Teaching online: some tips

I was in grad school–probably halfway through my 2 year MA, in 1998–when my boss called me into his office.

“I’ve got a new project I’d like you to work on.”

“Oh yeah? Sure! What is it?”

“We’ve rolled out this new thing called WebCT. It’s a platform for teaching online. I’d like you to provide faculty support.”

“Sounds interesting. Teaching online?”

Within a year I would be using learning management systems (WebCT and Blackboard) in my own (blended) teaching. I taught my first wholly online course a few years later. Today I teach online only, and manage a whack of online courses. There are a lot of great things about teaching online–not the least of which is the scope to continually grow as an educator.

Oh and the kewl shiny things. We love the kewl shiny things. 🙂

In my job I get to share a lot of experience with folks who will either teach their first online course, or who already do so and wish to kick things up a notch. Or five. So here’s a few things I share:

  • Focus on what they need to learn, would be good for them to learn, and what isn’t a high priority for them to learn. Then develop things in that order of priority.
  • Consider what they need to experience to learn the material: there’s always a way we can make it work online
  • Let go of the idea that you’re migrating your face-to-face materials to online–especially your lecture notes or PowerPoint decks.That’s not online learning, it’s online handout distribution.
  • Let go of the idea that you need only capture your lectures on video then load them online. One or two might be good; more than that is deadly boring…online video has 1/10 of the energy of being in the room with someone.
  • The best way to learn online is to do things: learning activities (including, but not limited to, reading materials)  bring content to life.
  • The asynchronous nature of many online learning activities allows for deep reflection. Be sure to leave some silences for students to connect the dots–by themselves and with the support of their peers.
  • Synthesize each lesson/unit/module’s discussion after it closes. Your “connecting the dots” will demonstrate your own commitment to the learning community–and enhance your own learning.
  • Remember that text environments have no tone: use emoticons, set-up phrases (“I’m being somewhat facetious here when I say…”), or exclamations (“woo hoo!”) to convey tone. Before you post things ask yourself “what is the most negative interpretation a student might have to this message” and edit it as required.
  • Remember that text environments have no tone: before you react to a student’s message that gets up your nose…stop and try re-reading with a tone that’s warm or humourous.
  • Save all your emails: sent and received.

And have fun! If you’re not having any fun teaching (online, blended, face-to-face), maybe it’s time for a break?

About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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