I am now in my third year teaching online courses for the Global Online Academy. Through this experience and also from my online masters in education program, I have learned a number of good teaching strategies that work in both online and traditional classrooms. Here are some tips I picked up from my online teaching that have helped me improve my face-to-face courses.
Provide clear directions
From the start of the course, it’s important to be clear about guidelines and expectations. Directions for each assignment need to be clear and properly scaffolded. How directions are written is just as important as how they are organized and presented. For long term projects, try bringing the project up into smaller portions and give each portion a due date to help keep track of student progress. Once a student is confused, learning will often stop and it may be hard for that student to become engaged in the class again. In addition, clear directions and expectations can help avoid student confusion and save a lot of your time answering clarifying questions via e-mail or text. It also helps to include screenshots and examples of assignments to set expectations.
Make face-to-face meetings meaningful
In my online courses, I meet with my students synchronously for 30 minutes to 1 hour every other week. I have to make sure I use that time wisely. Often, this is the only time in the course when my students are connected in real time. Thus, this is valuable time for my students to dialogue with one another. During our Skype session, I often give prompts connected to a current topic for students to discuss.
In a face-to-face setting, I build in time for students to collaborate and dialogue with each other, especially when working on group projects. Students have found it useful to use class time for group work. Consider what you would like students to accomplish during the class meetings. How can you build a sense of community with your students while making stronger connections with them? Take advantage of the students’ presence to make their learning active and collaborative. Remember that learning is a socially mediated process.
Assess higher order thinking skills
Because students can access just about any type of information online, assessments can be tricky. I have opted to give more open-ended questions instead of factual questions for assessments. I grade students’ answers on how they are able to explain their thinking process and support their answer rather than whether they got the fact correct. Open-ended questioning allows students to demontrate their higher-order thinking skills. It not only assesses conceptual understanding, but also students’ abilities to analyze, evaluate, and solve problems. Consider using higher level verbs in Bloom’s Taxonomy when writing up assessment questions.
Use technology with a purpose
Many tools are great, but consider whether they are necessary. Is there an easier way to do it? Even though our students may be digital natives, not all students are tech savvy. If it takes more than a few steps to complete an assignment, it may hinder some students from completing it. It can result in frustration, which can negatively affect the course content and students’ ability to learn. When in doubt, always err on the side of keeping things simple.
Provide frequent feedback
In my online course, students do not get to see me and get feedback from me in the classroom setting. Thus, feedback through Canvas is the only way they know how they are doing in the course. I had to get into the habit of giving frequent small feedback, both to applause and to critique their work. My students found that the frequent feedback has put them at ease since they know exactly where they stand or need improvement.
In my face-to-face class, I make sure to provide frequent feedback by grading their assignments as soon as I can. I use the time in class to dialog with students about ongoing assignments and their progress in the course. Through Canvas, the instant I give a student feedback, he or she can review it online. Students don’t have to wait until next class time to get their assignments handed back. Feedback helps students know what their strengths and areas for growth are. For long term assignments, it’s especially crucial for students to know whether they are on the right track.
Teaching online has helped me to become a more responsive, empathetic, and compassionate teacher. It also helped me tailor my courses to the needs of my students. I have learned to take advantage of my class meetings to build a community of learners and to provide ample opportunities for collaborative learning.