Make a plan: The first thing I do when creating an online class is to make a weekly plan. I post these as separate documents that can be easily downloaded by the student. When creating the plan there are important elements to include.
Weekly topics to be covered: Students need guidance. Teaching in the online environment requires a road map and the first thing to know is where you are going. By being clear about what will be covered during the upcoming week, students are better equipped to study and learn the necessary information.
Dates: This is critical to making sure that students can meet their weekly accomplishments. Students need to know if the class runs from Monday to Sunday or Saturday to Friday. This is a big difference from in-class teaching where there is a set meeting time each week. In the online classroom, much of the teaching is asynchronous, so students may be accessing information at all hours of the day or night. The class may include synchronous or asynchronous lecture, but there should also be discussion boards, assignments, case studies and response postings. By delineating the time frame, students more clearly understand what needs to be completed during the week. I like to include the week of the semester, quarter, or class timeframe to provide additional clarity. Knowing that this is week five of an eight-week class can help students to stay focused and submit assignments in a timely manner.
Student Learning Objectives: This drives the content of the class. Posting student learning objectives tells students what is expected and what they should learn. This is also a great way to keep the instructor focused on the curriculum that needs to be delivered.
Weekly Accomplishments: This is the nitty gritty of the class. I start with the reading requirement so that students know upfront where to start. I always include a study guide or syllabus to assist students in determining the important information to glean from the reading and what will be required on the test. If there are asynchronous materials such as voice over power point or lecture, I list that next. If synchronous learning time is scheduled, list it here and send an invitation to each member of the class. This is all the information that the student will use to complete assignments for the week.
Once the student completes the reading and additional information, they are ready to tackle the discussion board. This may consist of several questions that students respond to or it may be a case study. This is where the class can become incredibly dynamic. Be specific about your expectation for class participation. If you expect them to make one large post and three responses, say that clearly. Students appreciate knowing the parameters in advance.
Asking students to participate in an online class means that, as the instructor, you need to provide guidelines. This can come in the form of rubrics. Many online learning systems such as Canvas, provide rubrics inside the system. These can easily be formulated and posted so students know what is expected from discussion posts, assignments, and case studies. This will guide the student in knowing how to respond to others. Providing additional guidelines can also be helpful. My method is to define what is a substantive post, etiquette for online responses, and acceptable sources. These are often difficult concepts for students as they move to the online classroom.
Lastly, as the instructor, it is up to you to monitor the students progress. If you see a student falling behind, send them a private email. Ask if everything is alright or if there is some resource you can provide. Just as in the classroom, student engagement is paramount.
Teaching and learning in the online classroom can be as fun and engaging as in the brick and mortar classroom. Timid or shy students post in the discussion board, giving a voice to those who are often quiet in the classroom. Creating an environment of sharing and trust creates a venue for interaction that may not happen anywhere else. Although the transition to online teaching can be taxing, when you keep the focus on the students’ education, you can develop a class that is dynamic, interactive and encourages learning.