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5 Tips to Transition to Online Teaching by Hannah Huber

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I taught online for several semesters during my PhD work and remember being new to online teaching. The biggest challenge I faced was developing a strategy for getting started and building my course material from the ground up. In an effort to assist you in establishing a strong foundation for your online courses, here are my 5 recommendations for easing into teaching online.

1. Transition your Mindset to Online Teaching Heading link

As you approach teaching for a new session, think about how you can best transition from an “emergency remote teaching” mindset to a more invested and committed online teaching approach in the event courses move exclusively online in response to COVID-19.

As an experienced online instructor, I do think it is possible to effectively prepare for a fully online course in one to three months. That said, preparation for an online class is definitely a lengthy process.

EDUCAUSE Review provides a useful overview of this distinction. One notable difference is that teaching online requires a great amount of front-end preparation. If you find yourself with little time to prepare, take advantage of UIC’s instructional support resources. ACCC’s new online learning page is a great place to start. These pages provide resources, user guides, tools and support to help instructors get courses online. Instructors can schedule a one-on-one appointment with an instructional designer to assist with Blackboard questions and/or course design.

2. Consistency is Key Heading link

The key to a successful online course is consistency

Because students are expected to maintain their own schedule and task load, their level of accountability is much higher as is the possibility of things slipping between the cracks.

At the start of the course, establish a consistent daily and weekly schedule for the course and stick to it. Useful in this endeavor is a modular approach to course design. A module can be defined as a unit, chapter, topic, or segment of instruction. It is a standard unit or instructional section of your course that is a ‘self-contained’ chunk of instruction.

Essentially, the module structure, as portrayed in the folder structure in your Blackboard course site design, and in your schedule, provides students with a ‘road map’ and can help keep them on track.” (IDEA Shop, Boise State).

A key to consistency week-to-week is to ensure that Blackboard modules clearly correspond with the course syllabus, calendar, class updates and assignment reminders.

The format for each category of assignment, activity, etc. should maintain uniformity throughout the semester. Moreover, the sequence of events and activities should mirror each other from week to week. For instance, if you require discussion board responses to be 50 words and due on a Thursday at 2pm for three weeks in a row, students will likely be discombobulated when the fourth response requires 250 words and is due on a Wednesday at noon.

Keep a consistent working schedule. Avoid answering emails in the middle of the night (unless you intend to do that consistently). If you are teaching synchronous courses, maintain office hours in the same Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate room at the same time each week. Clarify to students the time-length for receiving feedback and stick to that specification throughout the semester.

3. Use Active Learning & Universal Design Practices Heading link

In an effort to better engage students, you should become familiar with Active Learning and Universal Design practices.

Rather than students just passively listening, Active Learning is getting students involved in activities in class, when activities are possible. Universal Design is designing and making courses accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability, gender identity or other factors.

Debbie Morrison’s blog “Online Learning Insights” provides a useful overview of Active Learning categories for online teaching. As you develop instructional materials for your online course, keep these strategies in mind. Even online course videos, for instance, can be structured to support Active Learning.

4. Focus on Storytelling Heading link

Humanize the classroom through a focus on shared storytelling.

The potential for depersonalization in the online classroom is a common concern and for good reason:

The limitations on personalized interaction and non-verbal communication are real obstacles in the online space, so a focus on shared storytelling can deeply enhance possibilities for social connection.

Incorporate time for shared storytelling into your weekly activities. In virtual meeting spaces, set the climate during the first few moments of class by having students discuss challenges related to remote coursework or issues in their personal and working lives.

For asynchronous activities, infuse storytelling into writing assignments, discussion board posts, and consider incorporating personal experiences into your feedback. When sharing your own experiences, be sure to model appropriate boundaries in ways that exemplify professionalism and leadership.

5. Balance Teaching with Technology Heading link

With an array of technologies at our disposal, be attentive to learning objectives, which should lead your selection of a tool rather than the other way around.

I heard this bit of wisdom mentioned in an EDUCAUSE Review video, and it resonated with me. It is easy to get excited about a new learning tool or Blackboard feature and set about implementing it into a course, not realizing you’ve lost focus on what is most important: the learning outcome.

It is important to be familiar with the tools and technology available to you, and Technology Solutions has resources to help you transition courses online, including tools, training resources and support from an Instructional Designer.


About the Author Heading link

Hannah Huber image

Hannah Huber is the Postdoctoral Research Associate for UIC’s Digital Humanities Initiative, a collaboration between the Institute for the Humanities and University Library. She recently hosted two webinars to help faculty transition to online teaching. You can access the recorded sessions below:

  1. Preparing for Online Teaching: Live Q&A with the Digital Humanities Initiative
    The session was intended to assist UIC faculty and instructors in transitioning from the traditional classroom to the virtual.

  2. Preparing for Online Teaching: Tips for Converting your Syllabus
    This webinar discusses best practices for moving your course online. After a short introduction to the suggested Blackboard template by Technology Solutions, Dr. Hannah Huber will show how she took her in-person syllabus and converted the class for online use followed by a live Q&A.

Technology Solutions Teaching Online Resources Heading link