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What's your advice for a professor teaching online?


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Hi everyone,

Like everyone else, I had to adapt to teaching online this year, first very abruptly in the middle of the spring semester and then converting two classes I previously taught to an online format for the summer session.

While overall they went well (and the course evals were positive), I'm wondering what your feedback is for online courses that you have taken.  What worked well?  What didn't?  What bugged you?  What do you prefer?  I always give my students an opportunity to give anonymous feedback part-way through the course, but I thought I could get some more candid opinions here.

I'm pretty tech savvy generally speaking, so I was able to use a diverse array of tools in Blackboard (our LMS).  

Thanks in advance, -R

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've been teaching online for about a year now (3 semesters), and I've found a lot of great resources to really help.

Are you teaching synchronously or asynchronously? What have you tried? What seems to be working? What specific concerns do you have? What topic(s) do you teach? Without knowing much about your situation, it's more difficult to help.

One big thing that changes with online teaching is obviously the connection between teacher and student. From personal experience and research, feeling connected to a teacher improves learning. I find it really helpful to be much more involved in the process. For example, I have very active discussion threads and try to respond to everyone. I email students regularly to check-in, and since I have my faculty email on my phone, I often respond to emails within minutes (assuming they're basic responses). Students really appreciate that they feel they can reach me and feel heard. Also, I do what I can to help them feel like they "know" me. As part of "knowing" me, I'm also more relaxed online than in-person. For example, I might not always wear dress clothes. I know other profs who'll record lectures while cooking dinner.

Another thing I've found with teaching online that it's really helpful to be more of a maximalist regarding resources than a minimalist. Teaching in-person, you don't want to overwhelm students with too much information, but you also have the opportunity for students to ask questions about material. Online, I find students don't really reach out when they're confused about a topic. Instead, I'll find multiple resources that might explain the topic a different way, and I'll link them under my lecture with "For more information..." My students have mentioned on course evals that this helped because they never felt lost, and they had lots of information about the topics.

A few quick things?

  • Make sure your course is well-organized. Even try to have someone else look at it! I thought my course was beautifully organized but then had students saying they couldn't find stuff.
  • Check-in with students more often. I do Google surveys twice in the semester (every 5 weeks in a 15-week semester) that asks how things are going. It's not graded and can be anonymous. I ask what's going well and what they'd like changed.
  • Record videos with your actual face, not just slides. (As a note, I just started using Zoom for lecture capture, OpenShot for video editing, and then YouTube for publishing, and it's working great!)
  • Don't use too much text. Nobody likes a text wall. Especially looking at a computer screen, the eyes start to hurt.
  • Do more checks for understanding with low-stakes "quizzes" that students can retake.It's harder to know if students understand the learning material, so I often just have a pretty basic quiz to check their learning occasionally. It's important that these are low stakes, though, because it's more about communicating to YOU what they know so you can alter your lessons, not to actually "test" them. If that makes sense.
Edited by dancewmoonlight
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Thanks for the info.  I think you're right about having increased contact between class sessions.  That's probably where I need more attention.  That and increasing resources, which I hadn't thought about.

Over the summer I ended up making self-guided modules for some of the lecture content (using powerpoint), thinking that it would put my "voice" into the content and I could plan out and elaborate on my points.  It ended up just being "more reading," though, and I think your point about videos with me talking would have been better. 

Thank you!

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As a note regarding videos, make sure you have them captioned!! This helps for people who may have a disability or speak English non-natively or for people in louder environments. A lot of universities have a service to do this. If not, you can upload them to YouTube privately and have YouTube create auto-generated captions. You can leave them auto-gen or edit the auto-genned ones. 

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  • 10 months later...

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