Home » Resources » Considerations When Setting up and Teaching an Online Course

Written by Terry Kinney, Ph.D.


Given the COVID-19 national crisis, it is imperative that community college faculty set up remote teaching platforms for many, if not all, of their courses. Moving a face-to-face course to an online course poses several potential challenges. Many of the challenges posed by setting up and teaching an online course are listed and discussed below.

Setting up an online course

According to an article written by Hallie Busta (2020), remote teaching experts suggest that there are at least four challenges to consider when moving a face-to-face course online, including the need to have time to ramp up the course, sticking to the essential course outcomes while being flexible and creative, making sure that students have access to the course, and setting up a system that provides robust communication and documentation.

1. Providing faculty with a ramp-up period and internal support when converting their courses to online formats has proven to be a critical requirement.

Many colleges have closed and extended their spring break window to allow faculty more time during the conversion. In addition, many colleges have developed webinars, online forums, and resources for faculty to use to assist in the conversion process. For a comprehensive database of remote teaching strategies, especially for converting a face-to-face course to an online course, click here.

2. Focusing on the essential course outcomes while being flexible and creative is a second challenge when converting a course.

Setting up multiple communication outlets such as online videos of lectures, discussions, and demonstrations can pose serious challenges for faculty. Fortunately, there are solutions, including access to online meetings (e.g., Zoom), posting videos and recordings of lectures to existing online course services such as Canvas and D2L, or simply emailing attachments directly to students. Flexibility and creativity in how the course is recast may prove to be effective when converting a course. Preserving the essential learning outcomes of a course can be implemented in several different ways.

3.  Ensuring that students have access to the online course is a big challenge.

It is important that students can access the course materials as soon as possible so that they can adjust to the learning environment as quickly as possible. Converting a course typically means that students will need to have internet access, which may pose problems for some students, especially if they are not allowed to use on-campus facilities. This suggests that using the “lowest common denominator” approach may be a wise choice for critical elements of instructional delivery, such as emailing the students directly. Other considerations include ensuring that the online material is accessible and can be read by screen readers.

4.  Another challenge that is posed by converting a course to an online platform involves the regularity of substantive faculty communication with students.

The U.S. Department of Education has relaxed this requirement to some extent to allow for rapid course conversion to online formats, but faculty still must communicate regularly with students about course requirements, expectations, and progress. Fortunately, there are several modes of communication that meet this requirement, such as email, online chat rooms, Zoom meetings, and conference calls. 

In addition to regular communication, faculty are being asked to document as accurately as possible the substance of their regular communication with students. Emailing students provides a clear path of documentation, as does posting materials on existing course platforms such as Canvas and D2L. Documentation of course syllabi modifications, changes in course expectations, and changes in assignment due dates are especially important to preserve.

Remote teaching tips

Once a course has been converted to an online platform, there are several teaching tips that have been found to be effective to promote student engagement and success. Following is a listing of these online teaching tips. Not all of the teaching tips presented below will apply perfectly to the current situation, but they are included for future use. Looking over the list of items shows that the set of teaching tips tend to converge on a common set of core of ideas, including being present and available, using active teaching, using multiple channels/multi-modes of presentation, designing lesson plans in discrete small chunks, developing a supportive environment, and asking for feedback, all of which are generally applicable to any teaching situation.

For additional explanation of each of the teaching tips listed below, please see each source article listed in the Sources section

From O’Malley (2017) article:

1. Make it a group effort

2. Focus on active learning 

3. Chunk the lessons

4. Keep group sizes small

5. Be present

6. Parse your time

7. Embrace multimedia assignments

From Boettcher (2006-2013) article:

1. Be present at the course site

2. Create a supportive online course community

3. Share a set of very clear expectations for your students and for yourself as to 1) how you will communicate and 2) how much time students should be working on the course each week

4. Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences

5. Use both synchronous and asynchronous activities

6. Ask for informal feedback on “How is the course going?” and “Do you have any suggestions?”

7. Prepare discussion posts that invite questions, discussions, reflections, and responses

8. Focus on content resources and applications and links to current events and examples that are easily accessed from learners’ computers

9. Combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning

10. Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course

From Cooper (2016) article:

1. Be present

2. Set the expectations

3. Let the students do the work

4. Nurture a supportive online community

5. Think before you write

6. Ask for feedback

7. Foster personal relationships with each student

8. Make use of group and individual projects

9. Use resources that are readily available

10. Have a closing activity

From Reis (n.d.) posting:

1. Be present at the course site

2. Create a supportive online course community

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

4. Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences

5. Use synchronous and asynchronous activities

6. Ask for informal feedback early in the term

7. Prepare discussion posts that invite responses, questions, discussions, and reflections

8. Search out and use content resources that are available in digital format if possible

9. Combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning

10. Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course

Successful use of the above teaching tips should prove to enhance students’ experiences with an online course and promote student engagement and success.


Sources

Boettcher, J.V. (2006-2013).  Ten best practices for teaching online:  Quick guide for new online faculty.  Retrieved from: http://designingforlearning.info/writing/ten-best-practices-for-teaching-online/

Busta, H, (2020).  Finding the ‘sweet spot’: 4 tips for moving classes online quickly. Retrieved from:  https://www.educationdive.com/news/finding-the-sweet-spot-4-tips-for-moving-classes-online-quickly/574124/

Cooper, S. (2016).  10 Best Practices To Be An Effective Online TeacherRetrieved from: https://elearningindustry.com/10-best-practices-effective-online-teacher

O’Mally, S. (2017).  Effective teaching online.  Retrieved from:

https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/07/12/7-guidelines-effective-teaching-online

Reis, R. (n.d.).  Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online:  Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning.  Retrieved from:  https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1091


About Terry Kinney, Ph.D.

Terry Kinney, Ph.D.

Terry has a long-term relationship with Interact and has been a member of our team for many years. Terry has served as an expert on numerous state-level public information campaigns. He has extensive experience in research methodologies and techniques, and holds a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a doctorate in communication arts, all from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

By Published On: April 14, 2020Last Updated: April 4, 2022Categories: Insights, ResourcesTags: