Tag Archives: online teaching

Observations and Strategies of Online Teaching

Last update: April 21, 2021

All of a sudden, instructors are in the situation to teach online. I am taking this opportunity to develop a hybrid model for effective teaching. In this post, I will summarize my observations, experiences, and possible solutions. A caveat is that I teach “technical” courses in business analytics, so some of the issues I discussed here may not be directly applicable to “qualitative” courses. Also, note that this post is a work-in-progress and may be updated in the future.

  1. Reading the class
    1. One challenge in online lectures is that it is hard to “read the class”.
    2. We can ask students to turn on their videos so that instructors can see their facial expressions and catch non-verbal cues.
    3. We can use the chat/poll features to get instant, short feedbacks (even shy students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts in this textual mode).
    4. Now that all class activities are online, instructors have access to detailed analytics data that can be used to read the class throughout the course (not necessarily an individual class meeting).
  2. Effectively delivering materials
    1. In an online situation, the attention span is really short. Thus we need to chunk lectures into 20-30 min pieces with 10-15 min lecture + 10-15 min individual/group exercise.
    2. The breakout group feature works really well. Students can clarify issues with each other during the breakout group time. TAs can help in this process as well.
    3. Sometimes, students may ask some “out-of-scope” questions. In online sessions, we can let TAs find the relevant information and post it in an online Q&A forum (I use Piazza).
    4. Just like in offline teaching, TAs and instructors can hold virtual office hours. Sharing screen works really well.
  3. Building high-touch community
    1. One of the downsides of having online classes is that students don’t have opportunities to build a personal connection with the professor and with each other.
    2. We can create “introduction videos” to build relationships.
    3. For ice-breaking purposes, when starting the online lecture session, instructors can enter the session 5-10 min before the lecture starts (just like we do in offline lectures).
    4. Online forums (e.g., Piazza) can facilitate peer interactions.
    5. Finally, online environments allow us to invite virtually any guest speakers from all around the world. We can easily invite high-profile speakers and alumni to online class sessions. Universities can create a lot of value by leveraging the alumni network.
  4. Course participation
    1. One challenge I faced was the objective measure of the course participation events. I recorded all the chat history and asked TAs to count how many times each student verbally asked questions or made comments. As I used Piazza as the Q&A forum, I also incorporated the question/comment/endorsement counts from its analytics data.
    2. Some students questioned if we can use in-class chats or virtual office hour visits are counted. Whichever option an instructor chose, it has to be clearly stated in the course outline to avoid any confusion.
  5. Exam
    1. I used an open book/note exam given the nature of the subject.
    2. To avoid the possibility of collusion, I created multiple question banks for each subject and difficulty level. In Canvas, the exam is dynamically generated by picking random questions from the question banks. To implement this, I had to create 3x exam questions than a paper-based exam. In Canvas, the order of multiple choice answers can be randomized as well.
    3. One challenge is to inform students of any clarification issues in the exam. In case one student found an issue with the exam, it is hard to share this information with the whole class. So I decided not to handle any content issues during the exam time.