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10 Principles of Effective
    Online Teaching:
    Best Practices in
   Distance Education

       Featuring content from



          A MAGNA   PUBLICATION
10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching:
Best Practices in Distance Education
         In the traditional college classroom today, faculty and students arrive with a certain set of
         expectations, shaped largely by past experiences. And although students may need the occa-
         sional (or perhaps frequent) reminder of what’s required of them, there’s usually something
         very familiar about the experience for both faculty and students alike.

         In the online classroom, an entirely new set of variables enters the equation. It’s a little like
         trying to drive in a foreign country. You know how to drive, just like you know how to teach,
         but it sure is hard to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road, you’re not quite sure
         how far a kilometer is, and darn it if those road signs aren’t all in Japanese.

         This special report explains the “rules of the road” for online teaching and learning and
         features a series of columns that first appeared in the Distance Education Report’s “Between
         the Clicks,” a popular column by Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan, Director of Instructional Design and
         Development for Penn State’s World Campus.

         The articles contained in the report will help you establish online instructor best practices and
         expectations, and include the following principles of effective online teaching:
                 • Show Up and Teach
                 • Practice Proactive Course Management Strategies
                 • Establish Patterns of Course Activities
                 • Plan for the Unplanned
                 • Response Requested and Expected
                 • Think Before You Write
                 • Help Maintain Forward Progress
                 • Safe and Secure
                 • Quality Counts
                 • (Double) Click a Mile on My Connection

         These principles, developed at Penn State’s World Campus, outline the core behaviors of the
         successful online instructor, and help to define parameters around the investment of time on
         part of the instructor. In his articles, Ragan identifies potential barriers and limitations to
         online learning, and specific strategies to assist instructors in achieving the performance
         expectations.



                                                                                       Christopher Hill
                                                                                                Editor
                                                                             Distance Education Report




2    10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
Table of Contents
Establishing Online Instructor Performance Best Practices and Expectations ..............................................................4

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #1 Show up and Teach ..................................................................................5

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #2 Practice Proactive Course Management Strategies ....................................7

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #3 Establish Patterns of Course Activities ......................................................9

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #4 Plan for the Unplanned............................................................................11

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #5 Response Requested and Expected ..........................................................13

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #6 Think Before You Write ........................................................................15

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #7 Help Maintain Forward Progress ............................................................17

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #8 Safe and Secures ....................................................................................19

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #9 Quality Counts ........................................................................................21

Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #10 (Double) Click a Mile on My Connection ..............................................23




           10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com                                  3
is to show up in the designated

Establishing Online Instructor                                                       location, and conduct the course to
                                                                                     the best of my ability through to suc-

Performance Best Practices and                                                       cessful completion for the students.
                                                                                     The responsibility of the learner is to
                                                                                     meet the criteria for satisfactory
Expectations                                                                         course completion as measured by the
                                                                                     instructor.
                                                                                        The asynchronous online classroom
                                                                                     has little or no similarity to the
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.                                                           classroom experience. There may be
                                                                                     no “class schedule,” no meeting room
                                                                                     or physical location, and, certainly in
                                                                                     the asynchronous classroom, no
    was recently invited to conduct a      how to perform—I would offer

I   Magna online seminar based on a
    research project identifying strate-
gies to help faculty manage the online
                                           another interpretation.
                                             When we step into a physical
                                                                                     defined timeframe for operation. Even
                                                                                     the dynamics between teacher and
                                                                                     student is challenged because online
                                                                                     we can all appear to “be equal.”
workload. Apparently this topic hit a
                                                                                     Other than a vague sense of responsi-
nerve of concern for faculty, support
                                                                                     bility to “teach the course,” the in-
staff and administrators alike. The
response to the presentation
                                           One senior faculty, well                  structor has little definition of these
                                                                                     new and often ill-defined operating
suggested this was an important area       versed in the domain of online            parameters. The course instructor is
for further exploration and develop-
                                                                                     left on their own to figure out what
ment. The presentation generated           education, responded to my                constitutes a successful learning
many more questions than I was able
                                           approach by saying, “if you               experience.
to address during the program.
                                                                                        Many years ago I was in a faculty
  Helping faculty learn to survive and
even thrive online is critical if we are
                                           don’t tell us what is expected,           meeting and we were discussing the
                                                                                     issue of defining instructor perform-
to realize the potential of this new       how will we know what to do               ance. I was soft-selling the idea of
learning space. This column will be
                                                                                     defining these behaviors for fear of
my attempt to tease out the most           to succeed?” His point was                insulting our faculty. One senior
critical of the questions I received, to
                                                                                     faculty, well versed in the domain of
reflect and respond, and to share my       well taken.
                                                                                     online education, responded to my
insights on a variety of topics. I hope
                                                                                     approach by saying, “if you don’t tell
you will find it informative and
                                                                                     us what is expected, how will we
helpful.
                                                                                     know what to do to succeed?” His
                                           classroom we are stepping into a
                                                                                     point was well taken. Although we
Communicating expectations                 time-tested model with well-defined
                                                                                     assume that faculty know something
   During the presentation, I made         operating parameters. There is a class
                                                                                     of the face-to-face learning setting, we
reference to a strategy that an institu-   schedule and syllabus that tells me
                                                                                     cannot assume that knowledge trans-
tion can employ to help faculty save       when to meet with my class, for how
                                                                                     lates to the online classroom. It is our
time online. I referred to a document      long, and even the room location.
                                                                                     responsibility to provide the instructor
created at the World Campus as the         There are a set of familiar tools such
                                                                                     with the best definition of successful
“10 commandments” of faculty per-          as a chalkboard, a podium and
                                                                                     performance for their success and the
formance. Simply put, it is the articu-    seating for the students. There is also
                                                                                     success of their students.
lation of what our organization            an inherited protocol of classroom ex-
                                                                                        Clearly defining and communicating
expects from our online instructors in     perience—I am the teacher and you
                                                                                     the expected performance behaviors
order to ensure a quality teaching and     are the student. We both roughly un-
                                                                                     for online instructors saves faculty
learning experience. Although this         derstand the dynamics of the interac-
                                                                                     time because it eliminates uncertainty
may initially sound like a “heavy          tions of this arrangement. My
handed” approach—faculty being told        responsibility as the course instructor                 PAGE 5



4           10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
FROM PAGE 4                        In recent discussions around this        The approach I will take over the
                                            topic we acknowledged this is an          next several columns will be to
about roles and responsibilities.           evolving document based on what           expand on the 10 principles outlined
These suggested guidelines, based on        we and our faculty have experienced       in the document, providing a
best practices gathered through expe-       in our online activities. My intent in    rationale, identification of barriers
rience, serve as a benchmark for            sharing this document more broadly        and limitations, and specific strate-
faculty to gauge their online course        is to test our basic assumptions and      gies to assist instructors in achieving
activities and manage their online          refine our thinking. I welcome input      the performance expectations.
workload. The intent of the “Online         and insights into this document and
Instructor Performance Best Practices       know that it will evolve and change          Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
and Expectations” (or “10                   over time. Additionally, each institu-    Director of Instructional Design and
Commandments”) document                     tion or organization must review and      Development for Penn State’s World
generated by the World Campus is            consider how these expectations are       Campus. G
not meant to be all-inclusive but           interpreted within the operating
rather to define a baseline of online       context of their own online program.
performance.




Principles of Effective Online Teaching:
#1 Show up and Teach
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.


     n the previous article, I introduced   What we know about teaching in the        of activities for online instructors, and

I    the need to effectively define and
     communicate for instructors what
it is expected in the online classroom.
                                            classroom, good or bad, may not
                                            translate well online with somewhat
                                            complicated technologies, new social
                                                                                      help to define parameters around the
                                                                                      investment of time on part of the in-
                                                                                      structor.
This is based on the premise that, for      orders, and media-rich resources.           During a recent online faculty de-
many instructors, the online teaching       Without express guidance on what is       velopment program we engaged in the
and learning environment is different       expected of the online instructor, they   question of quality of performance by
from the face-to-face educational           are left to “figure it out,” leading to   the online instructor. One individual
setting. Often, instructors teach in the    frustrated students and probably a        expressed their understanding that the
face-to-face setting the way they were      less than desirable teaching experi-      online instructor should be available
taught. That is, they use similar in-       ence.                                     to the students 24/7. I raised a
structional strategies as instructors as      The “10 principles” of online in-       concern about this approach with the
those they engaged in as learners.          struction were developed by Penn          participants because I feared this
   This can be a good thing if they ex-     State’s World Campus to specifically      belief would inhibit good instructors
perienced sound instructional strate-       define the performance expectations       from getting involved in teaching
gies during their formative years.          of the online instructor. This            online. It was clear that, although
Most would agree however, that our          document attempts to create an ex-        well intended, asking the online in-
own learning came in educational            pectation of the core behaviors of the    structor to be available, that is online,
settings that were sometimes less than      successful online instructor, and         all the time was setting them up for
optimal. So, many instructors end up        serves to clear the air on how the in-    failure and frustration. We do not
repeating the same mistakes as their        structor can be most effective in         expect that dedication from the face-
professors. Now, overlay the new            teaching their online course. These
dynamics of the online classroom.           expectations establish a minimum set                     PAGE 6



          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com               5
FROM PAGE 5                     general, this is true. Whereas in the       and manage the learning experience
                                            face-to-face classroom the instructor       more than in the face-to-face
to-face instructor, and nor should we       may craft the learning as the class         classroom. Students may come to
expect that of our online instructors.      unfolds, the online classroom               depend on the instructor as their
   Principle #1: Show Up and Teach          generally requires more preparation         primary link to the course and
   “Students in an online course rely       and development time before the             demand more time and attention indi-
on the instructor to follow the estab-      event begins. If you think of the time      vidually since that attention is only a
lished course schedule and to deliver       it takes in both the face-to-face and       click away. One strategy often
the course within the scheduled time        online classroom as roughly equal,          employed by experienced instructors
frame. The online instructor is             you begin to realize one difference         is the use of a “frequently asked
expected to make schedule adjust-           between the two modalities is a shift       questions” section and well developed
ments as needed to manage special           in the time and energy it takes to          syllabus that addresses many of the
circumstances.”                             develop and deliver. More time may          course dynamics most likely to
   This may seem like an unnecessary        be spent prior to delivery of the           generate student inquiries.
statement of the obvious. The online        online classroom with more energy in
instructor is expected to conduct the       teaching once the class has begun.          The Role of the LMS
class from beginning to end and to          This approach creates a more stable           Most learning management systems
make adjustments when necessary in          and usually more enjoyable teaching         provide a rich array of tools that assist
order for the student to complete the       experience for the instructor because       the faculty in attending to the details
learning experience. However, the           they are not continuing to create           of course management. For example,
necessity of this statement is borne of     course material while also providing        reporting functions such as
the misimpression that the online           instruction. This approach however          summaries of student online activity,
class “teaches itself.” Since most of       also depends on the instructor being        participation in discussion groups and
the course is already authored and          an active participant in the online         completion of course assignments can
designed for online delivery, the in-       classroom managing the learning at a        easily be generated and tracked. It is
structor may believe they simply need       distance.                                   to the advantage of the online instruc-
to serve as the proverbial “guide on           Of all the responsibilities of the       tor to become familiar and competent
the side” as the students navigate the      online instructor, the role as              with the learning management system
learning system.                            “teacher,” however that is defined, is      in order to take full advantage of this
   Additional evidence of this belief       the most critical. For many, the design     capability.
was expressed early on in the devel-        and development of the learning               Ultimately it is the role of the in-
opment of online learning, when             space prior to delivery can be a liber-     structor to oversee the course from
some educators expressed concern            ating experience. For once, more            beginning to end. Not “showing up
that the online class could be “self        attention is placed on interacting with     for class” in the online environment
taught” and reduce the need for the         the students around the course              leads to confused and frustrated
instructor. Although there are courses      content than worrying about the gen-        learners. The online classroom
designed as self-instructed modules,        eration of tomorrow’s slide presenta-       requires diligent attention to course
this is not the predominant model for       tion or handout materials. Faculty are      progress. The face-to-face classroom
the effective online classroom. The         free to concentrate on responding to        provides a defined set of parameters
role of the instructor is actually more     student inquiries regarding the course      including time and location for both
important than ever before. The             content, addressing particularly            instructor and learner. The online
students are looking to the instructor      difficult subject matter or discussing      classroom does as well--the parame-
to serve as the guide, facilitator and      relevant topics in discussion spaces.       ters simply need to be communicated
“teacher” and the need for them to do       Many faculty respond that they enjoy        and managed for a successful learning
so is pronounced because of the lack        this aspect of online learning more         experience for both the instructor and
of face-to-face interactions.               than face-to-face because they can be       the student.
   One commonly held belief about           more efficient and more equally reach
the learning design and development         all students.                                 Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
of the online classroom is that the            The online classroom does however        Director of Instructional Design and
core teaching material, resources, and      have a slight drawback in this area as      Development for Penn State’s World
instructional strategies need to be in      well. That is, the instructor is required   Campus. G
place prior to the start of the class. In   to “attend” to the classroom dynamics


6           10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
face-to-face classroom, if they fail
                                                                                      they fail and it’s their own fault!” In
Principles of Effective Online                                                        most cases, online instructors use the
                                                                                      same philosophy toward managing
Teaching: #2 Practice Proactive                                                       the educational activities and partici-
                                                                                      pation as employed in the face-to-

Course Management Strategies                                                          face classroom. The level of oversight
                                                                                      and management of the educational
                                                                                      activities is fundamentally a personal
                                                                                      choice and reflects an individual phi-
                                                                                      losophy as well as the practical limi-
By Lawrence C. Ragan                                                                  tations presented by the educational
                                                                                      setting. The degree of course man-
                                                                                      agement must be balanced with the
    n the previous article, I discussed    gies include, but are not limited to,

I
                                                                                      time and energy available and
    the first expectation of instructors   monitoring assignment submissions,         demands of the course structure. It is
    teaching online as “Show Up and        communicating and reminding                also dependent upon the age and ex-
Teach.” The primary point of this          students of missed and/or upcoming         perience of both the instructor and
simple statement was to explicitly         deadlines, and making course               the learner.
define the anticipation that the in-                                                     Initially, a different level of course
structor actively participate in all di-   With a new course, new                     management by the online instructor
mensions of the online classroom.                                                     may be required. This instructional
Most importantly however, “Show Up         instructor and perhaps new                 oversight is necessary because the
and Teach” was designed to counter                                                    online classroom presents a signifi-
the misperception that, once created,      students, it will be necessary             cant shift in the understanding of
the online classroom can manage                                                       roles and responsibilities on part of
itself.
                                           to monitor and respond to                  both the instructor and the student.
   Since, in most cases, the course        student activity (or lack                  Also, the degree of course manage-
content has been created and stored                                                   ment will evolve and become more
in the learning management system,         thereof) more proactively.                 efficient with experience. The instruc-
some instructors may believe that                                                     tor will learn how to clearly define
their role of providing the course         progress adjustments where and             and communicate student expecta-
content is complete and therefore          when necessary.                            tions as well as define and communi-
their role as instructors in the online       NOTE: The term “course manage-          cate their own performance
experience is complete. Just as we         ment” can encompass many dimen-            standards. With a new course, new
expect in the face-to-face classroom,      sions of the educational experience.       instructor and perhaps new students,
the online instructor is required to be    For example, managing student              it will be necessary to monitor and
visible and active in leading the          rosters, assigning team structures,        respond to student activity (or lack
learning experience. The second ex-        grading assignments and submitting         thereof) more proactively. Through
pectation in the list describes the type   grades and taking discipline action        trial and error, the instructor will
of active participation required in the    can all be part of “course manage-         develop a sense of where and when
online classroom and speaks to the         ment.” For the purposes of this            to insert course management strate-
need for class oversight and               article, “course management” is used       gies that lead to the best learning
management.                                to refer to those activities directly      outcomes for the students positively.
                                           related to the teaching and learning          The challenge for the online in-
Principle # 2: Practice                    activities involved in the online          structor is to find the degree of inter-
Proactive Course Management                course.                                    action and intervention that works
Strategies                                     Now I wholly expect this expecta-      with the dynamics of their online
   The online instructor can help          tion to raise a few eyebrows and even      classroom. The goal is to structure
create a successful learning experi-       draw a knee-jerk reaction of “I expect     the course management strategies so
ence by practicing proactive course        my students to monitor their own
management strategies. These strate-       progress in the course, just like in my                  PAGE 8




          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com            7
FROM PAGE 7                   ment system can serve to identify          and improve the communications of
                                          students not keeping pace with the         expectations to the learners.
that the online learner is able to        course. An automated response may             With proper design, management,
control their own learning experi-        be programmed to remind those indi-        tracking and adjustments, the man-
ence. As may be expected, the more        viduals of missed assignments. The         agement of the learning activities of
actively managed classroom will           general course announcement tool           the online classroom can lead to a
place more demands of time and            can be used to remind all students of      rewarding learning experience for all
energy on the instructor. The expecta-    important deadlines or upcoming            course participants. The goal is to
tion that the instructor teach as well    course events. If the large enrolling      empower the online learner to take
as manage the online classroom can        course has multiple discussion             responsibility for managing their own
place additional responsibilities onto    spaces, other creative solutions may       learning experience and free the in-
an already busy online instructor. If     be required to monitor student             structor to concentrate their time and
the instructor is busy with sending       participation.                             energy on crafting a truly engaged
reminders to individual students                                                     learning experience. Watching and
regarding missed class assignments                                                   learning from others, using student
or project completion dates they may                                                 feedback, analyzing evaluation data
not be spending time responding to        The goal is to empower the                 and frequently asked questions can
inquiries and interactions around                                                    provide insights into where and how
course content. After the course has      online learner to take                     to improve the learning experience.
been taught a time or two, it may be                                                 Some are of the belief that the tools
helpful to reflect on the time spent
                                          responsibility for managing
                                                                                     and capabilities of the online
teaching the online class, the instruc-   their own learning experience              classroom can lead to a richer and
tor may reveal “time drains” of                                                      more equitable learning experience
classroom management that detract         and free the instructor to                 than the face-to-face classroom
from the primary role of providing                                                   because we can provide communica-
instruction.                              concentrate their time and                 tions to all participants. Certainly the
   There is an additional dimension                                                  opportunity exists to structure a
of this performance expectation that
                                          energy on crafting a truly                 learning experience rich in interac-
relates to the number of students         engaged learning experience.               tion, student-managed and focused
enrolled in the course. Low-enrolling                                                on addressing the needs of the
courses (under 40 students) enable a                                                 students in attaining the course
higher degree of instructor oversight                                                learning outcomes.
due to the student-teacher ratio. It is   The Key to Success
simply easier to monitor the activities      Regardless of the size of course en-
of 40 students than 400. These            rollments, the key to a successful           Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
courses are typically designed for        teaching and learning experience for       Director of Instructional Design and
more interaction and dialogue             both the learner and instructor is         Development for Penn State’s World
between course participants.              communication. Clearly defining and        Campus. G
Monitoring and managing student           communicating the expectations will
performance (or lack thereof) may         address the uncertainly of what role
happen by simply reviewing the            and responsibility is required of each
posting log or activity records in the    participant. The efficiency and effec-
learning management system. A             tiveness of this communication will
quick follow-up email can remind the      evolve with experience. Chances are
student of the required class assign-     it will not be perfect the first, second
ment, or missed homework.                 or maybe even third offering.
   In medium to large enrollment          Refining the course management is a
courses, a different approach to          continual “work in progress” that
course management may be required.        requires a commitment on part of the
Typically the course activity monitor-    instructor to carefully monitor, adjust
ing tools within the learning manage-


8          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
fact, some of the early marketing

Principles of Effective Online                                                        materials spoke to the ease of access
                                                                                      with phrases such as, “your degree is
                                                                                      just a click away!” and “earn your
Teaching: #3 Establish Patterns                                                       degree on your terms!”
                                                                                         For the traditional-age college
of Course Activities                                                                  student the draw to take a course that
                                                                                      did not require attending classes at
                                                                                      8:00 am Monday morning also had
                                                                                      great appeal. It seemed that everyone
                                                                                      could find a reason to like the flexi-
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.
                                                                                      bility of study based on one’s
                                                                                      personal schedule and needs. As it
                                                                                      turns out, the potential of the
      o far in this series we’ve           of work serves to define the bound-

S     defined several fundamental
      “principles” of teaching in the
online classroom. Number 1: “Show
                                           aries between the online class activi-
                                           ties and the rest of life.”
                                                                                      “timeless” classroom was slightly
                                                                                      oversold for the majority of online
                                                                                      coursework. Although there are ex-
                                                                                      ceptions, most online courses follow
Up and Teach" expressed the expecta-       One of the most challenging                a defined schedule of operation from
tion that the instructor, although not                                                start to finish.
required to be physically present in a     aspects of designing an online
                                                                                         One of the most challenging
location, be an active presence as the     classroom is working without               aspects of designing an online
teacher in the online classroom.                                                      classroom is working without the
Number 2: “Practice Proactive Course       the confines of time and                   confines of time and location.
Management Strategies," stressed the                                                  Although this may have great initial
importance of instructor engagement        location. Although this may                appeal to both learner and instructor,
in the online classroom and taking a
proactive role in managing the
                                           have great initial appeal to               the reality of this lack of operating
                                                                                      parameters becomes quickly evident.
learning activities in the virtual         both learner and instructor, the           Courses without time and location
learning space. This article focuses                                                  operating parameters can become
on one aspect of the online classroom      reality of this lack of operating          management challenges for busy
that benefits both the learner and the                                                students participating in online class
instructor, that of establishing the
                                           parameters becomes quickly
                                                                                      activities while still balancing the
pace and sequence of learning events       evident.                                   demands of work and family life. For
and activities.                                                                       the instructor, the lack of time and
                                                                                      location constraints can cause a
Principle # 3: Establish                   The Seemingly “Timeless”                   blending of class and non-class activ-
Patterns of Course Activities              Classroom                                  ities. Establishing a pattern of course
   “Although the online classroom en-        In the beginning, the online             activity and communicating this
vironment provides tremendous flexi-       classroom was seen as having               sequence to the learner enables the
bility of time and place of study,         tremendous advantage over a fixed-         learner to develop a plan of study to
establishing and communicating a           time course format. The “answer” for       address the requirements of the
course pace and pattern of work can        those busy adults who wanted to            course. This course schedule and
aid both instructor and student and        continue their education without           pattern also aids the instructor to
alleviate confusion of course              leaving home, work and their               contain the course-related activities
operation. For the student, an estab-      community was touted as “study at          to an appropriate duration and
lished pattern of course activities        your convenience, anytime and any          workload.
allows for planning and management         place!” Who could disagree with the
of other non-course activities around      concept of getting an advanced             Learner Benefits
their e-learning activities. For the in-   degree without leaving home or               In many ways, the operation of the
structor, establishing and communi-        needing to take a leave-of-absence
                                                                                                    PAGE 10
cating a course schedule and pattern       from the workplace? As a matter of



          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com          9
FROM PAGE 9                    class day is “over.” The temptation to        2.Use the syllabus or course infor-
                                           reach out and be available to the               mation page to communicate the
on-line classroom resembles the face-      online learner all the time is hard to          schedule of course-related activi-
to-face format more than it does the       resist when the laptop and wireless             ties.
independent learning model of the          computers make accessing the course           3.Use a dynamic communications
correspondence distance education          so easy. The very advantages of flexi-          method such as group email or the
class. There are set start- and end-       bility and freedom of choice regarding          general class announcement pages
dates. Tasks need to be completed and      where and when to conduct the course            to inform the class of unplanned
assignments submitted within defined       turns into a trap that makes the in-            changes to the course activity
timeframes. In some cases, an actual       structor feel the online classroom              schedule. If possible, describe why
synchronous event such as a chat           demands constant and ready access.              the change has occurred.
session, teleconference or webinar         The results can be an exhausted and           4.Provide the instructor “work
style meeting may be required. The in-     overwhelmed instructor, even when               schedule” informing students of
dividual learner may progress through      class size is manageable. As in the             the time constraints of your course
the course material and take self-check    face-to-face classroom, online instruc-         related activities. These may also
quizzes on their own but there are fre-    tors need to establish defined and rea-         be posted to the syllabus or
quently group projects, presentations,     sonable work periods where                      welcome letter.
and discussion forums requiring a          course-related activities occur. These
high degree of team-work and               work timeframes help to confine             Summary
cooperation.                               course work to a time frame separate          The many advantages of “anytime,
   The challenge for the online learner    from other life activities (such as         anyplace” education can also present
is to establish the discipline and time    family time and vacations!).                challenges for both learner and in-
management skills to keep paced with         Defining and communicating these          structor in time management and
the requirements of the online             work patterns also aids the learner in      operation. Establishing and maintain-
classroom. Some research has               understanding that the instructor “has      ing a predictable pattern of course
suggested, at least anecdotally, that      a life.” Although instructors are open      studies can serve the learner by
traditional aged learners and younger      to receiving emails and course com-         providing a foundation for planning
may be more challenged in the online       munications at all hours of the day         other life activities. For the instructor,
classroom because they have not            and night, the learner quickly comes        a defined schedule of class activities
developed these core skills.               to realize that the instructors’ response   can serve to prevent the class from in-
   A course with a predictable pattern     (except in cases of dire emergencies,       terfering with other responsibilities
of operation and sequence of events        of course) will be confined to a            and balance the expectations of
provides the online learner with the       defined timeframe. Both learner and         learners who may desire 24/7 access
structure they need to succeed. An in-     instructor fall into a comfortable          to their “virtual teacher.”
structional design model with consis-      rhythm of class-related activities. One
tent pacing and course activities          well-seasoned online instructor I know        Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
allows the learner more control over       shared with me that his students know       Director of Instructional Design and
their online learning experience. For      exactly when he is available and when       Development for Penn State’s World
example, if lessons begin and end on       he is not and they behave accordingly.      Campus. G
consistent days and assignments are
due on a regular schedule the learner      The Key to Success
can plan other life activities around        A few simple strategies for applying
these aspects of their online course.      the principle of establishing a pattern
Where the course structure deviates        of course activities include:
from an established pattern, early noti-     1.Establish and maintain a predica-
fication and reminders are helpful in          ble course pattern of course-
order to aid the learner in making the         related activities. This may include
necessary adjustments.                         such activities as “opening” new
                                               lessons, due dates and times for
Instructor Benefits                            assignments, schedules for syn-
  An unforeseen challenge for the              chronous activities and self-assess-
online instructor is knowing when the          ment and online quizzes/exams.


10         10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
the established patterns with the

Principles of Effective Online                                                        online learner serves to reduce the
                                                                                      stress and anxiety of pattern
                                                                                      adjustments.
Teaching: #4 Plan for the                                                             Life Happens
Unplanned                                                                                The good news and bad news of in-
                                                                                      structing in an online course is that
                                                                                      there are fewer technology-related
                                                                                      excuses for not being able to
                                                                                      continue the course operation. Travel,
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.                                                            either local, nationally, or interna-
                                                                                      tionally does not typically deter
                                                                                      course activities because a reliable
       he 10 principles of online in-      quirement for those who must travel        internet connection is often an

T      structor performance have thus
       far focused on proactive strate-
gies that ensure the instructor is
                                           and have a desire to continue the ed-
                                           ucational activities. The predictability
                                           and accountability of established
                                                                                      “internet café” away. With a little
                                                                                      preplanning, course operation can
                                                                                      continue without much adjustment
                                                                                      or interruption. The bad news is
visible and active in the online           patterns of course activities allow
classroom. Somewhat predictably,           both the instructor and student the        there is little room for “downtime”
this article addresses the need to                                                    for the online instructor! This speaks
communicate changes to the estab-                                                     to the need to consider the pacing of
lished pattern of course activities.                                                  the learning events during the time of
                                           Established course-related                 course design. Carefully consider the
Principle # 4: Plan for the                                                           cycle of course activities in relation to
Unplanned                                  patterns reduce stress and                 the length and duration of the
  Online learners look to the instruc-                                                required student activities, a.k.a.
                                           frustration on the part of the             homework, so that the pace is com-
tor as their main source of course in-
                                                                                      fortable and doable for both learner
formation and progress. If an              learner because they provide
instructor will be unable to log into                                                 and instructor.
the course for more than four              predictable patterns of                       Even in the best-designed course
business days (e.g., during profes-                                                   however, “life happens.” Little and
sional travel), the instructor is asked    activities.                                large surprises can impact the pace
to give one week's notice to the                                                      and pattern of the course operation.
students. In emergency cases, in-                                                     If travel schedules and special events
structors are asked to notify students     ability to plan and manage the             are known prior to the course
as soon as possible if they will need      learning sequence. Changes to these        offering, consider these events when
to be away from the course and when        patterns can confuse and frustrate the     designing the course syllabus. For
they will provide additional course        learner when not appropriately             those other small or not-so-small
operation information.                     informed.                                  occasions when “life happens,”
                                              In the online classroom, the in-        having and communicating a strategy
Creatures of Habit                         structor may be the primary link           for informing the students of these
   One of the touted advantages of the     between the learner and the educa-         changes can go a long way to main-
online learning space is the flexibility   tional institution. Established course-    taining course continuity. In many
it allows the instructor and the           related patterns reduce stress and         cases the interruptions may be brief
learner. Because in an asynchronous        frustration on the part of the learner     and simply change the due date of an
online course there are no fixed           because they provide predictable           assignment or limit instructor access
meetings times or locations, the time      patterns of activities. When these         for a few days. These types of course
of instruction or study is at the dis-     patterns change, either by planned or      adjustments are easily communicated
cretion of the participant. Although       unplanned circumstances, that all-         to the students via the announcement
all class participants appreciate this     important predictability is inter-
educational freedom, it is often a re-     rupted. Communicating changes to                         PAGE 12



          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com           11
message describing the interruption        concern should something more sig-
           FROM PAGE 11
                                           and when the course activities will        nificant happen.
page or whatever “all class” commu-        resume, alleviates the anxiety of the
nication tool is used in the course.       learner whose primary contact is           The Key to Success
   It is not necessary (unless you         through the course instructor.               A few simple strategies for applying
want to) to share with the students        Informing the students at the              the principle of establishing a pattern
what event has caused the course           beginning of the course, for example       of course activities include:
operation adjustment. Simply               through a brief statement in the             1.Develop and plan a communica-
informing the students of the change                                                      tions strategy for managing brief
with a definite “resume function”                                                         and more significant interrup-
date will allow the student to adjust                                                     tions to the course operation.
their course responsibilities accord-      Having thought through                       2.Communicate to students how
ingly. For example, when an                                                               course interruption information
unplanned event or travel may limit        communications strategies for                  will be communicated.
your ability to maintain course partic-                                                 3.Clearly define for the students
ipation, simply stating that, “Due to                                                     the nature of the interruption, the
                                           both short term and long term                  anticipated duration, any impacts
an unexpected change in schedule
plans I will be unavailable for the                                                       to course operation or activities,
next two days for ENG 101. Due to
                                           scenarios enables all class                    and when you expect to resume
my schedule change, the Lesson 4 as-                                                      course participation. It is up to
signment, Loop Design Schematic,           participants to manage those                   your discretion to define the
should be completed and submitted                                                         reason for the interruption.
by Friday June 20th.”                      times when schedules change,                 4.Arrange with a departmental staff
   There are times when life happens                                                      assistant, graduate or teaching
larger than a simple date change or                                                       assistant or colleague a plan for
                                           course adjustments need to be
schedule adjustment. In these cases                                                       managing for larger/longer
you may be unable to communicate                                                          course interruptions.
with the class members. Planning for
                                           made, and “life happens.”
these events can be more challeng-                                                    Summary
ing. If there is a teaching or grad                                                      For the online learner, the instruc-
assistant supporting the course                                                       tor may serve as the primary point of
delivery, they may be able to step in      course syllabus, enables them to           contact with their online learning ac-
and pick up the course communica-          manage their activities accordingly.       tivities. When that service is inter-
tions. In other cases, an effective        Additionally, providing contact infor-     rupted, confusion and anxiety may
strategy may be to provide the             mation regarding more long term or         arise. Having thought through com-
students an “emergency contact”            “larger” emergencies situations can        munications strategies for both short
such as a departmental staff assistant     also serve to reduce student anxiety.      term and long term scenarios enables
or colleague who has agreed to serve                                                  all class participants to manage those
as a point of contact for the students.    Instructor Benefits                        times when schedules change, course
Keeping in mind that in many cases           Having a prescribed strategy for         adjustments need to be made, and
the distant student cannot “wander         managing and communicating                 “life happens.”
around the halls” seeking informa-         unplanned schedule changes can
tion on the interruption to the course     reduce the “panic” reaction on the           Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
activities.                                part of the instructor. Clearly commu-     Director of Instructional Design and
                                           nicating to the students the method        Development for Penn State’s World
Learner Benefits                           you will use (email, text messaging,       Campus. G
  Knowing how changes to the               course postings etc…) to announce
defined schedule of course events          course changes provides you and the
will be communicated greatly reduces       students a predictable method of
the stress for the online learner when     handling such events. Having a
changes occur. An email, course an-        “back-up” plan for managing larger
nouncement page posting or phone           course interruptions can reduce your



12          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
with the departmental office to seek
                                                                                      resolution to an issue. In most of the
Principles of Effective Online                                                        research examining student satisfac-
                                                                                      tion with the online learning environ-
Teaching: #5 Response                                                                 ment, connectedness to the instructor
                                                                                      is frequently cited as the most

Requested and Expected                                                                rewarding and potentially most frus-
                                                                                      trating aspect of learner satisfaction.

                                                                                      A Reasonable Response
                                                                                      Timeframe
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.                                                               The challenge for the online instruc-
                                                                                      tor is defining a reasonable timeframe
                                                                                      for responding to student inquiries, as-
                                                                                      signments, or discussion postings. An
       he “10 principles” of online in-     how we do our work and play. With

T
                                                                                      instructor once stated that they fully
       structor performance have thus       the speed of our modems and penetra-      intended to be active and responsive
       far focused on proactive strate-     tion of broadband access, we have         to their learners by checking into the
gies that ensure the instructor is          come to count on an immediate and         course “at least once a week!”
visible and active in the online            ready response to our inquiries and       Needless to say, this response rate
classroom. This article discusses a         communications. We become annoyed         would be unacceptable to most partici-
“reasonable” time frame for instruc-        at the web site that takes too long to    pants when the entire online learning
tors in responding to student inquiries.    load or the colleague or family           experience may be only 14 or 15
                                            member that takes to long to respond      weeks long! In a course with a shorter
Principle # 5: Response                     to our email. It’s as though someone      duration, this rate or response would
Requested and Expected                      slipped a little note under our door      prove detrimental to student progress.
   Timely instructor feedback is            marked “urgent reply requested” when         Left to individual instructor discre-
essential for the online learner in order   we receive an email requiring a           tion, a “reasonable” response
to manage their learning experience.        response. Each email seems to be          timeframe may vary from 24 to 72
Instructors are expected to provide         marked “urgent!”                          hours. Depending on the nature of the
feedback to student inquiries within           Whether we agree or not on the         course, content domain, expectations
one business day. If the instructor         amount of time we expect until we get     of the audience, course duration, and
cannot provide a detailed response          a response, we have developed indi-       the support system provided, this
within one business day, the instructor     vidual “norms” for how long it should     range may be considered acceptable.
is asked to respond to the student          take before we send a second “gentle      Industry standards suggest a reason-
within one business day to note when        reminder” message or, finally in frus-    able response timeframe of one
a more detailed response will be            tration, pick up the phone and attempt    business day (24 hours) during the
provided.                                   a response via the old fashion person-    week and 48 hours over a weekend.
                                            to-person voice method! Don’t you         This window of response enables both
Expecting a Response NOW                    hate it when your inquiry goes unan-      the instructor and learner to establish
   Much of our academic and personal        swered within our expected time           a rhythm of interaction that supports
lives now include some dimension of         frame?                                    learner progress and is manageable for
information technology. It has become          A delay in the response rate for the   the instructor. It also implies that the
the expectation that we all have, and       online learner is complicated by the      instructor is attending to the course
use, email accounts and instant             fact that further progress in their       activities at least once per weekday,
messaging systems for connecting            academic work may hinge on the in-        and at least once over the weekend.
with our children. We are quick to          structor’s reply or feedback to an idea      Without clearly defined guidelines
use web searches for information            or question. In the case of the true      and expectations, instructors are left to
gathering before setting out for a          distance online learner, this delay of    determine their own standards leading
vacation or purchasing a large ticket       response is multiplied by the lack of     to wider variations between courses. If
item. The impact of these communica-        contact with the learning institution.    the online learner is participating in
tion and information tools is at first      The learner is less able to stop by the
                                                                                                   PAGE 14
subtle but quickly becomes integral to      instructor’s office or even to check in



          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com           13
why, after 4 hours, they still did not      of course activities include:
           FROM PAGE 13
                                             hear from their instructor. This              1. Clearly understand program or in-
several online courses, this can lead to     approach also defines the responsibili-         stitutional expectations for instruc-
frustration and aggravation as the           ties for the instructor and prevents the        tor response rates to student
student accommodates each instruc-           impression that they must be available          inquiries, lesson assignment
tor’s rate of response. A programmatic       24/7.                                           feedback or discussion postings.
or institutional standard allows a more                                                    2. Clearly describe for the learner
consistent expectation for both the in-      Learner Benefits                                what they may expect by way of
structor and learner.                           For the online learner, knowing the          response time. The instructor may
                                             defined response timeframe of the in-           also wish to define the course
Setting the Expectation Too                  structor enables them to plan and               “operating hours” and other
High                                         sequence their learning experience. If          special time-related course
  Some instructors view the rate of          the timeframe described will not                features. For example, posting a
response as a measure of the quality         suffice in a given situation the student        notice that Monday evening
of their instruction. The quicker they       may wish to seek alternative contact            between 6:00 and 8:00 pm EST the
respond, the higher they perceive the        with the instructor. A well articulated         instructor will be available on IM
quality. Although this is an admirable       response plan or protocol also                  for course-related consulting.
goal, it can also set up unreasonable        balances the unreasonable expecta-            3. Monitor student inquiries
expectations on the part of their            tions that the instructor is available          carefully. If similar inquiries are
learners. The old adage of “the              24/7 and will respond immediately to            received on an aspect of the
shortest time of response becomes the        every inquiry. The online learner must          course operation or content, it
longest expected” can set unreason-          respect the need for the instructor to          may suggest a refinement in the
able expectations on part of the             separate the course activities from             instructions, adjustment to the
learner. An often-told story to illustrate   other work and family responsibilities.         content, or additional clarification.
this point is of the instructor who,
working late one evening, responded          Instructor Benefits                         Summary
immediately to a student’s inquiry at          By providing a defined acceptable            For the online learner, timely
2:00 am. The student, of course, was         window of response the instructor can       feedback from the instructor to a
pretty impressed, thinking, “this            plan their course-related activities, and   student inquiry serves as a vital link
teacher’s available 24/7.” After several     control the expectations that they          between learner and learning system.
hours of interaction, the instructor         respond immediately to every inquiry.       Establishing and communicating a
quit working. The student, continuing        A one-business day/two-day weekend          response rate expectation can
to send in assignments, assumed              rule allows the instructor the freedom      eliminate the guessing and frustration
something had happened to the in-            of managing their course work. It also      of not receiving an immediate
structor when they stopped respond-          provides an incentive to check and          response. Excessive delays, for
ing at 4:00 am. Finally in a panic, the      monitor course level activities on a        example longer than 72 hours, may
student called the instructor at home        daily basis. Included in their response     inhibit student progress in the course
to make sure nothing terrible had            plan may be a description for the           and will most definitely lead to
happened!                                    student of the type of information they     student dissatisfaction with their
  Establishing and communicating a           can expect a response to, and the           learning system.
plan for responding to course inquiries      nature and timeline of the response. In
can alleviate much of the confusion          order to reduce frivolous inquires, the       Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
and aggravation for all course partici-      instructor may indicate, for example,       Director of Instructional Design and
pants. This plan of response may             that the student should first consult       Development for Penn State’s World
include the normal course “hours” for        the course syllabus for the information     Campus. G
when the learner may expect a                prior to sending the instructor an
response, a method of “emergency             inquiry.
contact information,” and the
intended timeframe in which the              The Key to Success
student may expect a response. This            A few simple strategies for applying
way, the student is not left wondering       the principle of establishing a pattern




14          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
communications stripped of other
                                                                                      visual cues. This leaves text messages
Principles of Effective Online                                                        delivered open for a degree more of in-
                                                                                      terpretation or misinterpretation by the
Teaching: #6 Think Before                                                             receiver. Although we have an increas-
                                                                                      ingly rich set of media-based commu-

You Write                                                                             nications tools such as voice delivered
                                                                                      via podcasts or audio messages or
                                                                                      even video, the vast majority of
                                                                                      dialogue between sender and receiver
                                                                                      is primarily text-based. Add to this
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.                                                            text-based communications system the
                                                                                      potential global reach of online
                                                                                      learning and the cultural aspects of
       s our series on the principles of   cations continues to prove a critical      communications quickly becomes a

A      effective online teaching
       continues, this article intro-
duces the importance of careful and
                                           piece of the success of the online
                                           teaching and learning experience.
                                              In today’s online classroom, student-
                                                                                      factor for these online exchanges.
                                                                                         Most experienced online instructors
                                                                                      can relay a variety of stories illustrat-
thoughtful communications from the         to-student and student-to-instructor in-   ing the frustration of a dialogue with a
online instructor to the class partici-    teractions remain an important             student that went awry due to a misin-
pants.                                     component of the learning experience.      terpretation or misunderstanding of
                                           Increasingly studies report that this is   the intended message. These “commu-
Principle # 6: Think Before You            a vitally important feature of success     nication lessons” temper the instruc-
Write                                      for the online learner. These interac-     tor’s next response and, through trial
  Feedback on assignments is most          tions, conducted largely via text char-    and error, the online instructor
helpful to students when clear and         acters on a screen, may be delivered       improves these messages to remove
concise language is used to explain the    through static messages such as in-        room for misinterpretation or misun-
degree to which relevant course            structions embedded in a lesson or di-     derstanding. Even then, it is always in-
outcomes have been met. Even when          rections on completing an assignment,      teresting to experience the misuse or
student questions are vague, instruc-      or as dynamic messages delivered via       confusion of what appears to be a
tors are encouraged to stimulate a         chat windows, emails, or text              “perfectly clear” message or instruc-
dialog that will help students under-      messaging. Regardless of the format of     tions. When these messages are
stand and communicate their needs.         the messages, they each share a            intended for delivery to the entire
                                           potential common delivery flaw, they       class, the value of clear and concise
The Whole Package                          are presented without the rich set of      text is magnified!
   The promise of online learning has      verbal or visual cues provided in a
created tremendous excitement and          face-to-face exchange.                     Taking Advantage of the
energy because of the richness of the                                                 Format
media, the ability to serve learners       A “Simple” Text Message Sent                 There are several advantages asyn-
anytime and anyplace, and the con-           It is widely accepted that the spoken    chronous communications provides
venience of learning within the            word is not the only message sent or       that can help in addressing the deficits
context of our daily lives. With           received during a face-to-face commu-      of delivering text-based messages.
increased broadband connections, the       nications exchange. Subtle or not-so-      With forethought and planning, these
immediacy of “connection” via syn-         subtle messages are also                   advantages can turn what appears to
chronous and asynchronous technolo-        communicated via voice intonations,        be a limitation into a positive
gies creates a feeling of almost instant   facial expressions or body language. It    dimension of online communications.
community. One of the most challeng-       turns out that what we hear is contex-     The most obvious is that, due to the
ing dimensions however of the online       tualized in how it is presented creating   asynchronous nature of the online
classroom remains the aspect of            a complex system of meaning. In the        course, time for crafting and reflecting
human interactions. As it turns out,       online classroom, dependent largely        on a response is more available than
the technology is often not a limita-      on the written word, the expression of     the immediacy needed in the face-to-
tion. The delicate and intricate art and   ideas, opinions, humor, criticisms or
science of human-to-human communi-         praise represents a “simpler” form of                    PAGE 16



          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com           15
FROM PAGE 15                    appropriate parameters of that same         interpret the message or instructions
                                           discussion in the online forum. This        and more time engaged in the lesson
face classroom. Another advantage          can be done through a thorough de-          activity. In addition, language that is
allows instructors to reuse a single,      scription of the rules for engagement       clear and concise aids the global
well-crafted response to the more “pre-    and perhaps example of acceptable           learner by removing barriers of under-
dictable” questions or challenges that     and unacceptable language in the            standing local or contextualized
might arise in the course. Frequently a    exercise instructions.                      language.
collection of these responses can be
amassed and accessed on an assign-         The Role of Netiquette                      Instructor Benefits
ment-by-assignment basis.                     As in any set of interactions, under-      For the instructor, the time allotted
Additionally, these messages can be        standing and adhering to the rules of       in many asynchronous learning online
improved over time based on their ef-      dialogue and interactions is critical for   experiences provides the ability to
fectiveness. To avoid seeming              effective communications. This is even      craft a well-thought-out response or
“canned,” the instructor can freshen       truer for online exchanges. Some            delve deeper into the student inquiry
up the response with a personal            might suggest that we have not yet, as      in order to better understand the
reference or specific point based on an    a society, agreed upon a common set         problem. Developing a set of prepared
individual’s post. Various writers from    of norms for online communications.         responses to common instructional
Cicero to Pascal have been credited        Many of the rules applied are contex-       problems improves the instructional
with the quote “if I’d had more time I     tual to the particulars of the online       efficiency, enables the use of “best”
would have written a shorter letter.”      communications forum. Online                responses, and allows the instructor
The online classroom provides the          etiquette rules may be provided as          time to further develop supporting
luxury of that time to craft the           general guidelines at the start of the      materials that aid student learning.
effective and short, concise message.      course, or in situations where special
   Special care is called for when         rules apply clearly defined. It is also     The Key to Success
crafting feedback to a student. The        the responsibility of the instructor and      A few simple strategies for applying
subtleties of humor, for example, or       hold participants accountable to a set      the principle of establishing a pattern
the use of colloquialisms can              of engagement rules.                        of course activities include:
challenge the receiver to interpret the       Although this may seem like “extra         1.View student difficulties with as-
correct meaning of the instructor’s        work” for the online instructor, institu-       signments or course activities as
message. Simple, clear and direct          tional policies defining appropriate            an opportunity to refine and
(tactful and polite of course) responses   online communications behavior may              improve communications.
will be of more help to the learner        already be available. Of course the in-       2.Establish and communicate the
than witty sayings or sarcastic            structor is also to be held accountable         etiquette expectations for the
comments that may work in a face-to-       for adhering to and applying standards          course exchanges. Also establish a
face exchange but do not translate         of behavior in the online classroom.            protocol for holding students ac-
well to the online environment. The        Over time, the example set by the               countable for adhering to the com-
online instructor is also encouraged to    online instructor establishes the ac-           munications expectations.
engage the learner where possible, in      ceptable and unacceptable behaviors           3.Establish a “frequently asked
a dialogue expanding and exposing the      for the rest of the class participants.         questions” document that
student’s struggles before providing                                                       addresses potential areas of
feedback.                                  Learner Benefits                                student confusion or inquires.
   The global nature of the online           Clearly defined communications,             4.Establish a database of responses
classroom exacerbates the communi-         whether pre-written or provided spon-           that may be used as feedback to
cations difficulties for students not of   taneously, serve to improve the                 student assignments. Refine and
the same geographic location. Not          learning efficiency by removing doubt,          improve this database based on
only can message points be lost or         confusion, or questions that detract            experience of the responses effec-
misinterpreted, but also the style of      from the learning task. Learners                tiveness.
writing can confuse, offend, or            benefit from a well-crafted assignment
mislead the learner. The instructor        feedback that has been developed and        Summary
who takes pride in the “intellectual       refined over time by getting the best         Of all the dimensions of the online
rigor” of face-to-face debate in an        response possible. They will spend
                                                                                                   PAGE 17
online course, needs to articulate the     less time trying to decipher or



16         10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
FROM PAGE 16                      Establishing and adhering to a set of        satisfying teaching and learning expe-
                                             rules for communications behavior            rience for all class participants.
classroom, interactions between class        can reduce the occurrence of misun-
participants remains a critical and          derstanding or confusion. Finally,             Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
challenging factor of success.               taking full advantage of the unique          Director of Instructional Design and
Developing and continuously                  features of the online classroom             Development for Penn State’s World
improving the static messages can            including time to reflect and well-          Campus. G
greatly improve the online experience        crafted responses, can lead to a more
for both student and instructor.



Principles of Effective Online Teaching:
#7 Help Maintain Forward Progress
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.


       he 10 principles of online in-        students are able to monitor their          random meetings between instructor

T      structor performance have thus
       far focused on proactive strate-
gies that ensure the instructor is visible
                                             progress in the course through subtle
                                             and not-so subtle strategies. The in-
                                             structor typically establishes a
                                                                                         and student separated by geographical
                                                                                         distance or time zones differences are
                                                                                         obviously less likely to happen online.
and active in the online classroom.          procedure and precedent for how as-         The online student is more dependent
Returning assignment and exam grades         signments are graded and returned and       upon the instructor to post or commu-
in a timely manner enables the student       announces when the grades will be           nicate graded progress through other
to stay on track and make positive           posted to the most recent quiz or           more formal techniques.
progress in their studies is the subject     exam. If this information is withheld          In many cases, course assignments
of number 7.                                 from the students, the constant             are inter-related or sequential in
                                             inquiries and questions may be enough       nature, for example writing assign-
Principle #7: Help Maintain                  to stimulate completion of the task on      ments constructed over the duration of
Forward Progress                             the part of the instructor. Additionally,   the course and culminating in the final
   Students in the online classroom rely     the students have immediate and ready       writing project. Quizzes and exams, a
on the timely return of assignment and       access to the instructor via after-class    rich learning opportunity for “learning
exam grades in order to maintain             discussions, office hours, or casual en-    what and how to learn,” can be
progress in their studies. The instructor    counters in the departmental office.        effective for providing corrective
is asked to facilitate this process by       Each of these techniques serves to          feedback to students as they progress
submitting grades of all digitally           inform the savvy student as to their        through the course. In some cases, ad-
formatted assignments and exams to           progress in the course and allow them       ditional progress in the course requires
students within two business days of         to adjust their course workload appro-      feedback and completion of the first
receipt. Proctored exams should be           priately.                                   assignment or test score before subse-
graded and submitted to students               The online classroom is at a bit of a     quent work can proceed. Timely
and/or appropriate administrative            disadvantage due to the lack of these       feedback in both these cases enables
systems (whatever is appropriate)            subtle or not-so subtle cues for            the student to take corrective measures
within five business days of the com-        students monitoring their course            if necessary in order to successfully
pletion.                                     progress. Although the student can          complete the course.
                                             send a communication requesting
Monitoring Progress                          feedback to the instructor, the message
                                                                                                       PAGE 18
  In the face-to-face classroom,             can just as easily be ignored. Casual or




          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com                17
FROM PAGE 17                      plexity of the assignments. These          The Key to Success
                                             variables may directly impact the in-        A few simple strategies for applying
The Key to Forward Movement                  structor’s ability to turn around          the expectation of a two-business day
  The instructor plays a critical role in    student grades in a short time frame. If   response to assignment or quiz and
informing the students of their              it is understood from the beginning of     exams grades.
progress on assignments and quizzes          course design that the assessment and        1.Clearly define assessment strate-
or exams. An expectation of a two-           evaluation strategies require signifi-         gies for determining student
business day turn-around ensures the         cantly more processing time, alterna-          achievement of course and module
student receives the information             tive techniques may be considered. At          level objectives at the time of
necessary to maintain positive forward       the very least, the course author can          course design.
progress. Once the student has elec-         determine the pacing and nature of the       2.Seek additional input from col-
tronically submitted the assignment for      evaluation and assessment techniques           leagues, instructional designers
grading, it is essential that the instruc-   that may limit the negative impact on          and/or students on the alignment
tor review the submission and respond        the learners.                                  of the stated course objectives with
within a reasonable period of time. In          There will always be situations             the student assignments and
some institutions this time frame may        requiring assessment techniques that           quiz/exam assessment strategies.
be specified by policy or cultural           cannot be returned in the specified          3.Determine if institutional policy,
practices. Whatever the defined              time frame. Where and when these               standards, or cultural practices
timeframe may be, the communication          occur, communications to the online            exist that need to be considered
to the students of when they may             learner as to when they can expect a           when designing or delivering an
expect a response enables them to            response can serve to minimize the             online course.
monitor and plan their course activity       degree a delay may impede student            4.Consider communications strate-
and if necessary, take corrective action.    progress.                                      gies that explicitly define the
                                                                                            expected turn around time for
Initial Instructional Design                 Learner Benefits                               feedback. If the anticipated turn-
Considerations                                 1.Assignment and exam feedback               around time is greater than
   An important design construct in the          provide enables the student to             normal, consider providing
creation of any educational experience           monitor progress and adjust course         students partial feedback in order
is the alignment between the course              activities if necessary.                   to maintain forward course
learning objectives and the assessment         2.Ready feedback also serves to              momentum.
strategies. Alignment refers to the              maintain a communication link
proper relationship between the nature           between the student and course in-     Summary
of the learning objectives and the type          structor.                                 Establishing a protocol of providing
of student performance (a.k.a. assign-         Instructor Benefits                      student feedback/grades on electroni-
ment or evaluation) that adequately            1.Planning for timely feedback of as-    cally submitted assignments or exams
measures student the degree of student           signment and exam grades serves        ensures student progress on course ac-
success. Do the measurement tech-                to establish milestones (a.k.a.        tivities. A two-business day turn-
niques/strategies match-up to what               deadlines) for course instructors.     around or other institutionally defined
was described as the desired learning          2.Considering strategies for             time frame ensures that students have
goal for the student? Considering that           providing immediate feedback can       ready access to course progress data.
match-up from the beginning can                  provide a mechanism for control-       The alignment of the assignment and
alleviate some of the potential for over-        ling the use of assessment strate-     exam strategies to the stated course
design of the assessment strategies that         gies to those critical to the course   and module objectives can greatly
put undo burden on the instructor and            and in support of the learning ob-     reduce stress or tension of “over
the student!                                     jectives.                              designing” measurement techniques.
   This particular performance expecta-        3.Providing timely feedback enables
tion is the most likely to raise concerns        students to self-monitor course          Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the Director
from faculty who feel the two-day turn           progress.                              of Instructional Design and
around is unreasonable or unattainable                                                  Development for Penn State’s World
due to a number of variables including         Timely feedback is generally consid-     Campus. G
the number students in the course, the       ered a “customer service” best
nature of the content, and the com-          practice.



18          10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
10 principles-of-effective-online-teaching
10 principles-of-effective-online-teaching
10 principles-of-effective-online-teaching
10 principles-of-effective-online-teaching
10 principles-of-effective-online-teaching
10 principles-of-effective-online-teaching
10 principles-of-effective-online-teaching
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10 principles-of-effective-online-teaching

  • 1. 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education Featuring content from A MAGNA PUBLICATION
  • 2. 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education In the traditional college classroom today, faculty and students arrive with a certain set of expectations, shaped largely by past experiences. And although students may need the occa- sional (or perhaps frequent) reminder of what’s required of them, there’s usually something very familiar about the experience for both faculty and students alike. In the online classroom, an entirely new set of variables enters the equation. It’s a little like trying to drive in a foreign country. You know how to drive, just like you know how to teach, but it sure is hard to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road, you’re not quite sure how far a kilometer is, and darn it if those road signs aren’t all in Japanese. This special report explains the “rules of the road” for online teaching and learning and features a series of columns that first appeared in the Distance Education Report’s “Between the Clicks,” a popular column by Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan, Director of Instructional Design and Development for Penn State’s World Campus. The articles contained in the report will help you establish online instructor best practices and expectations, and include the following principles of effective online teaching: • Show Up and Teach • Practice Proactive Course Management Strategies • Establish Patterns of Course Activities • Plan for the Unplanned • Response Requested and Expected • Think Before You Write • Help Maintain Forward Progress • Safe and Secure • Quality Counts • (Double) Click a Mile on My Connection These principles, developed at Penn State’s World Campus, outline the core behaviors of the successful online instructor, and help to define parameters around the investment of time on part of the instructor. In his articles, Ragan identifies potential barriers and limitations to online learning, and specific strategies to assist instructors in achieving the performance expectations. Christopher Hill Editor Distance Education Report 2 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • 3. Table of Contents Establishing Online Instructor Performance Best Practices and Expectations ..............................................................4 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #1 Show up and Teach ..................................................................................5 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #2 Practice Proactive Course Management Strategies ....................................7 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #3 Establish Patterns of Course Activities ......................................................9 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #4 Plan for the Unplanned............................................................................11 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #5 Response Requested and Expected ..........................................................13 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #6 Think Before You Write ........................................................................15 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #7 Help Maintain Forward Progress ............................................................17 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #8 Safe and Secures ....................................................................................19 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #9 Quality Counts ........................................................................................21 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #10 (Double) Click a Mile on My Connection ..............................................23 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com 3
  • 4. is to show up in the designated Establishing Online Instructor location, and conduct the course to the best of my ability through to suc- Performance Best Practices and cessful completion for the students. The responsibility of the learner is to meet the criteria for satisfactory Expectations course completion as measured by the instructor. The asynchronous online classroom has little or no similarity to the By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. classroom experience. There may be no “class schedule,” no meeting room or physical location, and, certainly in the asynchronous classroom, no was recently invited to conduct a how to perform—I would offer I Magna online seminar based on a research project identifying strate- gies to help faculty manage the online another interpretation. When we step into a physical defined timeframe for operation. Even the dynamics between teacher and student is challenged because online we can all appear to “be equal.” workload. Apparently this topic hit a Other than a vague sense of responsi- nerve of concern for faculty, support bility to “teach the course,” the in- staff and administrators alike. The response to the presentation One senior faculty, well structor has little definition of these new and often ill-defined operating suggested this was an important area versed in the domain of online parameters. The course instructor is for further exploration and develop- left on their own to figure out what ment. The presentation generated education, responded to my constitutes a successful learning many more questions than I was able approach by saying, “if you experience. to address during the program. Many years ago I was in a faculty Helping faculty learn to survive and even thrive online is critical if we are don’t tell us what is expected, meeting and we were discussing the issue of defining instructor perform- to realize the potential of this new how will we know what to do ance. I was soft-selling the idea of learning space. This column will be defining these behaviors for fear of my attempt to tease out the most to succeed?” His point was insulting our faculty. One senior critical of the questions I received, to faculty, well versed in the domain of reflect and respond, and to share my well taken. online education, responded to my insights on a variety of topics. I hope approach by saying, “if you don’t tell you will find it informative and us what is expected, how will we helpful. know what to do to succeed?” His classroom we are stepping into a point was well taken. Although we Communicating expectations time-tested model with well-defined assume that faculty know something During the presentation, I made operating parameters. There is a class of the face-to-face learning setting, we reference to a strategy that an institu- schedule and syllabus that tells me cannot assume that knowledge trans- tion can employ to help faculty save when to meet with my class, for how lates to the online classroom. It is our time online. I referred to a document long, and even the room location. responsibility to provide the instructor created at the World Campus as the There are a set of familiar tools such with the best definition of successful “10 commandments” of faculty per- as a chalkboard, a podium and performance for their success and the formance. Simply put, it is the articu- seating for the students. There is also success of their students. lation of what our organization an inherited protocol of classroom ex- Clearly defining and communicating expects from our online instructors in perience—I am the teacher and you the expected performance behaviors order to ensure a quality teaching and are the student. We both roughly un- for online instructors saves faculty learning experience. Although this derstand the dynamics of the interac- time because it eliminates uncertainty may initially sound like a “heavy tions of this arrangement. My handed” approach—faculty being told responsibility as the course instructor PAGE 5 4 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • 5. FROM PAGE 4 In recent discussions around this The approach I will take over the topic we acknowledged this is an next several columns will be to about roles and responsibilities. evolving document based on what expand on the 10 principles outlined These suggested guidelines, based on we and our faculty have experienced in the document, providing a best practices gathered through expe- in our online activities. My intent in rationale, identification of barriers rience, serve as a benchmark for sharing this document more broadly and limitations, and specific strate- faculty to gauge their online course is to test our basic assumptions and gies to assist instructors in achieving activities and manage their online refine our thinking. I welcome input the performance expectations. workload. The intent of the “Online and insights into this document and Instructor Performance Best Practices know that it will evolve and change Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the and Expectations” (or “10 over time. Additionally, each institu- Director of Instructional Design and Commandments”) document tion or organization must review and Development for Penn State’s World generated by the World Campus is consider how these expectations are Campus. G not meant to be all-inclusive but interpreted within the operating rather to define a baseline of online context of their own online program. performance. Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #1 Show up and Teach By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. n the previous article, I introduced What we know about teaching in the of activities for online instructors, and I the need to effectively define and communicate for instructors what it is expected in the online classroom. classroom, good or bad, may not translate well online with somewhat complicated technologies, new social help to define parameters around the investment of time on part of the in- structor. This is based on the premise that, for orders, and media-rich resources. During a recent online faculty de- many instructors, the online teaching Without express guidance on what is velopment program we engaged in the and learning environment is different expected of the online instructor, they question of quality of performance by from the face-to-face educational are left to “figure it out,” leading to the online instructor. One individual setting. Often, instructors teach in the frustrated students and probably a expressed their understanding that the face-to-face setting the way they were less than desirable teaching experi- online instructor should be available taught. That is, they use similar in- ence. to the students 24/7. I raised a structional strategies as instructors as The “10 principles” of online in- concern about this approach with the those they engaged in as learners. struction were developed by Penn participants because I feared this This can be a good thing if they ex- State’s World Campus to specifically belief would inhibit good instructors perienced sound instructional strate- define the performance expectations from getting involved in teaching gies during their formative years. of the online instructor. This online. It was clear that, although Most would agree however, that our document attempts to create an ex- well intended, asking the online in- own learning came in educational pectation of the core behaviors of the structor to be available, that is online, settings that were sometimes less than successful online instructor, and all the time was setting them up for optimal. So, many instructors end up serves to clear the air on how the in- failure and frustration. We do not repeating the same mistakes as their structor can be most effective in expect that dedication from the face- professors. Now, overlay the new teaching their online course. These dynamics of the online classroom. expectations establish a minimum set PAGE 6 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com 5
  • 6. FROM PAGE 5 general, this is true. Whereas in the and manage the learning experience face-to-face classroom the instructor more than in the face-to-face to-face instructor, and nor should we may craft the learning as the class classroom. Students may come to expect that of our online instructors. unfolds, the online classroom depend on the instructor as their Principle #1: Show Up and Teach generally requires more preparation primary link to the course and “Students in an online course rely and development time before the demand more time and attention indi- on the instructor to follow the estab- event begins. If you think of the time vidually since that attention is only a lished course schedule and to deliver it takes in both the face-to-face and click away. One strategy often the course within the scheduled time online classroom as roughly equal, employed by experienced instructors frame. The online instructor is you begin to realize one difference is the use of a “frequently asked expected to make schedule adjust- between the two modalities is a shift questions” section and well developed ments as needed to manage special in the time and energy it takes to syllabus that addresses many of the circumstances.” develop and deliver. More time may course dynamics most likely to This may seem like an unnecessary be spent prior to delivery of the generate student inquiries. statement of the obvious. The online online classroom with more energy in instructor is expected to conduct the teaching once the class has begun. The Role of the LMS class from beginning to end and to This approach creates a more stable Most learning management systems make adjustments when necessary in and usually more enjoyable teaching provide a rich array of tools that assist order for the student to complete the experience for the instructor because the faculty in attending to the details learning experience. However, the they are not continuing to create of course management. For example, necessity of this statement is borne of course material while also providing reporting functions such as the misimpression that the online instruction. This approach however summaries of student online activity, class “teaches itself.” Since most of also depends on the instructor being participation in discussion groups and the course is already authored and an active participant in the online completion of course assignments can designed for online delivery, the in- classroom managing the learning at a easily be generated and tracked. It is structor may believe they simply need distance. to the advantage of the online instruc- to serve as the proverbial “guide on Of all the responsibilities of the tor to become familiar and competent the side” as the students navigate the online instructor, the role as with the learning management system learning system. “teacher,” however that is defined, is in order to take full advantage of this Additional evidence of this belief the most critical. For many, the design capability. was expressed early on in the devel- and development of the learning Ultimately it is the role of the in- opment of online learning, when space prior to delivery can be a liber- structor to oversee the course from some educators expressed concern ating experience. For once, more beginning to end. Not “showing up that the online class could be “self attention is placed on interacting with for class” in the online environment taught” and reduce the need for the the students around the course leads to confused and frustrated instructor. Although there are courses content than worrying about the gen- learners. The online classroom designed as self-instructed modules, eration of tomorrow’s slide presenta- requires diligent attention to course this is not the predominant model for tion or handout materials. Faculty are progress. The face-to-face classroom the effective online classroom. The free to concentrate on responding to provides a defined set of parameters role of the instructor is actually more student inquiries regarding the course including time and location for both important than ever before. The content, addressing particularly instructor and learner. The online students are looking to the instructor difficult subject matter or discussing classroom does as well--the parame- to serve as the guide, facilitator and relevant topics in discussion spaces. ters simply need to be communicated “teacher” and the need for them to do Many faculty respond that they enjoy and managed for a successful learning so is pronounced because of the lack this aspect of online learning more experience for both the instructor and of face-to-face interactions. than face-to-face because they can be the student. One commonly held belief about more efficient and more equally reach the learning design and development all students. Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the of the online classroom is that the The online classroom does however Director of Instructional Design and core teaching material, resources, and have a slight drawback in this area as Development for Penn State’s World instructional strategies need to be in well. That is, the instructor is required Campus. G place prior to the start of the class. In to “attend” to the classroom dynamics 6 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • 7. face-to-face classroom, if they fail they fail and it’s their own fault!” In Principles of Effective Online most cases, online instructors use the same philosophy toward managing Teaching: #2 Practice Proactive the educational activities and partici- pation as employed in the face-to- Course Management Strategies face classroom. The level of oversight and management of the educational activities is fundamentally a personal choice and reflects an individual phi- losophy as well as the practical limi- By Lawrence C. Ragan tations presented by the educational setting. The degree of course man- agement must be balanced with the n the previous article, I discussed gies include, but are not limited to, I time and energy available and the first expectation of instructors monitoring assignment submissions, demands of the course structure. It is teaching online as “Show Up and communicating and reminding also dependent upon the age and ex- Teach.” The primary point of this students of missed and/or upcoming perience of both the instructor and simple statement was to explicitly deadlines, and making course the learner. define the anticipation that the in- Initially, a different level of course structor actively participate in all di- With a new course, new management by the online instructor mensions of the online classroom. may be required. This instructional Most importantly however, “Show Up instructor and perhaps new oversight is necessary because the and Teach” was designed to counter online classroom presents a signifi- the misperception that, once created, students, it will be necessary cant shift in the understanding of the online classroom can manage roles and responsibilities on part of itself. to monitor and respond to both the instructor and the student. Since, in most cases, the course student activity (or lack Also, the degree of course manage- content has been created and stored ment will evolve and become more in the learning management system, thereof) more proactively. efficient with experience. The instruc- some instructors may believe that tor will learn how to clearly define their role of providing the course progress adjustments where and and communicate student expecta- content is complete and therefore when necessary. tions as well as define and communi- their role as instructors in the online NOTE: The term “course manage- cate their own performance experience is complete. Just as we ment” can encompass many dimen- standards. With a new course, new expect in the face-to-face classroom, sions of the educational experience. instructor and perhaps new students, the online instructor is required to be For example, managing student it will be necessary to monitor and visible and active in leading the rosters, assigning team structures, respond to student activity (or lack learning experience. The second ex- grading assignments and submitting thereof) more proactively. Through pectation in the list describes the type grades and taking discipline action trial and error, the instructor will of active participation required in the can all be part of “course manage- develop a sense of where and when online classroom and speaks to the ment.” For the purposes of this to insert course management strate- need for class oversight and article, “course management” is used gies that lead to the best learning management. to refer to those activities directly outcomes for the students positively. related to the teaching and learning The challenge for the online in- Principle # 2: Practice activities involved in the online structor is to find the degree of inter- Proactive Course Management course. action and intervention that works Strategies Now I wholly expect this expecta- with the dynamics of their online The online instructor can help tion to raise a few eyebrows and even classroom. The goal is to structure create a successful learning experi- draw a knee-jerk reaction of “I expect the course management strategies so ence by practicing proactive course my students to monitor their own management strategies. These strate- progress in the course, just like in my PAGE 8 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com 7
  • 8. FROM PAGE 7 ment system can serve to identify and improve the communications of students not keeping pace with the expectations to the learners. that the online learner is able to course. An automated response may With proper design, management, control their own learning experi- be programmed to remind those indi- tracking and adjustments, the man- ence. As may be expected, the more viduals of missed assignments. The agement of the learning activities of actively managed classroom will general course announcement tool the online classroom can lead to a place more demands of time and can be used to remind all students of rewarding learning experience for all energy on the instructor. The expecta- important deadlines or upcoming course participants. The goal is to tion that the instructor teach as well course events. If the large enrolling empower the online learner to take as manage the online classroom can course has multiple discussion responsibility for managing their own place additional responsibilities onto spaces, other creative solutions may learning experience and free the in- an already busy online instructor. If be required to monitor student structor to concentrate their time and the instructor is busy with sending participation. energy on crafting a truly engaged reminders to individual students learning experience. Watching and regarding missed class assignments learning from others, using student or project completion dates they may feedback, analyzing evaluation data not be spending time responding to The goal is to empower the and frequently asked questions can inquiries and interactions around provide insights into where and how course content. After the course has online learner to take to improve the learning experience. been taught a time or two, it may be Some are of the belief that the tools helpful to reflect on the time spent responsibility for managing and capabilities of the online teaching the online class, the instruc- their own learning experience classroom can lead to a richer and tor may reveal “time drains” of more equitable learning experience classroom management that detract and free the instructor to than the face-to-face classroom from the primary role of providing because we can provide communica- instruction. concentrate their time and tions to all participants. Certainly the There is an additional dimension opportunity exists to structure a of this performance expectation that energy on crafting a truly learning experience rich in interac- relates to the number of students engaged learning experience. tion, student-managed and focused enrolled in the course. Low-enrolling on addressing the needs of the courses (under 40 students) enable a students in attaining the course higher degree of instructor oversight learning outcomes. due to the student-teacher ratio. It is The Key to Success simply easier to monitor the activities Regardless of the size of course en- of 40 students than 400. These rollments, the key to a successful Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the courses are typically designed for teaching and learning experience for Director of Instructional Design and more interaction and dialogue both the learner and instructor is Development for Penn State’s World between course participants. communication. Clearly defining and Campus. G Monitoring and managing student communicating the expectations will performance (or lack thereof) may address the uncertainly of what role happen by simply reviewing the and responsibility is required of each posting log or activity records in the participant. The efficiency and effec- learning management system. A tiveness of this communication will quick follow-up email can remind the evolve with experience. Chances are student of the required class assign- it will not be perfect the first, second ment, or missed homework. or maybe even third offering. In medium to large enrollment Refining the course management is a courses, a different approach to continual “work in progress” that course management may be required. requires a commitment on part of the Typically the course activity monitor- instructor to carefully monitor, adjust ing tools within the learning manage- 8 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • 9. fact, some of the early marketing Principles of Effective Online materials spoke to the ease of access with phrases such as, “your degree is just a click away!” and “earn your Teaching: #3 Establish Patterns degree on your terms!” For the traditional-age college of Course Activities student the draw to take a course that did not require attending classes at 8:00 am Monday morning also had great appeal. It seemed that everyone could find a reason to like the flexi- By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. bility of study based on one’s personal schedule and needs. As it turns out, the potential of the o far in this series we’ve of work serves to define the bound- S defined several fundamental “principles” of teaching in the online classroom. Number 1: “Show aries between the online class activi- ties and the rest of life.” “timeless” classroom was slightly oversold for the majority of online coursework. Although there are ex- ceptions, most online courses follow Up and Teach" expressed the expecta- One of the most challenging a defined schedule of operation from tion that the instructor, although not start to finish. required to be physically present in a aspects of designing an online One of the most challenging location, be an active presence as the classroom is working without aspects of designing an online teacher in the online classroom. classroom is working without the Number 2: “Practice Proactive Course the confines of time and confines of time and location. Management Strategies," stressed the Although this may have great initial importance of instructor engagement location. Although this may appeal to both learner and instructor, in the online classroom and taking a proactive role in managing the have great initial appeal to the reality of this lack of operating parameters becomes quickly evident. learning activities in the virtual both learner and instructor, the Courses without time and location learning space. This article focuses operating parameters can become on one aspect of the online classroom reality of this lack of operating management challenges for busy that benefits both the learner and the students participating in online class instructor, that of establishing the parameters becomes quickly activities while still balancing the pace and sequence of learning events evident. demands of work and family life. For and activities. the instructor, the lack of time and location constraints can cause a Principle # 3: Establish The Seemingly “Timeless” blending of class and non-class activ- Patterns of Course Activities Classroom ities. Establishing a pattern of course “Although the online classroom en- In the beginning, the online activity and communicating this vironment provides tremendous flexi- classroom was seen as having sequence to the learner enables the bility of time and place of study, tremendous advantage over a fixed- learner to develop a plan of study to establishing and communicating a time course format. The “answer” for address the requirements of the course pace and pattern of work can those busy adults who wanted to course. This course schedule and aid both instructor and student and continue their education without pattern also aids the instructor to alleviate confusion of course leaving home, work and their contain the course-related activities operation. For the student, an estab- community was touted as “study at to an appropriate duration and lished pattern of course activities your convenience, anytime and any workload. allows for planning and management place!” Who could disagree with the of other non-course activities around concept of getting an advanced Learner Benefits their e-learning activities. For the in- degree without leaving home or In many ways, the operation of the structor, establishing and communi- needing to take a leave-of-absence PAGE 10 cating a course schedule and pattern from the workplace? As a matter of 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com 9
  • 10. FROM PAGE 9 class day is “over.” The temptation to 2.Use the syllabus or course infor- reach out and be available to the mation page to communicate the on-line classroom resembles the face- online learner all the time is hard to schedule of course-related activi- to-face format more than it does the resist when the laptop and wireless ties. independent learning model of the computers make accessing the course 3.Use a dynamic communications correspondence distance education so easy. The very advantages of flexi- method such as group email or the class. There are set start- and end- bility and freedom of choice regarding general class announcement pages dates. Tasks need to be completed and where and when to conduct the course to inform the class of unplanned assignments submitted within defined turns into a trap that makes the in- changes to the course activity timeframes. In some cases, an actual structor feel the online classroom schedule. If possible, describe why synchronous event such as a chat demands constant and ready access. the change has occurred. session, teleconference or webinar The results can be an exhausted and 4.Provide the instructor “work style meeting may be required. The in- overwhelmed instructor, even when schedule” informing students of dividual learner may progress through class size is manageable. As in the the time constraints of your course the course material and take self-check face-to-face classroom, online instruc- related activities. These may also quizzes on their own but there are fre- tors need to establish defined and rea- be posted to the syllabus or quently group projects, presentations, sonable work periods where welcome letter. and discussion forums requiring a course-related activities occur. These high degree of team-work and work timeframes help to confine Summary cooperation. course work to a time frame separate The many advantages of “anytime, The challenge for the online learner from other life activities (such as anyplace” education can also present is to establish the discipline and time family time and vacations!). challenges for both learner and in- management skills to keep paced with Defining and communicating these structor in time management and the requirements of the online work patterns also aids the learner in operation. Establishing and maintain- classroom. Some research has understanding that the instructor “has ing a predictable pattern of course suggested, at least anecdotally, that a life.” Although instructors are open studies can serve the learner by traditional aged learners and younger to receiving emails and course com- providing a foundation for planning may be more challenged in the online munications at all hours of the day other life activities. For the instructor, classroom because they have not and night, the learner quickly comes a defined schedule of class activities developed these core skills. to realize that the instructors’ response can serve to prevent the class from in- A course with a predictable pattern (except in cases of dire emergencies, terfering with other responsibilities of operation and sequence of events of course) will be confined to a and balance the expectations of provides the online learner with the defined timeframe. Both learner and learners who may desire 24/7 access structure they need to succeed. An in- instructor fall into a comfortable to their “virtual teacher.” structional design model with consis- rhythm of class-related activities. One tent pacing and course activities well-seasoned online instructor I know Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the allows the learner more control over shared with me that his students know Director of Instructional Design and their online learning experience. For exactly when he is available and when Development for Penn State’s World example, if lessons begin and end on he is not and they behave accordingly. Campus. G consistent days and assignments are due on a regular schedule the learner The Key to Success can plan other life activities around A few simple strategies for applying these aspects of their online course. the principle of establishing a pattern Where the course structure deviates of course activities include: from an established pattern, early noti- 1.Establish and maintain a predica- fication and reminders are helpful in ble course pattern of course- order to aid the learner in making the related activities. This may include necessary adjustments. such activities as “opening” new lessons, due dates and times for Instructor Benefits assignments, schedules for syn- An unforeseen challenge for the chronous activities and self-assess- online instructor is knowing when the ment and online quizzes/exams. 10 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • 11. the established patterns with the Principles of Effective Online online learner serves to reduce the stress and anxiety of pattern adjustments. Teaching: #4 Plan for the Life Happens Unplanned The good news and bad news of in- structing in an online course is that there are fewer technology-related excuses for not being able to continue the course operation. Travel, By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. either local, nationally, or interna- tionally does not typically deter course activities because a reliable he 10 principles of online in- quirement for those who must travel internet connection is often an T structor performance have thus far focused on proactive strate- gies that ensure the instructor is and have a desire to continue the ed- ucational activities. The predictability and accountability of established “internet café” away. With a little preplanning, course operation can continue without much adjustment or interruption. The bad news is visible and active in the online patterns of course activities allow classroom. Somewhat predictably, both the instructor and student the there is little room for “downtime” this article addresses the need to for the online instructor! This speaks communicate changes to the estab- to the need to consider the pacing of lished pattern of course activities. the learning events during the time of Established course-related course design. Carefully consider the Principle # 4: Plan for the cycle of course activities in relation to Unplanned patterns reduce stress and the length and duration of the Online learners look to the instruc- required student activities, a.k.a. frustration on the part of the homework, so that the pace is com- tor as their main source of course in- fortable and doable for both learner formation and progress. If an learner because they provide instructor will be unable to log into and instructor. the course for more than four predictable patterns of Even in the best-designed course business days (e.g., during profes- however, “life happens.” Little and sional travel), the instructor is asked activities. large surprises can impact the pace to give one week's notice to the and pattern of the course operation. students. In emergency cases, in- If travel schedules and special events structors are asked to notify students ability to plan and manage the are known prior to the course as soon as possible if they will need learning sequence. Changes to these offering, consider these events when to be away from the course and when patterns can confuse and frustrate the designing the course syllabus. For they will provide additional course learner when not appropriately those other small or not-so-small operation information. informed. occasions when “life happens,” In the online classroom, the in- having and communicating a strategy Creatures of Habit structor may be the primary link for informing the students of these One of the touted advantages of the between the learner and the educa- changes can go a long way to main- online learning space is the flexibility tional institution. Established course- taining course continuity. In many it allows the instructor and the related patterns reduce stress and cases the interruptions may be brief learner. Because in an asynchronous frustration on the part of the learner and simply change the due date of an online course there are no fixed because they provide predictable assignment or limit instructor access meetings times or locations, the time patterns of activities. When these for a few days. These types of course of instruction or study is at the dis- patterns change, either by planned or adjustments are easily communicated cretion of the participant. Although unplanned circumstances, that all- to the students via the announcement all class participants appreciate this important predictability is inter- educational freedom, it is often a re- rupted. Communicating changes to PAGE 12 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com 11
  • 12. message describing the interruption concern should something more sig- FROM PAGE 11 and when the course activities will nificant happen. page or whatever “all class” commu- resume, alleviates the anxiety of the nication tool is used in the course. learner whose primary contact is The Key to Success It is not necessary (unless you through the course instructor. A few simple strategies for applying want to) to share with the students Informing the students at the the principle of establishing a pattern what event has caused the course beginning of the course, for example of course activities include: operation adjustment. Simply through a brief statement in the 1.Develop and plan a communica- informing the students of the change tions strategy for managing brief with a definite “resume function” and more significant interrup- date will allow the student to adjust tions to the course operation. their course responsibilities accord- Having thought through 2.Communicate to students how ingly. For example, when an course interruption information unplanned event or travel may limit communications strategies for will be communicated. your ability to maintain course partic- 3.Clearly define for the students ipation, simply stating that, “Due to the nature of the interruption, the both short term and long term anticipated duration, any impacts an unexpected change in schedule plans I will be unavailable for the to course operation or activities, next two days for ENG 101. Due to scenarios enables all class and when you expect to resume my schedule change, the Lesson 4 as- course participation. It is up to signment, Loop Design Schematic, participants to manage those your discretion to define the should be completed and submitted reason for the interruption. by Friday June 20th.” times when schedules change, 4.Arrange with a departmental staff There are times when life happens assistant, graduate or teaching larger than a simple date change or assistant or colleague a plan for course adjustments need to be schedule adjustment. In these cases managing for larger/longer you may be unable to communicate course interruptions. with the class members. Planning for made, and “life happens.” these events can be more challeng- Summary ing. If there is a teaching or grad For the online learner, the instruc- assistant supporting the course tor may serve as the primary point of delivery, they may be able to step in course syllabus, enables them to contact with their online learning ac- and pick up the course communica- manage their activities accordingly. tivities. When that service is inter- tions. In other cases, an effective Additionally, providing contact infor- rupted, confusion and anxiety may strategy may be to provide the mation regarding more long term or arise. Having thought through com- students an “emergency contact” “larger” emergencies situations can munications strategies for both short such as a departmental staff assistant also serve to reduce student anxiety. term and long term scenarios enables or colleague who has agreed to serve all class participants to manage those as a point of contact for the students. Instructor Benefits times when schedules change, course Keeping in mind that in many cases Having a prescribed strategy for adjustments need to be made, and the distant student cannot “wander managing and communicating “life happens.” around the halls” seeking informa- unplanned schedule changes can tion on the interruption to the course reduce the “panic” reaction on the Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the activities. part of the instructor. Clearly commu- Director of Instructional Design and nicating to the students the method Development for Penn State’s World Learner Benefits you will use (email, text messaging, Campus. G Knowing how changes to the course postings etc…) to announce defined schedule of course events course changes provides you and the will be communicated greatly reduces students a predictable method of the stress for the online learner when handling such events. Having a changes occur. An email, course an- “back-up” plan for managing larger nouncement page posting or phone course interruptions can reduce your 12 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • 13. with the departmental office to seek resolution to an issue. In most of the Principles of Effective Online research examining student satisfac- tion with the online learning environ- Teaching: #5 Response ment, connectedness to the instructor is frequently cited as the most Requested and Expected rewarding and potentially most frus- trating aspect of learner satisfaction. A Reasonable Response Timeframe By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. The challenge for the online instruc- tor is defining a reasonable timeframe for responding to student inquiries, as- signments, or discussion postings. An he “10 principles” of online in- how we do our work and play. With T instructor once stated that they fully structor performance have thus the speed of our modems and penetra- intended to be active and responsive far focused on proactive strate- tion of broadband access, we have to their learners by checking into the gies that ensure the instructor is come to count on an immediate and course “at least once a week!” visible and active in the online ready response to our inquiries and Needless to say, this response rate classroom. This article discusses a communications. We become annoyed would be unacceptable to most partici- “reasonable” time frame for instruc- at the web site that takes too long to pants when the entire online learning tors in responding to student inquiries. load or the colleague or family experience may be only 14 or 15 member that takes to long to respond weeks long! In a course with a shorter Principle # 5: Response to our email. It’s as though someone duration, this rate or response would Requested and Expected slipped a little note under our door prove detrimental to student progress. Timely instructor feedback is marked “urgent reply requested” when Left to individual instructor discre- essential for the online learner in order we receive an email requiring a tion, a “reasonable” response to manage their learning experience. response. Each email seems to be timeframe may vary from 24 to 72 Instructors are expected to provide marked “urgent!” hours. Depending on the nature of the feedback to student inquiries within Whether we agree or not on the course, content domain, expectations one business day. If the instructor amount of time we expect until we get of the audience, course duration, and cannot provide a detailed response a response, we have developed indi- the support system provided, this within one business day, the instructor vidual “norms” for how long it should range may be considered acceptable. is asked to respond to the student take before we send a second “gentle Industry standards suggest a reason- within one business day to note when reminder” message or, finally in frus- able response timeframe of one a more detailed response will be tration, pick up the phone and attempt business day (24 hours) during the provided. a response via the old fashion person- week and 48 hours over a weekend. to-person voice method! Don’t you This window of response enables both Expecting a Response NOW hate it when your inquiry goes unan- the instructor and learner to establish Much of our academic and personal swered within our expected time a rhythm of interaction that supports lives now include some dimension of frame? learner progress and is manageable for information technology. It has become A delay in the response rate for the the instructor. It also implies that the the expectation that we all have, and online learner is complicated by the instructor is attending to the course use, email accounts and instant fact that further progress in their activities at least once per weekday, messaging systems for connecting academic work may hinge on the in- and at least once over the weekend. with our children. We are quick to structor’s reply or feedback to an idea Without clearly defined guidelines use web searches for information or question. In the case of the true and expectations, instructors are left to gathering before setting out for a distance online learner, this delay of determine their own standards leading vacation or purchasing a large ticket response is multiplied by the lack of to wider variations between courses. If item. The impact of these communica- contact with the learning institution. the online learner is participating in tion and information tools is at first The learner is less able to stop by the PAGE 14 subtle but quickly becomes integral to instructor’s office or even to check in 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com 13
  • 14. why, after 4 hours, they still did not of course activities include: FROM PAGE 13 hear from their instructor. This 1. Clearly understand program or in- several online courses, this can lead to approach also defines the responsibili- stitutional expectations for instruc- frustration and aggravation as the ties for the instructor and prevents the tor response rates to student student accommodates each instruc- impression that they must be available inquiries, lesson assignment tor’s rate of response. A programmatic 24/7. feedback or discussion postings. or institutional standard allows a more 2. Clearly describe for the learner consistent expectation for both the in- Learner Benefits what they may expect by way of structor and learner. For the online learner, knowing the response time. The instructor may defined response timeframe of the in- also wish to define the course Setting the Expectation Too structor enables them to plan and “operating hours” and other High sequence their learning experience. If special time-related course Some instructors view the rate of the timeframe described will not features. For example, posting a response as a measure of the quality suffice in a given situation the student notice that Monday evening of their instruction. The quicker they may wish to seek alternative contact between 6:00 and 8:00 pm EST the respond, the higher they perceive the with the instructor. A well articulated instructor will be available on IM quality. Although this is an admirable response plan or protocol also for course-related consulting. goal, it can also set up unreasonable balances the unreasonable expecta- 3. Monitor student inquiries expectations on the part of their tions that the instructor is available carefully. If similar inquiries are learners. The old adage of “the 24/7 and will respond immediately to received on an aspect of the shortest time of response becomes the every inquiry. The online learner must course operation or content, it longest expected” can set unreason- respect the need for the instructor to may suggest a refinement in the able expectations on part of the separate the course activities from instructions, adjustment to the learner. An often-told story to illustrate other work and family responsibilities. content, or additional clarification. this point is of the instructor who, working late one evening, responded Instructor Benefits Summary immediately to a student’s inquiry at By providing a defined acceptable For the online learner, timely 2:00 am. The student, of course, was window of response the instructor can feedback from the instructor to a pretty impressed, thinking, “this plan their course-related activities, and student inquiry serves as a vital link teacher’s available 24/7.” After several control the expectations that they between learner and learning system. hours of interaction, the instructor respond immediately to every inquiry. Establishing and communicating a quit working. The student, continuing A one-business day/two-day weekend response rate expectation can to send in assignments, assumed rule allows the instructor the freedom eliminate the guessing and frustration something had happened to the in- of managing their course work. It also of not receiving an immediate structor when they stopped respond- provides an incentive to check and response. Excessive delays, for ing at 4:00 am. Finally in a panic, the monitor course level activities on a example longer than 72 hours, may student called the instructor at home daily basis. Included in their response inhibit student progress in the course to make sure nothing terrible had plan may be a description for the and will most definitely lead to happened! student of the type of information they student dissatisfaction with their Establishing and communicating a can expect a response to, and the learning system. plan for responding to course inquiries nature and timeline of the response. In can alleviate much of the confusion order to reduce frivolous inquires, the Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the and aggravation for all course partici- instructor may indicate, for example, Director of Instructional Design and pants. This plan of response may that the student should first consult Development for Penn State’s World include the normal course “hours” for the course syllabus for the information Campus. G when the learner may expect a prior to sending the instructor an response, a method of “emergency inquiry. contact information,” and the intended timeframe in which the The Key to Success student may expect a response. This A few simple strategies for applying way, the student is not left wondering the principle of establishing a pattern 14 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • 15. communications stripped of other visual cues. This leaves text messages Principles of Effective Online delivered open for a degree more of in- terpretation or misinterpretation by the Teaching: #6 Think Before receiver. Although we have an increas- ingly rich set of media-based commu- You Write nications tools such as voice delivered via podcasts or audio messages or even video, the vast majority of dialogue between sender and receiver is primarily text-based. Add to this By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. text-based communications system the potential global reach of online learning and the cultural aspects of s our series on the principles of cations continues to prove a critical communications quickly becomes a A effective online teaching continues, this article intro- duces the importance of careful and piece of the success of the online teaching and learning experience. In today’s online classroom, student- factor for these online exchanges. Most experienced online instructors can relay a variety of stories illustrat- thoughtful communications from the to-student and student-to-instructor in- ing the frustration of a dialogue with a online instructor to the class partici- teractions remain an important student that went awry due to a misin- pants. component of the learning experience. terpretation or misunderstanding of Increasingly studies report that this is the intended message. These “commu- Principle # 6: Think Before You a vitally important feature of success nication lessons” temper the instruc- Write for the online learner. These interac- tor’s next response and, through trial Feedback on assignments is most tions, conducted largely via text char- and error, the online instructor helpful to students when clear and acters on a screen, may be delivered improves these messages to remove concise language is used to explain the through static messages such as in- room for misinterpretation or misun- degree to which relevant course structions embedded in a lesson or di- derstanding. Even then, it is always in- outcomes have been met. Even when rections on completing an assignment, teresting to experience the misuse or student questions are vague, instruc- or as dynamic messages delivered via confusion of what appears to be a tors are encouraged to stimulate a chat windows, emails, or text “perfectly clear” message or instruc- dialog that will help students under- messaging. Regardless of the format of tions. When these messages are stand and communicate their needs. the messages, they each share a intended for delivery to the entire potential common delivery flaw, they class, the value of clear and concise The Whole Package are presented without the rich set of text is magnified! The promise of online learning has verbal or visual cues provided in a created tremendous excitement and face-to-face exchange. Taking Advantage of the energy because of the richness of the Format media, the ability to serve learners A “Simple” Text Message Sent There are several advantages asyn- anytime and anyplace, and the con- It is widely accepted that the spoken chronous communications provides venience of learning within the word is not the only message sent or that can help in addressing the deficits context of our daily lives. With received during a face-to-face commu- of delivering text-based messages. increased broadband connections, the nications exchange. Subtle or not-so- With forethought and planning, these immediacy of “connection” via syn- subtle messages are also advantages can turn what appears to chronous and asynchronous technolo- communicated via voice intonations, be a limitation into a positive gies creates a feeling of almost instant facial expressions or body language. It dimension of online communications. community. One of the most challeng- turns out that what we hear is contex- The most obvious is that, due to the ing dimensions however of the online tualized in how it is presented creating asynchronous nature of the online classroom remains the aspect of a complex system of meaning. In the course, time for crafting and reflecting human interactions. As it turns out, online classroom, dependent largely on a response is more available than the technology is often not a limita- on the written word, the expression of the immediacy needed in the face-to- tion. The delicate and intricate art and ideas, opinions, humor, criticisms or science of human-to-human communi- praise represents a “simpler” form of PAGE 16 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com 15
  • 16. FROM PAGE 15 appropriate parameters of that same interpret the message or instructions discussion in the online forum. This and more time engaged in the lesson face classroom. Another advantage can be done through a thorough de- activity. In addition, language that is allows instructors to reuse a single, scription of the rules for engagement clear and concise aids the global well-crafted response to the more “pre- and perhaps example of acceptable learner by removing barriers of under- dictable” questions or challenges that and unacceptable language in the standing local or contextualized might arise in the course. Frequently a exercise instructions. language. collection of these responses can be amassed and accessed on an assign- The Role of Netiquette Instructor Benefits ment-by-assignment basis. As in any set of interactions, under- For the instructor, the time allotted Additionally, these messages can be standing and adhering to the rules of in many asynchronous learning online improved over time based on their ef- dialogue and interactions is critical for experiences provides the ability to fectiveness. To avoid seeming effective communications. This is even craft a well-thought-out response or “canned,” the instructor can freshen truer for online exchanges. Some delve deeper into the student inquiry up the response with a personal might suggest that we have not yet, as in order to better understand the reference or specific point based on an a society, agreed upon a common set problem. Developing a set of prepared individual’s post. Various writers from of norms for online communications. responses to common instructional Cicero to Pascal have been credited Many of the rules applied are contex- problems improves the instructional with the quote “if I’d had more time I tual to the particulars of the online efficiency, enables the use of “best” would have written a shorter letter.” communications forum. Online responses, and allows the instructor The online classroom provides the etiquette rules may be provided as time to further develop supporting luxury of that time to craft the general guidelines at the start of the materials that aid student learning. effective and short, concise message. course, or in situations where special Special care is called for when rules apply clearly defined. It is also The Key to Success crafting feedback to a student. The the responsibility of the instructor and A few simple strategies for applying subtleties of humor, for example, or hold participants accountable to a set the principle of establishing a pattern the use of colloquialisms can of engagement rules. of course activities include: challenge the receiver to interpret the Although this may seem like “extra 1.View student difficulties with as- correct meaning of the instructor’s work” for the online instructor, institu- signments or course activities as message. Simple, clear and direct tional policies defining appropriate an opportunity to refine and (tactful and polite of course) responses online communications behavior may improve communications. will be of more help to the learner already be available. Of course the in- 2.Establish and communicate the than witty sayings or sarcastic structor is also to be held accountable etiquette expectations for the comments that may work in a face-to- for adhering to and applying standards course exchanges. Also establish a face exchange but do not translate of behavior in the online classroom. protocol for holding students ac- well to the online environment. The Over time, the example set by the countable for adhering to the com- online instructor is also encouraged to online instructor establishes the ac- munications expectations. engage the learner where possible, in ceptable and unacceptable behaviors 3.Establish a “frequently asked a dialogue expanding and exposing the for the rest of the class participants. questions” document that student’s struggles before providing addresses potential areas of feedback. Learner Benefits student confusion or inquires. The global nature of the online Clearly defined communications, 4.Establish a database of responses classroom exacerbates the communi- whether pre-written or provided spon- that may be used as feedback to cations difficulties for students not of taneously, serve to improve the student assignments. Refine and the same geographic location. Not learning efficiency by removing doubt, improve this database based on only can message points be lost or confusion, or questions that detract experience of the responses effec- misinterpreted, but also the style of from the learning task. Learners tiveness. writing can confuse, offend, or benefit from a well-crafted assignment mislead the learner. The instructor feedback that has been developed and Summary who takes pride in the “intellectual refined over time by getting the best Of all the dimensions of the online rigor” of face-to-face debate in an response possible. They will spend PAGE 17 online course, needs to articulate the less time trying to decipher or 16 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • 17. FROM PAGE 16 Establishing and adhering to a set of satisfying teaching and learning expe- rules for communications behavior rience for all class participants. classroom, interactions between class can reduce the occurrence of misun- participants remains a critical and derstanding or confusion. Finally, Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the challenging factor of success. taking full advantage of the unique Director of Instructional Design and Developing and continuously features of the online classroom Development for Penn State’s World improving the static messages can including time to reflect and well- Campus. G greatly improve the online experience crafted responses, can lead to a more for both student and instructor. Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #7 Help Maintain Forward Progress By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. he 10 principles of online in- students are able to monitor their random meetings between instructor T structor performance have thus far focused on proactive strate- gies that ensure the instructor is visible progress in the course through subtle and not-so subtle strategies. The in- structor typically establishes a and student separated by geographical distance or time zones differences are obviously less likely to happen online. and active in the online classroom. procedure and precedent for how as- The online student is more dependent Returning assignment and exam grades signments are graded and returned and upon the instructor to post or commu- in a timely manner enables the student announces when the grades will be nicate graded progress through other to stay on track and make positive posted to the most recent quiz or more formal techniques. progress in their studies is the subject exam. If this information is withheld In many cases, course assignments of number 7. from the students, the constant are inter-related or sequential in inquiries and questions may be enough nature, for example writing assign- Principle #7: Help Maintain to stimulate completion of the task on ments constructed over the duration of Forward Progress the part of the instructor. Additionally, the course and culminating in the final Students in the online classroom rely the students have immediate and ready writing project. Quizzes and exams, a on the timely return of assignment and access to the instructor via after-class rich learning opportunity for “learning exam grades in order to maintain discussions, office hours, or casual en- what and how to learn,” can be progress in their studies. The instructor counters in the departmental office. effective for providing corrective is asked to facilitate this process by Each of these techniques serves to feedback to students as they progress submitting grades of all digitally inform the savvy student as to their through the course. In some cases, ad- formatted assignments and exams to progress in the course and allow them ditional progress in the course requires students within two business days of to adjust their course workload appro- feedback and completion of the first receipt. Proctored exams should be priately. assignment or test score before subse- graded and submitted to students The online classroom is at a bit of a quent work can proceed. Timely and/or appropriate administrative disadvantage due to the lack of these feedback in both these cases enables systems (whatever is appropriate) subtle or not-so subtle cues for the student to take corrective measures within five business days of the com- students monitoring their course if necessary in order to successfully pletion. progress. Although the student can complete the course. send a communication requesting Monitoring Progress feedback to the instructor, the message PAGE 18 In the face-to-face classroom, can just as easily be ignored. Casual or 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com 17
  • 18. FROM PAGE 17 plexity of the assignments. These The Key to Success variables may directly impact the in- A few simple strategies for applying The Key to Forward Movement structor’s ability to turn around the expectation of a two-business day The instructor plays a critical role in student grades in a short time frame. If response to assignment or quiz and informing the students of their it is understood from the beginning of exams grades. progress on assignments and quizzes course design that the assessment and 1.Clearly define assessment strate- or exams. An expectation of a two- evaluation strategies require signifi- gies for determining student business day turn-around ensures the cantly more processing time, alterna- achievement of course and module student receives the information tive techniques may be considered. At level objectives at the time of necessary to maintain positive forward the very least, the course author can course design. progress. Once the student has elec- determine the pacing and nature of the 2.Seek additional input from col- tronically submitted the assignment for evaluation and assessment techniques leagues, instructional designers grading, it is essential that the instruc- that may limit the negative impact on and/or students on the alignment tor review the submission and respond the learners. of the stated course objectives with within a reasonable period of time. In There will always be situations the student assignments and some institutions this time frame may requiring assessment techniques that quiz/exam assessment strategies. be specified by policy or cultural cannot be returned in the specified 3.Determine if institutional policy, practices. Whatever the defined time frame. Where and when these standards, or cultural practices timeframe may be, the communication occur, communications to the online exist that need to be considered to the students of when they may learner as to when they can expect a when designing or delivering an expect a response enables them to response can serve to minimize the online course. monitor and plan their course activity degree a delay may impede student 4.Consider communications strate- and if necessary, take corrective action. progress. gies that explicitly define the expected turn around time for Initial Instructional Design Learner Benefits feedback. If the anticipated turn- Considerations 1.Assignment and exam feedback around time is greater than An important design construct in the provide enables the student to normal, consider providing creation of any educational experience monitor progress and adjust course students partial feedback in order is the alignment between the course activities if necessary. to maintain forward course learning objectives and the assessment 2.Ready feedback also serves to momentum. strategies. Alignment refers to the maintain a communication link proper relationship between the nature between the student and course in- Summary of the learning objectives and the type structor. Establishing a protocol of providing of student performance (a.k.a. assign- Instructor Benefits student feedback/grades on electroni- ment or evaluation) that adequately 1.Planning for timely feedback of as- cally submitted assignments or exams measures student the degree of student signment and exam grades serves ensures student progress on course ac- success. Do the measurement tech- to establish milestones (a.k.a. tivities. A two-business day turn- niques/strategies match-up to what deadlines) for course instructors. around or other institutionally defined was described as the desired learning 2.Considering strategies for time frame ensures that students have goal for the student? Considering that providing immediate feedback can ready access to course progress data. match-up from the beginning can provide a mechanism for control- The alignment of the assignment and alleviate some of the potential for over- ling the use of assessment strate- exam strategies to the stated course design of the assessment strategies that gies to those critical to the course and module objectives can greatly put undo burden on the instructor and and in support of the learning ob- reduce stress or tension of “over the student! jectives. designing” measurement techniques. This particular performance expecta- 3.Providing timely feedback enables tion is the most likely to raise concerns students to self-monitor course Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the Director from faculty who feel the two-day turn progress. of Instructional Design and around is unreasonable or unattainable Development for Penn State’s World due to a number of variables including Timely feedback is generally consid- Campus. G the number students in the course, the ered a “customer service” best nature of the content, and the com- practice. 18 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • www.FacultyFocus.com