Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Best Practices in Online Teaching

I'm doing a workshop at the Teaching and Learning with Technology 2009 Conference, hosted by the Maricopa Community Colleges, and thought I'd beta-test some ideas on my own community here in the College of Public Programs at ASU. First, because some of the faculty here have been experimenting with better teaching online for years, and second, because this is a great conference that the Center for Learning and Instruction at MCC does each year, and I want ASU to look good when I present.

My topic will be "e-Teaching: if it's more work, you're doing it wrong" - a topic very dear to my heart and one that I promote to the faculty until they're tired of hearing from me. But it's common knowledge and much discusses in the online research that instructors struggle managing workload when first teaching online. And if they don't seek help, they often burn out and tell others not to attempt it. It doesn't have to be that way, and there's much in the literature regarding practices that make it easier for the instructor and the learner to experience online courses. I'd go so far as to say that if you're doing it right, you can leverage the technology to make less work for you, once the course is developed.

Quick tips of the Top Ten sort:
  1. NO email. At least not on the course content, assignments, schedule, etc. That's what the discussion forum is for and rather than answer the same question 10 times, you answer it once.
  2. Simple, clear navigation and course structure. If you don't know how to turn off some of the navigation menu in your course management system, ask someone. Students hate 10 links, and they hate them more when half of them are blank. Mine are: Announcements, Course Information, Learning Modules, Communication, Discussion Board, Tools. Students find what they need quickly and in the places expected. I also link to other places in the course when inside the learning modules (eg discussion board for a post, Course Info/Syllabus when referring to policies, etc)
  3. Frequent communication. Lure them to class! Send an email when you've opened a new module, released a quiz, posted grades, posted an announcement, etc. The more time 'in class', the better they'll do and letting them know something new is waiting often lures them in.
  4. Clear expectations. It is harder online and the written text might be interpreted in different ways. What you mean by "a rich discussion post" might be 2 sentences to a student. Let them know exactly what's expected and consequences for not delivering. Rubrics are great for setting explicit values to grading. Pts, # words/paragraphs/citations/, language, spelling, etc all help. Hate creating rubrics? Try the Rubistar site where instructors share work. Sadly, they don't organize by grades, so you need to be specific in searching. Here's one for a research argument essay.
  5. Instructor presence. Your students need to feel a connection to you. Announcements help, but audio announcements, pictures, personal stories all create a better 'virtual you'. A colleague of mine publishes a picture a week with his announcements. During my fellowship, travelling around the US, I put up pics of where I was each each week.
OK, those are my top 5. Sound right? Send more and I'll add a Part II.
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