Being an Effective Online Instructor

Categories: Instruction, Online Learning, Research Skills, Teaching, Tools and Resources

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For August 2020 we will focus on Teaching and Learning Research. We will explore classroom instruction in research methods, as well as research foundations and experiences in other curricular courses.

While holding the promise of expanding the time and location boundaries of traditional education, online learning gives rise to new constraints, and raises questions about exclusion, isolation, and detachment that are potential barriers to learning. Your students want to see you and connect with you as a human being.Effective online instructors have a direct and important role in influencing the student experience, making sure to facilitate resilience and perseverance. Consider implementing the following top 10 tips to drive ongoing engagement and learning.

This article is the second of a series of six sets of tips for teaching and learning online written by Linda Dale Bloomberg, a professor of education at Northcentral University and MethodSpace’s mentor-in-residence for August 2020. Click here to see the full series and here to learn more about Bloomberg.

1 Be Familiar with Technology
Engaging with students occurs within the learning management system (LMS) that is used to manage their work and provide feedback on assignments. Familiarity with the LMS, and integrated technological tools makes connecting with students easier and more effective. Jump right in to familiarize yourself with the available technology, and apply this to promote ongoing learning. Be compliant in consistently following institutional guidelines regarding use of technology so students feel a sense of continuity when moving between instructors.

2 Set Clear Expectations
Don’t rely on students to interpret for themselves the setup of the course and the technological aspects of the LMS. Provide clear details regarding course objectives, syllabus requirements, and class schedules.  Let students know how and when to participate and the extent to which they have choices. Encourage them to be proactive by accessing their course daily, completing assignments as required, and submitting work on time. Share time management tips and tools such as Todoist or calendar functions within your LMS to ensure that students are efficient, stay on track, and can plan ahead.

3 Find Ways to Personalize your Course
When you personalize your course, students can make connection with more than just a computer. A brief welcome video ensures that they perceive that you are present and available. This simple but powerful tool helps to “put a face to a name”, making your students feel more comfortable, connected, and supported. This video introduction allows your students to meet you, and is an impactful way to begin building positive and supportive teaching relationships. The human touch makes a difference! Project yourself as a “real person” throughout all activities and communication, making sure to offer individualized attention as needed.

4 Respect Diversity and Strive for Inclusion
Online education serves student populations with great variations in ability, interests, and access to technology. Instructors have a responsibility to recognize which tools and activities support accessibility and which do not. Be aware of using media thoughtfully so that it is accessible to all. To address individual needs, make sure you are inclusive throughout your teaching practice right from course design through implementation and assessment. In seeking to reduce barriers, your intention must be to provide a high quality of education to all learners, regardless of their background, culture, or past educational experiences.

5 Seek Feedback Early and Often
Demonstrate that you consider your students as active partners in the learning experience. Ask them for feedback and make changes accordingly. The opportunity to share their viewpoints helps students feel more engaged and provides a sense of ownership of the course. Administer an early brief survey to assess the “temperature of the room”; this gives you an early warning system regarding the stumbling points or obstacles that students are facing. In all instances, be sure to assist those who require some form of support, reaching out for individual meetings when necessary.

6 Ensure Availability
You are the live human face of your online course! This implies being physically and emotionally available for your students. Being physically present means that they can contact you and communicate synchronously via phone, Zoom, Skype, or other available technologies. Being emotionally present means that they can discuss any hardships they are experiencing. Make yourself available through virtual office hours (access free scheduling tools such as Calendly or Picktime. Use the announcement/chat feature, and check into your course(s) every day to respond to anything students have asked or requested. When students contact you, be sure to respond as soon as possible.

7 Build Teaching Relationships
Commit to ensuring a meaningful learning experience by being “present”. Initial introductions allow you to get to know who your students are. The better you know your students the better you can support them by addressing individual interests and needs. Connect with those who “fly under the radar” by thoughtfully offering guidance and support, although unsolicited. Put in the time and effort to develop a growth academic mindset and encourage an “I can do this” attitude for all learners by conveying that you genuinely care about their success and that you are here to help. When you commit to authentic engagement you will find that your students do better and perform at a higher level of excellence because of the connection.

8 Develop Multiple Avenues for Interaction
Online learning should not be thought of as “alone learning”. Engaging your students by interacting and communicating with them, and making changes as needed, allows you to be more connected to your students as individuals. This is also a significant opportunity for your students to see you as a source of support. Creating interactive opportunities that are purposefully designed and integrated into the curriculum. In addition to having an introduction or icebreaker activity, other ways effective instructors build in student-to-student interaction include online discussion forums, peer-review activities, collaborative work, and group video conferencing.

9 Maintain a Safe and Welcoming Environment
The culture you create should be conducive to active participation, where all students feel free to ask questions, share experiences, and collaborate with peers. Collaboration provides opportunities to work together, build knowledge collectively, and support each other’s understanding. Serve as a role model by creating an environment in which students feel safe to communicate and contribute. Make sure that all communication and interaction is productive, thereby creating a positive and inclusive environment. Monitor trust levels and respectful interaction in all discussions and communications. A sense of safety will help students become more engaged, leading to more open sharing of beliefs and values. A safe environment also provides valuable lessons on how to engage in productive and respectful interactions with others who might hold opposing viewpoints.

+ Instill Ongoing Motivation
Motivating your students to remain engaged is a primary and ongoing task. Incorporate motivational strategies and activities throughout your course, including use of encouraging language, and acknowledgement of perseverance, milestone achievement, and success. Encouragement can come in many forms, including check-ins through emails, phone calls, and video messages, including one called “Midweek Motivation”. Students often need reminders to be able to see beyond the present because their instructor believes in them.

Coming posts from Dr. Bloomberg in the series Teach & Learn Research

Headlines will appear in blue as they are published.

Transitioning to Teaching Online
Although the recent widespread transition to online teaching is unfamiliar for many, some of the key skills and techniques can be learned and mastered to meet the current and urgent challenge.

Being an Effective Online Instructor

Employing Multimodal Strategies in Online Teaching
Online education can take a wide variety of shapes and forms. The challenge is how to craft the experience for your diverse students, thereby engaging them in authentic learning experiences within this often unfamiliar, virtual environment

Identifying and Supporting Struggling Students in Online Courses
Without set hours and routines, online learners may feel isolated and unmotivated to meet course requirements.

Making Online Learning Accessible
Many instructors may move traditional classes into the digital format without any redesign, failing to take into consideration students with disabilities or the unique opportunities available to implement inclusive teaching strategies.

Setting Yourself Up For Success In Your Online Class
In many ways, learning online, this “new normal”, reverses traditional teacher/student roles, and places different demands on you as a student. Suddenly, you are responsible for planning, organizing, and directing your own learning.

About Linda Dale Bloomberg

Dr. Linda Dale Bloomberg, author of the Top 10 Teaching Tip series, has served for the past seven years as professor and associate director of faculty support and development and full professor of education at Northcentral University, a fully online university. In this capacity she coaches and evaluates online faculty, develops curriculum for graduate research courses, and serves as dissertation chair and subject matter expert for online doctoral candidates. She also serves in an advisory and leadership capacity for the university’s community engagement platform and was a founding member of university’s diversity committee.   Recently she was invited to serve on the Future Talent Council, Global Advisory Board for Faculty and Staff Development. Bloomberg is the author of numerous publications in the fields of distance education, including:

  • Bloomberg, L. D. & Grantham, G. (2018).Teaching in Graduate Distance Education: Perspectives on Evaluating Faculty Engagement Strategies, International Journal Online Graduate Education, 1(2), 1-24.
  • Bloomberg, L. D. (2020). Developing a learning community through an online university’s community engagement platform: An analysis of the experiences of students and faculty. International Journal of Online Graduate Education. 3(1), 1-24
  • Bloomberg, L. D. (2020). Coaching Faculty to Teach Online: A Single Qualitative Case Study at an Online University. International Journal of Online Graduate Education 3(2), 1-23.

She is also the author of The Art [and Science] of Teaching Online: Engaging and Empowering Online Learners (forthcoming, Teachers College Press). In this book she distills almost two decades of experience in teaching in a multitude of online contexts including coaching instructors to teach online. She has also been researching best practices for online instruction since 2003 when she began her doctoral dissertation, studying the development and facilitation of online learning communities. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bloomberg is even more committed to producing material that can be swiftly shared so it is immediately useful and usable in multiple online educational contexts. As institutions rapidly move all their courses online there is a high probability of trial and error and active experimentation. But there is also a lot you can do to thoughtfully and intentionally set yourself and your students up for success. The Top 10 Teaching Tips series is intended for this purpose.

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