Online Teaching Best Practices

So you’re teaching or want to teach a Summer Session course…

While we’ve learned a lot from Pandemic teaching, the ability to adapt beyond “Survival Online Teaching” and transition into “Thriving Online Teaching” is important to ensure that we are giving our students the best opportunities for success! We know as dedicated instructors you are capable of operating a successful and engaging in-person classroom (or brick) experience, and while the principles for operating a successful online (or click) classroom look similar, there are certain practices, tips and tricks to keep in mind to ensure that your summer courses are just as successful!

Social Presence

It’s not what you think it is…. Social Presence isn’t your social media presence, but the presence you and your students have in the classroom to create an inclusive, positive, and “real” environment for your course!

Instructor Presence

In short, students want you to “be real” with them. Students are more engaged in your Click Classrooms when they perceive the instructor as a frequent, positive and humanized presence in the course. Being intentional and frequent in your communications with your students can facilitate a presence that mimics that fun and engaging experience we have in our traditional Brick Classrooms.

  • Plan for regular and clear communications with your class to create and maintain that positive Brick classroom like experience.
  • Regular instructor participation in both synchronous and asynchronous discussions and assignments.
  • Provide ample opportunities for feedback on assignments and course progress. This can look like small, reflective, and/or ungraded assignments to connect with students individually about progress and participation.
  • Feedback should be genuine and personal – offer audio/video feedback in addition to written feedback on assignments. Ensure that you are pointing out not only flaws and areas of improvement but also other positive aspects of the assignment in feedback.
  • Instructional content, such as video, audio, or interactive lessons, that are visibly created by or mediated by the instructor.

Student Presence

It’s just as important for your students to connect to each other as they do to you! The more engagement you can create between classmates, the more your Click Classroom will feel like those fun and engaging Brick Classrooms we all love! It’s important for that sense of community, inclusion and connection that is so integral to the College of Wooster experience! What you want to create is a classroom experience in which students don’t see their fellow classmates as a face on a screen. You can start that by modeling it in your own Social Presence with your class, and your students will follow suit!

  • Start with an Introductory Activity! Create that sense of community from the start by asking your students to create a short video, audio, or post with photos in a Moodle Forum or Teams channel to get to know one another. If they don’t have profile photos on their Moodle account, encourage them to add their photos to personalize their interactions with their fellow students!
  • Create a social Interaction space. This can be a Moodle Forum, a Teams channel, however you’re organizing your course! If students have questions that they think you or any other student can answer, want to share something interesting they read, found, saw or heard, or just want to generate an idea, they can post there! Many instructors will create two spaces, one that is designed for the instructor to have input and be a part of the discussions, and a second that is “instructor free” for those conversations and questions they may feel a little more embarrassed about you being a part of as the instructor.
  • Small group work. We know the groans we receive when we talk about group work within a class, but our workplaces have started to become more online collaborative environments and it’s an important skill for them to build. Offer smaller projects that allow them to work together to reach a common goal. This can look like simply using the Workshop Assignment Plug-in in Moodle to peer review their assignments and work or working collaboratively on a document!

Syllabus Creation and Organization

Some of the biggest differences in Click, rather than Brick, classrooms start in the syllabus. In your face-to-face classes, your syllabus might give an abbreviated or generalized version of your course and course schedule since you can more readily explain your syllabus in face-to-face classes in the first week, and students can stay after class to ask additional questions. In an online syllabus, those questions are less likely to happen, so your Click Classroom Syllabus should be clearer and more comprehensive. This often means that you’ll need to “front load” your course – or make as much of the course, including assignment descriptions, etc., before the start of the course, as you can so students can plan accordingly.

Successful Click Syllabi should include:

  • Personalization aspects! Make it your own, this is likely the first connection your students will make with you and your course content, be sure to give your online instructor presence a good start!
  • Communication Expectations: What’s the best way to get ahold of you? What are your online office hours like? What timeframes, days, times, etc. can students expect responses from you? What are your expectations for communication from your students? How will you communicate changes (they happen!) to your students, and where can they expect to find consistently up to date information on assignments, the course, etc.?
  • Explain Course Organization! If they’re looking for files, are you using Teams? Are you using assignment structures on Moodle exclusively? Where should they look for their information on a topic, extra readings, etc.?
  • What are the time commitments you expect from students? What’s the weekly workload supposed to look like? (If you need some help calculating realistic expectations, try this workload estimator!)
  • Clear and Concise course calendar. This may mean describing concepts and assignment structures in your course calendar, with a note that things may change based on student feedback or other unforeseen events.
  • Technology requirements. Much in the same way we put textbook and reading requirements in the syllabus, be sure to detail what software, hardware, etc. your students may need access to and how to get it! (Tip: You can find out what software is supported either on the “Applications” drop down menu, if you’d like to use a program that we don’t currently support, or you would like additional licensing for, you will have to contact to discuss the application.)
  • Support and Resources. In a Brick classroom, students have access to in-person tutoring, digital project assistance, Writing Center help, and more. Be sure to let your Click Classroom students know how they can get help if it’s needed!

If this sounds like this is going to make your Syllabus pretty lengthy, you might be right. With the amount of information and resources, students may struggle to read as one large document. You might consider using The College of Wooster’s Voices site to create a Liquid Syllabus for your course! Alternatively, you can create an introductory Topic in Moodle to break out your longer syllabus document into smaller more organized pieces!

Consistency, Rigor and Reflection

Variety in Teaching and Learning

Students engage better with course content when they have multiple opportunities to create a learning experience. This doesn’t mean that you have to create a video and notated handout in addition to each lecture. This simply means that you might consider recording lectures for students to go back through or use Perusall to engage with one another in their readings. As a result, they can engage with the content in ways that are best suited to their learning outside of lecture and generate stronger connections to the content.

Additionally, creating a space where students are required to do the same types of assignments repeatedly can disengage students from their learning experience. The opportunity for multiple forms of assessment, unique forms of assessment, or choice in their assessment style can reengage students who have found they no longer find the course holding their attention – at no fault of the instructor!

Authenticity in activities

We all want to feel like the information we are learning is useful to our lives outside of the classroom. Creating authentic learning experiences can allow students to see the real-world connections with the course content and promote more out-of-the-box thinking!

Authentic tasks for your students include these 10 characteristics

  • have real-world relevance
  • are ill-defined, requiring learners to decide on the steps to move forward
  • capture re-world complexity, requiring learnings to engage over sustained periods of time
  • can be approached from multiple perspectives using a variety of resources
  • encourage collaboration
  • promote reflection
  • foster interdisciplinary learning outcomes
  • integrate assessment seamlessly
  • create polished and valuable products
  • allow competing solutions and diverse outcomes

Purdue Repository for online teaching and learning explains how to create Authentic Learning in your Onine Course

Does this mean that every assignment has to be this way? No! Have your students act as a team of industry professionals and collaborate to accomplish a common goal. Engage in conversations about the methods and objectives of the assessment reflect industry experiences. These assignments can be large or small, but what’s important is the ability to see the connections to their world around them, on campus and beyond commencement.

Consistency and Challenge

Ensuring that your students do not feel overwhelmed one week and with nothing to do the next, it’s important to make sure that students have regular requirements for “check-in” assignments. You want to create an assignment structure that allows for consistent communication and participation from students. The workload doesn’t always have to be the same (i.e. the end of the course can have a larger assignment, or the beginning might have a slightly lighter workload), but you want to ensure that activities are consistently paced.

In addition to their consistent participation, ensuring that assignments are challenging enough to keep the students engaged in content is critical. Students who believe they can run through course assignments quickly without much effort will disengage from the course. This can be mitigated somewhat with weekly reflective assignments, discussed below.

Reflection and Feedback

Giving students opportunity to reflect on their own work, learning experience, and have a place to receive consistent and individual feedback from their instructor is important in retaining their engagement levels. This can also be an important evaluative tool for you as the instructor to get real-time feedback on your course content, structure and assignments.

  • Forums or Journal plug-ins can be used on Moodle to create the reflective atmosphere for your students. While you can use Forums to have students interact with their peers reflections, Journals (which will have to have a new journal for each reflection or there might be too many additions to one Journal entry to track) can be a more private reflection space between you and your students
  • Alternatively, in your Class Team, the OneNote Notebook that automatically generates a section for each enrolled student can be used to create private journal channels for you!
  • Teams also allows you to use the Reflect function to get anonymous “check-ins” for how your students are feeling about their summer, their course and more.

While creating this discourse with your students, and creating the collaborative online learning environment, we want to remind ourselves that feedback doesn’t always have to come from the instructor….

  • The Workshop Plug-in in Moodle allows students to have more direct contact with specific student work and provide rubric based feedback
  • The Student Folder allows students to see fellow student work – once approved by you – and discussions can be generated either in the folder or in a connected Forum.
  • During a brainstorming phase, reflective discussion, etc, Forums or Teams Channels can be used to generate reflection and idea feedback on a student’s work before moving forward with an idea.

Technology and Organization in Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Moodle Organization

This may seem self explanatory, but the way that you organize your Moodle course may alter the way you discuss topics with your students. Often, students enjoy the weekly format if you are going through a “module” a week, if you are going to overlap your weeks, and want to organize by the types of content your students will see, using “topics,” “Onetopic” (the default) or “Multitopic” can be a helpful resource.

Remember if you organize the course in the best way for you to understand it, your students will have an easier time following as you explain how to navigate your Moodle course.

If you’d like more information on the types of course formats you can use, their pros and cons, or just see some screenshots in action, the Moodle Professional Development course has an entire topic for Course Formats

Content Organization

Are you using Both Moodle and Teams? Where will content be stored? Will main assignments be stored in Moodle, while additional readings, and non-graded assignments are kept on Teams? Will teams only be used to meet when your Click Classroom meets virtually? Be sure that you are clear and consistent with how your students access your content.

  • Be clear and consistent starting with your syllabus. Define each space and the type of content students can expect to see in each
  • Link clearly to each from one another. Students should be able to find Moodle through Teams and vice versa, particularly if they are attempting to read articles in a SharePoint folder in Teams while completing assignments, or accessing anything on Moodle during course meetings in Teams.
  • Don’t duplicate assignments, calendar events, or readings across Moodle and Teams. While this may seem like a great way to ensure that students can find what they’re looking for, regardless of the platform they start on, this can create confusion about which area they should be turning documents into, where their grades or rubrics may be located, and how to navigate on either platform to access their specific tools and resources.

Other Technology

Are you using other technology? Will your students need to gain access to a software, or will you need licensing for additional software and resources? Is there hardware your students will need to complete the course?

  • Communicate technology needs early. If students will need to download software, or obtain particular hardware, be sure to contact them before the start of class, and include it in your syllabus.
  • Work with Educational Technology on usage. If you’re asking your students to use a new software, or one you’re confident they should know, but want to give them a refresher, work with Educational Technology to create some best practices, or even teach a short workshop for your course.
  • Be conscious that students may not always have access to some resources. Particularly between Mac and PC users, and the software requirements, not all students may be able to access certain programs. Work with students and/or Educational Technology to brainstorm alternatives for those students!

Additional Resources

On Campus Resources

  • Book a member of Educational Technology to discuss course formats, assignments and structure, grading, etc.
  • Educational Technology maintains a Professional Development Course in Moodle. Simply enroll yourself in the self-paced course to get all the tips and tricks when using Moodle.
  • Projects in a Box is the resource for separated ideas in which instructors can get tutorials, and see research on different types of projects within their course or for their students

Additional Readings from Educational Technology

External Readings and other Resources