: Some Say... • Online is a “necessary evil” • Takes more effort & time for instructors • Isn’t compensated properly • Isn’t the best way to learn • Keeps students remote from instructors • Lacks credibility in the workforce My Experience... • Challenging, but worth it! • Flexible time means setting your own boundaries— priceless! • Is the best way for many to learn • Has potential to teach students great things that aren’t limited to a classroom. • Requires students to be independent learners. • The future is mediated communication
    7. 7. The Best Online Courses Highly organized (development) Relevant to the student (development) Student interaction Instructor involvement Detailed feedback
    8. 8. Processes Involved in an Online Class Design Facilitation Improvement Photos from Flickr by Bitboxer, Doyoubleedlikeme, and Ninja M.
    9. 9. Course Design Time-intensive process Occurs well before the course is offered What is general course design? How will online classroom work? What content will be covered? Learning Activity & Module Development Course Delivery Mode
    10. 10. Building an Online Course Using the Outline Method • Examine existing courseList Your Course Objectives • Plan for a new course • Audience experience level? Motivation? • Write down learning activitiesDevelop a Course Outline • Pick or update assessment methods • Generate a cycle for learning • Bullet each activity leading to assessmentAdd Bullets to the Outline • Balance one-to-online, one-to-many, etc. interactions • Remember feedback needs. Create a Timeline for • Are you quick with technology?Development and Quality • Can you ask for help? Review • Set regular deadlines for development
    11. 11. Does the course appeal to Aim for a flow various learning of activities styles? (prior What evidence knowledge, will document reading, learning? discussion, practice, assessment)Is there a mix of Things to Include offline push and pullcommunication? Keep in and online activities Mind Skip the read- Do you want a and-test “set” weekly routine. Focus schedule or on student- not? Include centered student- activities. student interaction.
    12. 12. Course Facilitation  Occurs while course is running  Communication  Humanize the course  Manage Online Community and Interaction  Grading and Feedback  Facilitating a course?  Get to know it!  Weekly to-do list for prep, communication, interaction, grading, feedback
    13. 13. Humanizing the Online Classroom Add your personality to the course  Profiles, video blogs, email, feedback, etc. Build your online community early in the course Use technology to your advantage Tools, Tricks & Tips:  Require students to build profiles  Be (realistically) available to students (Email, Skype)  Video Blogs (YouTube, TeacherTube, Vimeo)
    14. 14. Profile Example Create instructor profile, require student profiles and use profiles in an ice-breaker
    15. 15. Managing the Online Community Student Questions and Demands Promote Student Interaction  Discussions, wikis, group projects, etc. Manage Group Interactions  Ideal group size: 6-10  Great for discussions and wiki assignments Tools, Tricks & Tips:  Use an “I Need Help!” Open Discussion  Summarize weekly discussions and group activities
    16. 16. “I Need Help!” FAQ Example
    17. 17. Communication Pre-course Communication (Welcome Letter)  Course expectations, time commitment, outcomes “Push” Communication (Email, telephone, text messaging, etc.) “Pull” Communication (Video blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, etc.) Tools, Tricks & Tips:  Use a variety of communication tools and strategies  Social Media (Twitter, Facebook)  Video Blogs (YouTube, TeacherTube, Vimeo)
    18. 18. Twitter Example Post announcements for class, including updates, current events, additional resources 100 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom:
    19. 19. Grading and Feedback Use a variety of learning activities that balance auto, individual and group feedback Aim to give individual feedback on at least on assignment per week Tools, Tricks & Tips:  Word’s Track Changes feature  Store “common” comments  Screencasts (, Jing)
    20. 20. Course Improvement  Occurs after course ends  Use student feedback/evaluation  Use instructor feedback/evaluation  Continual process/cycle  Any online course that doesn’t involve continued improvement will become obsolete.
    21. 21. Resources for the Online Instructor The Sloan Consortium (  International Conference on Online Learning  Emerging Technologies for Online Learning  Webinars, workshops, certificate programs US Distance Learning Association (  Conference, webinars, publications Learning Times Green Room Podcasts (, Jossey-Bass)
    22. 22. Thank you!For more information…Jennifer Lewis,,Skype: jennifer.l.nielsen, Twitter: GeoJenLewis