Best Practices

Best Practices for Teaching OnlineWelcome to the Best Practices for Teaching online or as we like to call it: Strategies for Success in your Online Course page.  No matter what tool you use or technological journey you embark upon, is the method and not the medium that will help you ensure success in the online, face-to-face and hybrid courses you are teaching. These best practices/strategies will help you with organization, communication, time saving, assessment as well as many other areas.

Just looking at this list of best practices, it is easy to understand how you might feel overwhelmed.  In some cases, try adopting one or two of these strategies at a time and then include more the next time you teach this course (following semester).  We would rather you be very successful in key areas in your course than not successful at all because you were spread too thin.

Record an Video Introduction for your Course

Record an introduction video introducing yourself and the course organization.  Give profile information about yourself creating a social presence for the students and outline your expectations for the course. Below is an example of a introduction for an online course:

You can create your own video introduction and post it or here at SHSU Online, we can get you in our studio where the possibilities as you can see above are limited only by your imagination.

Use a “Virtual Office” Discussion Forum for Course Questions

The name doesn’t matter, but a course Q&A forum services 3 purposes:

  1. Cuts down on the amount of e-mail in your inbox
  2. Gets your students in the habit of checking and using the LMS
  3. Keeps a record of questions and answers.

Let’s face it, we all “misplace” e-mail.  For some of us our inbox receives a hundred new messages or more each day.  Why not make life easier on you and your students by reserving course e-mails for those things of a personal or private nature.  You may have to use the first week of the course as a “training week” where you ensure you point your students to the Virtual Office for answers to course questions.  Make it a requirement in your syllabus, an expectation on your course expectations page and a question on your Syllabus quiz to ensure students know where to go.

When your students establish the habit of checking the course regularly, they will be more engaged and more successful.  When you answer questions via e-mail the only people that see that correspondence are you and the student.  Utilizing a discussion forum makes course Q&A visible to everyone in your course.

Employ a Syllabus Quiz

Syllabus Quiz

A syllabus quiz helps you ensure that you and your students are on the same page when it comes to course policies, due dates and expectations.  The syllabus quiz should be at least be a first week activity if not a pre-course activity for your students.  A syllabus quiz is like having students sign-off that they have read and understood the course syllabus.  Include Questions about objectives, late-work policies, expectations and communication methods and anything else you want your students to concentrate on.

An added bonus with the syllabus quiz is that with most learning management systems, you can restrict access to the rest of the course until they make the desired grade.  This is also a great time to have your students try out any lock down browser or remote proctoring tool before they get to an assessment that is a larger percentage of their grade.

Start building Community – Student Introductions

Ask students to post an introduction (text, audio, or video) about themselves. The asynchronous discussion forum is the tool that is most used for this activity.  Students get to learn a little bit about their classmates and tell their classmates a little about themselves.  Ground rules need to be given in terms of the minimum requirements for an introductory post as well as the replies to their fellow students.  A good policy is require that your students reply to at least 2 posts per discussion forum.  Their replies need to be well thought out and not just “I agree with Jane.”

This is also a great opportunity for you to model what your expectation is by being the first to participate in the introductory exercise.  The student can then use your introduction as a template or jumping off point for their post. This activity needs to be finished by the end of the first week of class.

Asynchronous Discussions – Talk Amongst Yourselves

Asynchronous DiscussionAsynchronous discussions are well-worn and useful tool for any online course.  In a face-to-face class the discussion may be limited to that hour of class time, where an asynchronous discussion can take as long as it needs during a semester.  Studies show that these discussions benefit the students by:

  • allowing the student to reflect and respond thoughtfully to a discussion question
  • allow them to apply that same kind of critical thinking to a peer’s posting
  • enables students who might not otherwise responds in a live classroom environment to have a “voice”

Here are a few discussion board best practices to help you save time and ensure participation:

  1. Set deadlines for initial posts and replies
  2. Keep them on track and aware of due date with an friendly prompt
  3. When available have students subscribe to the forum as part of the grade
  4. Assign roles for students in discussion groups such as facilitator, resource gatherer..
  5. Summarize discussions at end of week praising individuals for high quality responses or challenging conclusions where needed.  Address students by name. This is especially effective for larger classes where you can respond to every post.
  6. Participate in online discussions as guide offering prompts and nudges when needed.

Introduce Course Materials at a Multimedia Pace

We know that most people are multimodal and multinodal learners.  Knowing this fact why do we continue to assume that our students need to digest information the same way each time?  The strategy for success in your online course is to use different methods of communication.  Audio, Video, Graphical and text based learning objects should all be employed when conveying information.  I great place for a contextual graphic for example is your Unit homepage. If you divide your course into topics/modules/weeks, why not use a graphic or set of graphics that deal with your subject matter?  Change the way you introduce assignments by providing audio and video instructions.  This lets your students use a different part of their brain and makes you a bit more “real” for them in the course.  Audio feedback on papers or assignments is always helpful and it can help you cut down on typing fatigue.

At SHSU Online we can help you turn a PowerPoint presentation or set of lecture notes into a dynamic video production.  Below is small example of we can turn a text based lesson into another form of media:

Practices Makes Best Practice

Practice Makes Best PracticeCutting down on last-minute scrambling with technological glitches by having your students practice the activity before the real assignment or assessment is due.

One of the worst feelings as an instructor occurs when you work tirelessly to put together an assignment or assessment in your course only to have the technology fail you. You spend countless hours organizing an activity with the learning objectives in mind, ensuring the activity is perfectly aligned to the curriculum, only to find that the students can’t even access it because the technology isn’t working. Talk about frustrating!  While in some respects you will always be at the mercy of the technology gods, for example the old adage “It is not a matter of if technology will fail you, it is a matter of when.”, seems to come to mind.  However, there is a very proactive way to greatly reduce the chance of a technological failure in your course………Practice!

Oftentimes assignments, assessments and activities that deal with third-party software or technology other than the Internet browser take place at stressful times during the semester or are associated with a stressful activity (test taking).  At this point, you are taking the normal stress and anxiety levels associated with coursework and compounding them with the added fun of using a new or different technology.  Why not introduce your students to the “new tech” at the beginning of the semester or make the activity less than 25% of the course grade.  Below you will see some great examples of “practice activities” that you can use in your course.  You don’t have to limit yourself to these activities as this best practice transcends just these examples.

Great Expectations

ExpectationsOne of the biggest stumbling blocks in online courses for students is having their expectations of the course meet reality.  There are two easy steps you can take to ensure your students know what to expect in your online course.

  • Place learning objectives throughout the course
  • Create an Expectations content item

Place Learning Objectives Throughout the Course

Due to accreditation requirements, your objectives will show up in your course’s syllabus so the students will be able to find them there.  However, you can really reinforce what the students will be getting out of course units and items by placing Unit and even Content Item level objectives.  Starting out each unit by letting students know what they can expect from it will remind them why they are involved in those activities and reinforce with you the desire to align your curriculum.  Putting an assignment level objective will go further to reinforce what they are learning and why.

Create an Expectations content Item

A great way to cut down on cut down on student confusion about course expectations and activities is to create an Expectations content item in your course.  This part of your course should contain 2 sets of expectations.  What you expect of your students and what your students should expect from you.  You can even have your students post that they have read and understood the course expectations.

Examples of Course expectations:

Expectations of Students

  • Use the virtual office to ask general course questions
  • Check the course homepage, discussions and their e-mail several times a week
  • keep up with reading assignments, activities, assignments and quizzes
  • Participate actively in class discussions, responding to at least 2 colleagues for each forum
  • Practice Netiquette in the course.  No flaming (negative hurtful comments); use correct grammar and spelling; don’t yell (write in all caps)

Expectations of Instructor *These will vary depending upon your comfort level

  • I will read and respond to discussion posts directed at me, e-mails and other forms of communication daily (not on weekends)
  • I will post grades for your assignments and exams quizzes within a week of submission
  • I will have office hours at these days/times: (insert times here) via Skype (Skype address here) or via phone (phone number here)

Letting your students know what to expect from you and what you expect from them will go along way toward ensuring a successful experience for them and you in your online course(s).

The Keys to Success for Online Testing

Keys to Success

Prepare a Practice Quiz to help your students identify and solve technical issues before the actual on-line tests begin.  This is especially important if you are using 3rd party tools like LockDown Browser (ExamGuard) or remote proctoring. Include questions about the online testing environment itself to underscore their importance for student success.  Be sure that your students have easy access to the technical help team here at SHSU Online (936.294.2780 or to iron out any technical issues they come upon.  Fixing the technical glitches now on a practice quiz will save heartache and sorrow when it comes time for midterms or finals.

Take the test Yourself for two very good reasons. First it allows you check the questions to ensure the correct answers are selected.  Second, it allows you to ensure that the test “looks good” in the browser. When you can try looking at it in multiple browsers to ensure compatibility.

Go Random and Single when presenting questions to your students.  Draw your questions from Random Blocks of questions so that students don’t receive the same questions each time and introduce your questions one at a time.  Both of these choices will help ensure academic integrity with the added bonus of saving the student work if the test session of interrupted due to a technical issue.

Be Flexible in Your Restrictions when setting the test taking window and time limit on your online assessments.  Remember that students choose online courses for their flexibility.  Their work schedules may not grant them a 24 hour window of time to take an exam.  We encourage faculty members to provide at least a 48 hour time window for when they can take their assessment.  The time limit will be determined by the exam length so choose what you think is best.  A good example could be (The Chapter 1 Exam will be available from Friday @ 8pm until Sunday at 11:59. You will one hour to complete the exam once you start it.)

Discussion Forums Graphic

Moderating Posts in Discussion Forums?  Now there is an ORIGINAL thought!

One of the best communication tools used in online, hybrid and face-to-face courses is the discussion forum. The benefits of forum use are widely published in academic circles. Some examples of these benefits are:

  • allowing the student to reflect and respond thoughtfully to a discussion question
  • allow them to apply that same kind of critical thinking to a peer’s posting
  • enables students who might not otherwise responds in a live classroom environment to have a “voice”

As envelopes are pushed in the distance education arena, we are discovering some things that need to be addressed.  Having taken a few online courses for my Master’s degree and in working with faculty in their courses, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to some student postings in what are supposed to be well reasoned, interactive back-and-forth discussions.

Students are waiting to see what their colleagues post and then creatively copy-pasting their own discussion board posts. Instead of doing the leg work of coming up with their own thoughts about whatever it is they are supposed to be posting, they are rehashing their colleague’s posts.  There are thoughts as to why this may be happening, but that is subject for a different post.

The challenge then becomes one of encouraging the interaction and critical thinking you want in a discussion board while maintaining the academic integrity of original thoughtForum moderation presents itself as a workable solution.  Forum moderation allows the instructor or designated reviewer to approve the post before it is seen by the rest of the class.  So, with this in mind here are the steps to promoting original responses in discussion board postings:

  1. When creating the forum be sure to ensure that your force moderation of posts.*
  2. Assign a due date for the creation of discussion threads in response to your discussion question.
  3. Do NOT publish/moderate the posts until after the due date.
  4. Turn off post moderation once the due date is reached (you can also disable the ability of the students to add new threads)
  5. Have a separate due date for replies to original postings.

By following these steps, the students make their posts, completing the first part of the discussion assignment (the part when you want them to reply with their original thoughts) without being able to view the posts of fellow students. Then, when you open the discussion back up for reply the are free to build off of each others’ ideas and continue to interact.

This does entail a little more work on the part of the forum moderator (professor, instructor, TA), but can really go a long way to ensuring the integrity of student discussions.  This solution does not have to be utilized on every discussion forum in your course, but can be leveraged for when you want to ensure the student’s thoughts are original.

*Some Learning Management Systems do not have the ability to moderate posts, so another solution may be in order.

Peer AssessmentUse a Quick Short Answer Quiz to Peer Assess Group Work

One of the more challenging things to do when teaching online is to assess group work.  Aside from checking in on group Discussion Boards/Assignments and chat recordings, it can be hard to know where the group members stand in terms of load distribution. With large classes, having weekly or even monthly synchronous group meetings might be logistically impossible.

One way to gauge how students are performing in groups according to their peers is to employ a “Peer Assessment Quiz“.  This quiz should include short answer questions, where students are asked to enter each group member’s name and rate their participation. There should also be a way to leave comments for each group member.

This best practice can help prompt your students to take a more collaborative involved role in their course groups/teams.

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