I’ll go ahead and say it. Online teaching is harder than teaching a “regular” class.
Don’t believe me? Try teaching 150 students at once — students living in Wichita, across the country and abroad. It can feel overwhelming at first, but it ends up invigorating your teaching and making students better learners.
Here are tips to consider before teaching your first online class, no matter the size and makeup:
- Preparing. Seek help from colleagues. Participate in national online discussions. Work with the online experts at WSU. Get Quality Matters training.
- Testing. Make sure everything on your Blackboard site works in advance. The technology. The links. The grading system. The content folders. Dedicate yourself to making this a turn-key course. Anticipate the needs of students. Find the potholes that impede their progress. Ensure they don’t get frustrated.
- Gathering. Rethink your traditional teaching approaches. Take the best from your regular classroom practices and add interactive material. Prepare videos starring yourself. Have students respond to blogs and discussions. Make narrated PowerPoints with accompanying PDF slides. Consider an all-class Skype. Work with them on a creative semester project, requiring them to do a 10-15 minute presentation using a variety of software (they love this!).
- Learning. Understand what you want students to learn. Keep assignments, tests and other content on-point. Avoid distracting side issues and busy work. Include the best, most recent research. Evaluate what you’ve done in the past. Ask a colleague to evaluate your syllabus and methodology.
- Interacting. Introduce yourself in a video. Encourage email, phone calls and in-office visits from students. Outside students will require special efforts to reach out. The best tool of interaction with students in an online course is simply being there — being positive, upbeat, available, taking their concerns and frustrations seriously, and communicating consistently with each student.
- Enticing. An example: I implanted what I called “gold coins” within each video lecture. At a random point I’d simply announce that the first three students to contact me with a comment about that material would get a $10 Starbucks card, or the candy of their choice or something else. That game got quite popular.
- Prioritizing. If you are a 24/7/12 kind of teacher, and don’t mind calls and emails in the middle of the night about technology breakdowns and assignment questions, go with that. That’s what I do, because I’m a softie. But most faculty want to set limits on their availability. Go ahead and do that if you prefer. Just make sure students understand your priorities. That will help them set theirs.
- Performing. Use your tactical tools. Go to your strengths. Drama. Humor. Friendliness. An online class doesn’t mean that you give up your personality or classroom performance style. You just have to find ways to personalize your videos, messages, instructions, conversations and other content. Posting a silly video of yourself can’t hurt, can it?