7 Strategies For Planning Your Online Course

Online teaching software

Take a moment to review Courosa’s setup for a grad school class.

For many institutions of higher education, online degrees provide a means of increasing access to education, reaching out to “non-traditional” learners who often work, and provide a platform for innovations in teaching. Whether you teach face-to-face or online, the mission is still the same. Educators want to engage their students, teach them to be lifelong learners and communicate with clarity. How do you do this without increasing your work load by two or three times?

My wife and I started this blog to give ourselves a forum to study how we can combine our passions for technology and education. My wife, a professor of Biology, has a professional goal teaching her classes online. She, however, has four main concerns for teaching online:

  • What is the time commitment for teaching an online class?
  • What software should I start to learn to teach online?
  • How do I assess performance in an online class?
  • How do I communicate complex ideas and topics online effectively?

We decided to research strategies and encountered a paper entitled “Introduction to teaching online” by Erping Zhu, Patricia Payette, and Deborah DeZure.   This work published by the “Center for Research on Learning and Teaching” at University of Michigan provides a brief introduction to some of the complexities of teaching online.
For simplicity, we will provide a summary of the major tips from the paper:

1. Start with your goals: During your class design, document your course goals and outcomes. Based on your goals, design your class strategies and use of technology.

2. Experiment in your face-to-face classes first: If you are interested in learning to teach online, start to experiment with technology and collaboration tools in your current face-to-face classes.  What technology will be user friendly to your students?   What technology fits your personality?

3. Design your assessment strategy: Design how you want to assess your students online. For example, a student can easily cheat on a multiple choice test. The authors recommend teachers assigning projects that force students to
document answers supported by reasoning. In other words, students should be encouraged to provide answers and document why their answer is correct.

4. Request training from your school: In your school, consult your leadership regarding opportunities to take formal classes on teaching online. Teaching online requires a change in technology usage and engagement strategies. All schools launching online classes should support their faculty with training materials.

5. All students are not technology savvy: In your course design, connect students with orientation materials, technology support contact information, and tutorials. In the ideal case, teachers should not be left to support all course “help desk” questions. Students, without a doubt, will have challenges with the technology tools of your course. Connect your students with your school’s official technology support help desk to help reduce your email load.

6. Know your options for teaching with the cloud:  You may also be interested in reviewing a more recent paper(2011) from Univ. of Michigan entitled “TEACHING IN THE CLOUD: LEVERAGING ONLINE COLLABORATION TOOLS TO ENHANCE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT.”   It provides more detailed comments on modern cloud services that teachers can use.

7. Teach well:  The authors challenge teachers to re-think the design of their courses when you teach online.   It’s ok to re-invent yourself.   It’s pretty easy to take existing face-to-face material and simply do the same thing using online mediums.   They, however, argue that this strategy is less successful in most cases.


I really appreciated the authors contrasting three approaches for teaching an online course

Teacher-centered(limited interaction)

  • This approach can reach a large number of students. This approach does not encourage collaboration or interaction.
  • Assignments focus on individual student efforts through reading, papers, etc.
  • E-mail level: ~20 email questions per week

Student-centered(high interaction)

  • This approach favors smaller class sizes and students who are highly motivated.
  • Class break down Idea: 40% discussion, 20% report, 40% final paper
  • Teacher starts class by recommending readings. For the first few weeks of class, the teacher leads discussion of readings. In the later seasons of the class, students are encouraged to facilitate class seminar sessions.

Mixed approach of teacher-centered and student-centered

  • The student/teacher e-mail complexity will be higher for this case.
  • The authors describe details regarding how student-centered and teacher-centered approaches can be mixed. Please see the paper for details.



What other tips could you share with the community regarding teaching an online or blended course?






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