The basics of online teaching

Getting started

Online teaching and learning are becoming more and more mainstream in higher education globally. Most students will do at least some of their learning online during typical degree programs, and some will choose to do most or all of their learning in that mode.

As an instructor assigned to teach an online course, there are a a number of considerations before you get started, and the Office of Open Learning can help you through that process.

As with most teaching settings, start with the learning outcomes for the course - what should students know and be able to do at the end of the course? Once you have those, take a look at the definitions [link to definitions page] of online, open, and hybrid courses to get a sense of what broad delivery mode might work best for your subject and your students. Then you can choose a delivery mode to meet the learning needs of the course and its students.

A few things to consider

Your learning outcomes will determine the types of interactions you plan for (with you, the course learning materials, and each other) and what students need to be able to achieve the goals you have set for them.

Brian Udermann (2019) provides seven things to consider before developing your online course:

  1. Establish a timeline for designing and developing the course: This can vary considerably from course to course, depending on access to additional resources, and the availability of the instructor. In general if a course is being designed and developed from scratch, 6-12 months of development may be needed.
  2. Determine what you really want your students to know, be able to do, and remember after they leave the course: This may sound basic, but it is critical to spend adequate time on narrowing down exactly what it is you need your students to come away with so you can design a learning environment that will facilitate that. Working with an online learning specialist will help you define those things.
  3. Explore alternatives to commercial textbooks: While traditional commercial textbooks are often sold as a one-stop-shop for your course content, they can be very restrictive and are rarely a perfect fit. Considering finding or creating alternatives such as modular Open Educational Resources (OERs), complete open textbooks, open courseware, open data, and other open access resources can not only save students money, but can also be pedagogically liberating.
  4. Create a participation plan: Planning for all the ways you want you and your students to interact is critical to the success of an online course. What does the weekly interaction schedule look like? Will you have synchronous or asynchronous communication (or both)? Will there be live classes? What about office hours? How do you prefer students to connect with you (tell them specifically!).
  5. What technology is most appropriate: Teaching online doesn’t necessarily require a large suite of technology (although your context and content may require some specialised things). You may think of the LMS (Blackboard) as the hub of online course interactions, but you may also be using tools outside that space, depending on your pedagogical needs.
  6. Manage workload: One of the things that can happen in online courses, from both an instructor and student perspective, is that because it is relatively easy to add more and more things to the course, you end up overloading it. Be as economical as possible, have a plan that is shared with students for how and when they can expect to interact with you, resist the temptation to answer every email as soon as it comes in (but still being available to students), and build the components of the course so they can be reused in future and other courses. Also resist the urge to use a lot more assessment in your online courses than in face to face settings. Talk to your online learning specialists about how to manage your workload!
  7. Use the resources available to you: The Office of Open Learning has online learning specialists who can help you ideate, design, develop, implement, and evaluate your online courses, so make sure you take advantage of the services available to you. You don’t have to do it all alone!