Two students work together in the Student Community CenterResearch on teaching and learning in online environments provides insights into practices that contribute to successful and satisfying experiences for students and instructors. These practices, compiled by Boettcher and Conrad (2010), capture much of what is currently known about effective online teaching from research studies in this area. While these practices were written for online courses, they can be applied to hybrid and blended courses as well.

1. Be present at the course site. When faculty actively interact and engage students, the class evolves as a group and develops intellectual and personal bonds. Regular, thoughtful, presence shows the students that the faculty member cares about who they are, about their questions and concerns, and is generally present for them to do the mentoring, guiding, and challenging that teaching is all about.

  • Strategy: Send regular announcements through the LMS, be active in any online discussions, or post regularly on a course blog to let the learners know you are there.

2. Create a supportive online course community. The need to nurture a learning community complements the importance of being a significant presence. A learning community in a face-to-face environment develops spontaneously. In the online environment, planning and nurturing is required for a learning community to develop.

  • Strategy: Design a course with a balanced set of dialogues among students, between students and faculty, and between students and the resources. Use problem-solving boards or discussion boards where students can go to get help from each other.

3. Develop a set of explicit expectations for your learners and yourself as to how you will communicate and how much time students should be working on the course each week. This practice clarifies, specifies expectations, and reduces uncertainty. For instance, how will students communicate with you (will they ask questions over email or on a Q&A forum like Piazza?)? When can they expect to receive a response (within 24 hours? Longer over weekends? Shorter near due dates?)

  • Strategy: Have students post content-focused queries on the course site so everyone can see the response and students can respond to each other; this will reduce answering the same question multiple times and help establish an active and responsive learning community.

4. Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences. A learning community works best when a variety of activities and experiences is offered. Students benefit from the opportunity to brainstorm and work through concepts with one or two fellow students, and most students benefit from learning on their own on certain tasks.

  • Strategy: Put students in small teams early in a course so students can get to know each other and feel like part of a community, and provide guidelines on how they can work effectively as part of a team.

I like de-centering the classroom. After twenty plus years of teaching, I am definitely a beginner in the classroom again; being a beginner makes me a better teacher.Elyse Lord, Lecturer, University Writing Program

5. Use synchronous and asynchronous activities. The variety of activities possible online makes it easy to create many types of effective learning environments. Some tools make it possible to engage students in activities that resemble what happens in a face-to-face classroom with synchronous chat and virtual live classrooms. Other tools that allow asynchronous interaction (discussion boards, question and answer boards, online activities that engage students with content) can support more extensive collaborative and reflective activities.

  • Strategy: Consider which of your learning outcomes will be better supported using synchronous versus asynchronous activities.

6. Ask for informal feedback early in the term. Early feedback surveys or informal discussions are effective in getting students to provide feedback on what is working well in a course and what might help them have a better experience. Early feedback allows you to make changes while the course is ongoing. Asking for anonymous student feedback can encourage more open sharing from students about what is working well for them and what could be improved.

  • Strategy: Ask students open-ended questions over email or using a discussion forum: What is working thus far? How could your learning experience be improved? What do you want or need help with? Or use an online survey or form tool, like google forms, to get anonymous feedback.

7. Prepare discussion posts that invite responses, questions, discussions, and reflections. Discussion boards are commonly used for communication in online courses among students and between students and faculty. Online discussion can help a widely dispersed group become a learning community.

  • Strategy: Provide guidelines for responding to other students and stagger due dates of responses. Provide choices for students in questioning.

8. Search out and use content resources that are available in digital format, if possible. Students will most likely use content, resources, and applications that are online and readily available. This allows them to be learning anywhere and anytime.

  • Strategy: Choose textbooks available in multiple formats when possible, and build links to current events into discussions and blogs or ask students to find resources themselves.

9. Combine core concepts learning with customized and personal learning. Identify the learning outcomes that students should achieve in a course, and then guide and mentor the students through increasingly complex learning activities to help learners apply these core concepts and develop their own knowledge structures.

  • Strategy: Design options within learning experiences and assignments to enhance the meaningfulness of the learning and increase learner enthusiasm.

10. Plan a good closing activity for the course. At the end of courses it is easy to focus on assessing and grading students and forget the value of a good closing experience. Planning final learning experiences can provide an opportunity for faculty to remind students of core concepts and fundamental principles and for students to reflect on their own transformation that has occurred during the course.

  • Strategy: Ask students to write a final reflection on a blog or discussion board about what they have learned and the knowledge and skills they are taking away, or use a synchronous collaborative tool for students to collectively reflect on their learning.

References & Resources

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. M. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. John Wiley & Sons.