Best Practices for Online Teaching

March 11, 2022 Watermark Insights

At many colleges across the nation, a majority of classes will be provided in a hybrid or online format as COVID-19 continues to spread in the community continuing the virtual environment started midway through the spring semester.

“In the spring, the campus had to make a rapid shift to online learning and instructors lamented the challenges of maintaining classroom rapport and staying flexible in a chaotic time,” said Mercer Bufter, Academic Technology Specialist at Alamance Community College (ACC).

At Piedmont Community College, the shift to online instruction posed challenges with lack of time to train faculty in new mediums, equity and inclusion issues among students, and limited resources, said Don Miller, Dean of Learning Commons.

As Miller helps guide faculty into a new semester online, he has encouraged them to be creative about engaging students as what worked in the classroom may or may not translate to online learning. Faculty at Piedmont CC are expanding their use of screen share video technology and building more interactive online courses.

As campus gears up for the fall semester, Bufter suggests implementing these three tips to start off with a good foundation in online courses:

  • Create expectations for yourself and your students that you can live up to
  • Implement a regular weekly schedule
  • Communicate and don’t leave your students guessing

Bufter has been impressed with how ACC faculty are adapting to online instruction this fall with new strategies such as lecture capture and sharing, planning of thoughtful sequences of online activities and creating effective synchronous virtual meetings.

Dr. Ben Shirley, Sociology instructor at ACC, is reaching out to his students before the semester even starts to ensure they are ready for online classes. Since many students will be taking online classes for the first time, he is contacting new students to the college a week before classes start and asking them to go ahead and take the college’s independent distance learning orientation.

Dr. Shirley is also trying out some new technologies that can hit on a couple of different teaching modalities while providing low stakes opportunities to test out their mastery of the content.

“I’m using H5P in Moodle,” he explained. “This allows students to watch a video and get tested throughout with simple true false questions. It allows them to understand the topic in more detail, but doesn’t take a lot of time and energy from the students.”

Armed with a new license for Zoom, Alexandra Marano, English instructor at ACC, plans on polling her online literature classes for good times to meet. Once those times are set, she will offer synchronous discussions of the literature they are covering. If a student participates in the live discussion, they do not have to respond in writing to that week’s online forum. Marano is also going to experiment with live meetings for peer review in her online composition classes.

Laura Kassler Gaines, Computer Information Technology Instructor at ACC, is focusing on organization and automation.

“If you aren’t organized, the students have a very frustrating experience,” Gaines said. “With that in mind, less is okay. You don’t need to cram a ton of stuff into a course.”

This fall, Gaines is focusing on streamlining assessments and finding ways for students to interact and connect other than the traditional discussion forum post.

At East Central College, Anna Schwein, Computer Information Systems Faculty, struggled with getting students to connect for their team projects online in the spring.

“These are always a challenge, especially in asynchronous classes with non-traditional students because their work and family schedules vary so much as do their work habits,” Schwein said. “Since there isn't a required meeting time each week, teams have a hard time coordinating work efforts in addition to the traditional problems associated with teamwork.”

This fall, Schwein is debating whether to introduce the big team project in the class earlier or at least put students in their teams earlier in the semester as study partners to give them time to get to know each other before the group project is assigned. With both options, she can address incompatibility in either personality or schedules earlier in the semester.

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