Like so many summers before, I spent the month of June in visions of grandeur about changing my online course during my “time off:”

I think I should re-record all my videos!

I’m gonna re-write all my test banks!

I need to radically change how I teach statistics!

All were thoughts I momentarily entertained. I’ll bet you can guess how this all shakes out . . .

One goal I accomplished, however, was leading a CTLE summer book study of Small Teaching Online by Flower Darby. And by mid-July, I was relieved to discover the power of small changes in my online pedagogy.

The small teaching philosophy has its roots in the book Small Teaching by Jim Lang (who collaborated with Darby on Small Teaching Online). Rather than planning sweeping changes to your instruction which are difficult to see through, Darby and Lang recommend focusing on smaller changes that can accumulate to a larger impact over time.

Motivation theory supports this approach. Redesigning a course in one-fell swoop can feel like too heavy of a lift, and procrastination can set in hard as a result. But small changes are bite-sized and do-able. Self-efficacy in a variety of domains, including online teaching, is built through a series of smaller mastery experiences. And those small accomplishments create a growing sense of competence about online teaching.

In all, Small Teaching Online offers 42 easily actionable tips for enhancing your online course. Some small steps from the book that I will take this year include:

  • Ask students to commit to a plan for success
  • Include assessments to ensure students are attentively watching your video content
  • Schedule deadlines to coincide with your availability to answer questions
  • Require peer-to-peer interactions in your class
  • Record audio or video comments on assessments

There is an illusion that once an online course is created, you can “set it and forget it.” This fantasy involves attempting to create the “perfect” course, and again, we all know how that story ends. Instead, good online courses are living, breathing, and ever-evolving. We have the time and space to make small changes that benefit our students while emboldening ourselves as online instructors.

To be sure, there is value in re-recording videos, revamping whole test banks, and even re-imagining our approach to teaching content. However, small steps can also be an effective path to meeting these larger goals.

If you have any small changes you’ve made to your online course, I’d love to hear about them! Leave a  note in the comments section, or e-mail me at

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