Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online

The following ten best practices for Teaching online are based on Chapter 3: Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. M. (2010). The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips (1 ed.). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Best Practice 1: Be Present at the Course Site

Being present requires being accessible to students. Since students log in at various times it is important for the instructor to be available daily and at least once over the weekend to answer any urgent questions. Including a weekly video with feedback of the previous week as well as suggestions for the upcoming week will help the students to be connected to the presence of the instructor. Using a variety of tools such as blogs, tweets, discussions and announcements will show instructor interaction and will help develop a student bond.

Best Practice 2: Create a Supportive Online Course Community

A community requires planning and nurturing. To initiate community building all participants are requested to post a personal introduction (including the instructor). This could be in video or text format and should include personal information such as hobbies and pets as well as professional information such as education and work background. To establish instructor-student support, a face to face meeting online through a platform like Skype will help the student receive individualized dialogue. Using a variety of forums such as a “Coffee Shop” forum and discussion forum will help establish and maintain the learner-learner community.

Best Practice 3: Develop a Set of Explicit Expectations for Your Learners and for Yourself as to How You Will Communicate and How Much Time Students Should Be Working on the Course Each Week

Uncertainty, stress and conflict can be reduced through clearly defining expectations and commitment requirements. Communication is the key. The course should be embedded with details on how to communicate with the instructor, expected time for response and assessment timelines. Ideally there should be a link to request a meeting with a calendar that provides time slots of availability. Since many students work, it is important that these time slots include an evening or weekend slot as well. Use of a question and answer forum will help content focused questions being resolved in a public space. Guidelines should be offered to students on time commitment required for each section of the course as well as a student success plan which provides a detailed course schedule.

Best Practice 4: Use a Variety of Large Group, Small Group, and Individual Work Experiences

Brainstorming offers a creative way to work through concepts and provides an effective way for students to work together. Initially in the course a small group experience will be used which can then be incorporated into a large group project that is more complex.

Best Practice 5: Use Synchronous and Asynchronous Activities.

Online courses offer a variety of tools that can be used for activities. Asynchronous activities allow the student to plan and construct their ideas before responding or reflecting. They provide flexibility in time and device. Each course should include synchronous activities which are often necessary when students work in groups. Using a virtual platform like “Second Life” would also encourage synchronous engagement.

Best Practice 6: Ask for Informal Feedback Early in the Term

Feedback forms part of the learning journey. It encourages reflection. Providing the opportunity for feedback early in the course will highlight what is working well and will provide students with the opportunity to make suggestions on how their course experience could improve. The initial feedback offers an excellent discussion opportunity or could be added to a poll.

Best Practice 7: Prepare Discussion Posts That Invite Responses, Questions, Discussions, and Reflections

Online courses use discussion boards as their primary communication tool and community builder. Discussion boards should encourage critical thinking, experience validation and encourage reflection and inquiries. These forums should be presented in a format that encourages open ended responses. The instructor should post interesting and probing questions. Using a video clip or article and then asking students to post their thoughts into a discussion as well as respond to other posts will encourage a deeper level of concept formation. It is important to stagger discussions throughout the course and make sure student participation is encouraged and monitored.

Best Practice 8: Search Out and Use Content Resources That are Available in Digital Format If Possible.

Online courses should ensure that all resources are available in digital format. Using a print text defeats the principle of online convenience and accessibility. Selecting text that is available for PC, Apple and Android compliments the flexibility and versatility of online courses. Students should also be encouraged to select a variety of online tools to complete research and assignments.

Best Practice 9: Combine Core Concept Learning with Customized and Personalized Learning

Online courses offer the unique opportunity for individualized learning. Once the instructor has established the course concepts and outcomes, the student then has the opportunity to personalize activities to maximize learning. Since online offers so many tools the students should be presented with a variety of choices within the learning experience. Online tools such as blogs, wikis, forums and Facebook offer a platform that encourages communication of the students’ thinking, new knowledge acquired and realizations of connections.

Best Practice 10: Plan a Good Closing and Wrap Activity for the Course

How often have you watched a movie that suddenly ended. It typically makes you feel like it was not worth the time to watch it. A course without a closing is the same. It is critical to use the final weeks of the course to bring all the concepts learned into a valuable closing activity such as using summaries, analyses and video presentations. The students could be asked to design a poster that represents the summary.


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