This section is divided into the following:
- Being prepared to teach online
- Communicating clear expectations to students
- Building a sense of community
- Selecting technologies for teaching
- Making online courses accessible
Good online teaching, in principle, is fundamentally the same as good face-to-face teaching. For online teaching to be successful, teachers need to adapt their facilitation strategies depending on how they intend to use the online learning environment. For example, there could be differences in applied strategies for various modes of online teaching and their level of ‘onlineness’. Online teaching, particularly for the fully online mode, does not necessarily mean transferring the exact same teaching approach and curriculum that would be applied in a fully face-to-face teaching situation. In some instances this would be very problematic and others less suitable. For example, a verbal presentation, commonly used in fully face-to-face teaching assessment, would be difficult to conduct in a fully online course. Ko and Rossen (2004) remind us that “The move to the online format offers you opportunities to try new methods and approaches. Preserving the quality of your course need not mean finding the exact translation of what you’ve always done in the past” (Ko & Rossen, 2004: 48). Depending on your course’s learning outcomes or objectives and the course topic, there would be variations in approaches even within the same online mode. So there is no one answer to what good online teaching looks like. However, there are broader principles that can be applied to assist student learning.
- self-efficacy: student confidence in believing they can achieve online;
- relevance and authenticity;
- meaningful application of feedback;
- encouragement of student collaboration;
- variety in all areas of teaching;
- usability of the online learning environment.
Where possible, strategies that integrate these features into an online course should be applied as they assist online students adapt to the online learning environment and make the experience more student-centered.
To be a good online teacher, you need to be prepared for the various tasks required during semester. Being prepared has many advantages:
- allowing you to anticipate potential problems and being in a position to make adjustments when necessary;
- developing confidence that will have a positive flow-on effect to your students;
- enabling you to better manage your course in areas such as workload, time management and sustainability to ensure schedules are maintained and stress is avoided.
There are many ways to prepare for online teaching:
- becoming involved with communities of practice;
- collaborating with others involved in teaching about online pedagogical approaches and technical issues;
- offering your own advice to others and receive feedback from others about your ideas;
- enrolling in staff development programs;
- knowing what will be expected of you as an online teacher;
- developing a strategy to ascertain any extra necessary skills and competencies required.
Once you have established your facilitation strategy, it is important to communicate with your students what is expected of them. This is especially important if your students have not undertaken an online course before. Communicate with your students about the following issues from the beginning and throughout your course:
- assignments and how they are to be submitted;
- communication protocols: when, how and netiquette;
- exemplars of quality student work;
- the nature of online learning and that they will need to be more self-directed;
- features of the online learning environment that you have established such as where resources are located, general navigation and any specific tools or software that will be used;
- any other institution or Faculty-based policies related to your course.
Fully online students have reported tendencies to feel isolated. It is important to establish a strong online learning community for students. To achieve a greater sense of community:
- firstly, introduce yourself to your students;
- ask students to introduce themselves;
- develop strategies for student-to-student collaboration and solving problems together;
- provide opportunities for students to socialise.
Technology provides the platform for online teaching and an important aspect of good online teaching is the appropriate integration of technological tools. Some teaching staff may be comfortable with a high degree of technology use while others may prefer less. For those teachers who are not so confident with technology, trialing one tool at a time, such as a discussion board in a blended online mode, is a good place to start. Other teachers may be highly confident and integrate more types of technology. In either situation, it is important that your selection of technology is pedagogically grounded. That is, you need to have a reason for using the technology that is related to the students’ learning. Technologies selected purely for their novelty value will soon lose their appeal with students. Aligning technology features with student learning outcomes will assist in the most beneficial selection of technology. Huddlestone and Pike (2008) have identified seven key areas to consider when selecting media for student learning:
- The learning task: can the task be achieved using technology?
- Media attributes: what features will support the learning activity?
- Grouping strategy: do students learn in group or individually?
- Learning context.
- Learner characteristics.
- Instructional management: will technology be supported in wider organisation?
- Cost effectiveness.
There are two main areas of accessibility for online students:
- Technical: Online components of your course should be accessible to students, and providing alternative ways for students to access information if required.
- Inclusive: Your course should be accessible for students from diverse backgrounds relating to such areas as culture, disability and socioeconomic status.
Following the principles of Universal Design for Learning can be an effective mechanism for ensuring equality of access and experience across your digital learning, teaching and assessment materials and approaches.
Go to next section: Modes of Delivery
Ko, S. & Rossen, S. (2004). Teaching online: A practical guide. Houghton Mifflin.
Huddlestone, J., & Pike, J. (2008). Seven key decision factors for selecting e-learning. Cognition, Technology & Work, 10(3), 237-247.