Teaching Online Classes

In this video, we will take a quick look at online
A typical online class may look something like
this. The students log in to the Learning
Management System to access the course material and activities.
Each student learns independently through the
web-based content. An online class is, by definition, completely
online. All content, tests, homework, and other
activities are online, and almost all contact with the instructor and
classmates is virtual. Most activities in an online class are
asynchronous – at different times. There can also be some synchronous, or real-
time activities, such as chats in an online class
as well. Think about what makes a good or bad
classroom experience. A good class normally would have interaction,
not isolation, engaged students and an
instructor who cares about student success. A good class is relevant to the real word, and
students get a lot of feedback. A bad class has disengaged students or
instructors. Endless droning lectures and busy work. What
else would you consider a trait of a good or bad
class? All of these are true to online classes as well!
Just how you implement them changes.
So, what are the advantages to online classes? The greatest advantage is flexibility. Students
can learn when and where it is most convenient
for them. Online classes gives students access to a
variety of courses that may not be available from
local schools. Online classes offer more support for different
learning styles. The content often includes readings, videos,
podcasts, images, and activities. Students can go through the material at their
own pace. The online class environment is a democratizer
– students are more equal here. Instead of being judged on appearance, speech,
personality or attitude, students are measured
on their contributions to the class. Factors such as race, wealth, or social
standings are not as visible here. Online classes give the instructor an opportunity
to interact with students who would normally not
participate in class. Shy and introverted students often are more
comfortable in an online environment than the
classroom. Online classes also encourage the creation of
reusable learning objects. Once you build a content module, activity, test,
or assignment, it is easy to reuse it year after
year, or include it in other courses. For example, a section on MLA or APA citations
would be part of an English class, but it could also be included in other classes
where they are writing a large paper.
There are also many challenges to online
learning First, students must have reliable access to a
computer and the Internet. While school computer labs and libraries are an
option, it is not as convenient for students as
being able to work on their classes at home. Students have a greater responsibility for
managing their time in an online class. There is not a set time when they should be “in
class” so it is easier to procrastinate and fall
behind. Online classes have a greater time commitment
than most face-to-face classes. It can take more
time to read or view all of the material, compared to just listening to a lecture. Online
discussion boards take a lot more time than in-
class conversations. There is no direct contact between the instructor
and students. Email is the most common communication
channel, and that takes time for a conversation
to go back and forth. There is no stopping by the desk after class to
ask a question. It can be more challenging to ensure academic
honesty in an online class, as you can’t physically watch students take a
test or complete an activity.
In addition to building the content and
assessments, there are a few other items that
need to be included in planning an online class. First, the course schedule. The course schedule
is more important in an online class than a face-
to-face class. The entire schedule should be planned out and
posted from the start of class. Many online
classes use a weekly repeating schedule. For example, discussions due by Wednesday,
and any assignments, tests, or quizzes due by
Friday. Some classes may need more frequent due
dates. Plan out your communication policy. How
should instructors and students communicate in
the class? What are the timeframes for replies? The usual
recommendation for instructors is to reply to
students within 24 hours, but this is not always feasible. Is there a last
time you will check your email for the day?
What about on weekends? Let students know when you are available and
when they can expect a reply. Consider using
multiple channels – discussion boards, instant message, video chat
or phone calls are also options. Also plan out your grading and feedback policy.
How soon will you provide grades and feedback
for students? What is graded in the course? Consider your academic honesty policy. In truth,
consider all tests open-book, open-note unless
you can have it proctored. Provide multiple ways for students to show their
mastery of the subject, and use higher-level
questions whenever possible. Also, student behavior is a consideration in
online classes, just as it is for face-to-face
classes. Consider drafting up classroom netiquette rules
that both teacher and students will follow. What
penalties will there be for disruptive behavior online, such as rudeness or
rants on the discussion boards?
An online class is more than PowerPoints and
tests put online. An online class is a series of
interactions – between the student and the material, between
the student and the instructor, and between the
student and other students. Students interacting with the materials involves
students reading or viewing the course content. This occurs even when students pick up a book
from the library or go to a website to learn
something new. In a good online class, the content should be
engaging. Use multimedia when appropriate. Videos or narrated images can invoke dual-
channel processing – our brains process visuals
and audio separately, so students can retain more knowledge when
they see something and listen to a description then when they just see something and read a
description. While possible, allow access to all material. Let
students go back and review previous lessons, even once the due dates have passed. And let
students read ahead. Keep technical limitations in mind. If students
have slow internet connections, long or high-
resolution videos will have a hard time loading properly.
Some programs require specific hardware – do
students have it? Smartphones can access the internet, but the
small screens limit what they can see. And if your students have iphones or ipads,
Flash-based activities will not load.
Students should have the opportunity to interact
with other students in a community of learners. Outside the classroom, we call it collaboration
or networking. There are many tools to foster student
cooperation, communication, and collaboration, including Google Drive and Hangouts, virtual
whiteboards, and even social networking like Facebook, Twitter, or
Instagram. Many students dislike group projects since
there is inevitably one student who lets everyone
else in the group carry their weight. Help prevent that by having group members
grade each other, or list out what each person
did and how it contributed to the whole. Freeloaders get lower grades. Online classes are also good for the shy and
introverted students. They are normally more comfortable
participating in online discussion boards than
class discussions since they can take the time to make sure that their post is exactly what
they want to say, and don’t feel the pressure
that they can in the classroom. We know that students benefit from having an
instructor who cares about their success, who is available to help them, encourage them,
and hold them accountable. That is true online
as well. The online instructor should be the guide-on-the
side, supporting students, reaching out to
struggling students, and providing feedback to help them grow and
Anything wanting to be considered a “class”
needs at least two of these three interactions. The old correspondence classes, dating back to
the 1800s, had the student interacting with the
material and interacting with the instructor through
letters. The Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCS)
that are offered through a number of schools and
organizations have students interacting with the material and
with other students, but because there are
thousands, or even tens of thousands of students, the instructors cannot
interact with them all. And for most MOOCs, a completion rate of over
10% is great. How would that work in your
class? A good online class needs all three interactions
to be a great online class.

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