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It is no secret that the online learning environment provides both opportunities and challenges. Whether you are new to teaching online or a well-seasoned online instructor, take a look at some best practices to making your online course even better:

  • Create a supportive and welcoming course community – While online students are working alone, we don’t want them to feel isolated. Better connected students stay enrolled. Welcome students to your class. Use a video to introduce yourself. Create a discussion board or other online activity to give students the opportunity to get to know you and one another.

  • Define course expectations – Clearly articulate the academic and online expectations of your course. This material should include netiquette, online attendance, and participation. The more information you can give about the amount of work and required activity in the course, the more likely students will succeed.

  • Make it clear how to get started in the course – It is important to guide students through how you structure your course. When a student opens the course, their first step should be obvious (Start here, click on modules to start, etc.). Then they should have detailed instructions on where information is located and what they should do next. Think about creating a checklist for their first week and a short video showing them how you have laid out the course.

  • Design a clear and consistent course structure – There is no single way to design a course, but it is important that whatever design choices you make are clear and consistent. Use the same method to notify students of updates, changes, or reminders. Post information in the same area every time. Explain how you will give feedback and stay consistent. If students can’t find the information, then they can’t learn from it.

  • Establish a strong online presence – Just because they can’t see you doesn’t mean you should be invisible! Post weekly announcements, podcasts or videos about what they will be learning that week or in that unit. Do this at the beginning and/or end of the week. Be active in any discussion boards by helping to make connections between student comments, asking additional questions, and even posting a summary at the end the discussion.

  • Communicate with your students early and often – It is important to respond to within 24-48 hours of a student contacting you. Check-in on your students regularly through email, phone calls, or other media tools. Send a note of praise when they are doing well and ask questions when they are participating less. Use Canvas tools that allow you to message students who have done well and those who haven’t completed assignments. Don’t hesitate to have them meet with you (in person or online) early on in the semester so they feel more comfortable contacting you when they need help.

  • Provide meaningful feedback throughout the course – Student feedback is vital to improvement in a course. Give students the opportunity to get formative feedback early so they can learn and improve. Give short quizzes, surveys, or assignments where students can check their understanding before a major assignment.

  • Create engaging course material and interactive assignments – Online courses don’t need to be just PPT slides, PDF files, and quizzes. Find ways to make the material more engaging and effective. Add videos that you have created or look online for resources created by others. Have students venture away from their computer to complete an assignment. Ask them to share experiences, debate ideas, and evaluate their assumptions in an online discussion. Use tools like Softchalk or Adobe Connect to create lessons with audio and embedded quizzes.

  • Provide opportunities for students to work with one another – Help students create connections with other students. Assign students a partner they can turn to with questions. Create useful group assignments, discussions, or peer reviews. Find ways for students to interact so they know they are not alone.

  • What best practice are we missing? Take a moment and share what you do to make your online courses successful.

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