Creative and Innovative Online Teaching Strategies

Contributed by:
Jonathan James
Facilitating an engaging online course requires educators to develop strategies that enhance student participation and build a sense of community. This leads to collaborative learning and developing relationships and fosters educator feedback while
facilitating independent networking and self-directed proactive learning.
Leighsa Sharoff, Hunter College – City University of New York
Facilitating an online course in today’s student population requires an educator to be innovative
and creative and to have an impactful online presence. In the current online learning environment
(also known as e-learning), keeping students’ thoughtfully engaged and motivated while dispensing the
required course content necessitates faculty enabling a safe, nonjudgmental environment whereby views,
perspectives, and personal and professional experiences are encouraged. The educator must exhibit an
educator-facilitated active, student-centered learning process, whereby students are held accountable
for their active participation and self-directed learning while balancing a facilitator role to further
enhance the learning process. This article explores one educator’s reflective practice process that has
been developed over numerous years as a very early adopter of online education. It will explore the
organizational aspect of teaching-facilitating a dynamic robust online course.
Keywords: transformative teaching/learning practices, educator reflection, online education
INTRODUCTION Learning should be transformational and provide
Facilitating an engaging online course requires students with opportunities to explore and reflect
educators to develop strategies that enhance student upon their assumptions, to critically analyze their
participation and build a sense of community. This beliefs and judgements, and to integrate new
leads to collaborative learning and developing thought patterns into their personhood. By sharing
relationships and fosters educator feedback while ideas and personal and professional values, new
facilitating independent networking and self- knowledge can develop and become translational
directed proactive learning (Garrison & Anderson, in practice.
2003; Hammond & Wiriyapinit, 2005; Kanuka & There have been numerous studies that explored
Garrison, 2004; Mann, 2014; Melrose & Bergeron, various aspects to virtual online learning, such as:
•• student perceptions of online courses
2007; Munich, 2014; Plante & Asselin, 2014; Rogo
& Portillo, 2015). In addition, educators’ need to (Papillion & Aaron, 2017);
enhance and encourage complex-reasoning skills •• faculty perceptions of the effectiveness of
while assisting students’ in developing a sense of online courses (Cherry & Flora, 2017);
reflective self and a personal and professional ethos •• students preferred online instructor caring
that eventually translates into increased confidence behaviors (Mann, 2014);
(Benner, Tanner, & Chesla, 2009; Elledge, Houltaon, •• academic integrity in the online learning
Hacektt & Evans, 2018; Chadha, 2017; Peisachovich, environment (Azulay Chertok, Barnes, &
2016; Peisachovich, Murtha, Phillips, & Messinger Gilleland, 2014; Tayaben, 2014); and
2016). All educational disciplines expect students •• teaching the practice of compassion
to translate content to work-related environments. (Hofmeyer et al., 2016).
2. Faculty development is needed to further yet it may have aspects of synchronous real-time
enhance the integration of e-learning. Not only do interfaces, such as specific deadlines for assignments
students need to be aware of the time commitment and engagement, online quizzes/examinations, and
and comfortable with technology, but faculty need specific content pertaining to weekly discussion.
to be educated regarding the pedagogical methods Varying this flexibility of online teaching activities
appropriate for an online course (Kowalczyk, by blending these defined strategies can be helpful
2014). Faculty members and programs that utilize in promoting learning outcomes and experiences.
e-learning need to be cognizant that the educators’ This article discusses the process of one educator
online presence is essential to fully disseminate who was an early adopter of online teaching. Its
the course content and that prompt and frequent purpose is to provide an overview of this educator’s
feedback and faculty interactions are vital, as is experience, process, teaching style, and creative
detailed guidance to students’ questions regarding diverse teaching/learning practices that have led to
assignments and course process (Gaudine & successful online participation. By incorporating
Moralejo, 2011; Mann, 2014). Collaborating with proactive and collaborative pedagogical practices,
students in discussions and encouraging peer-to- students’ engagement, motivation, commitment,
peer collaboration is an important feature to an and “reflection, knowledge acquisition” is
engaged virtual learning dynamic. Peer interactive encouraged and supported, thus nurturing the
design promotes collaboration and facilitates a learning process (Freeman et al., 2014; Peisachovich
sense of community (Chadha, 2017). Attention to et al., 2016, p. 114).
detail and clarity of the course, the syllabus, and
the criteria to succeed is mandatory. For a student TEMPLATE FOR ONLINE COURSES
to accomplish course objectives and outcomes, A detailed learning design process, with
faculty need to be organized and structured in various active learning activities leading to
their online content development, and they need student engagement and development of current
to establish clear and defined deadlines and ideas, skills and knowledge, is the challenge for
participation and course expectations. Otherwise, all educators. Developing an e-learning course
students may perceive their online learning to be that does not overwhelm students but provides
less than they would if they took the course face- them with opportunities to glean the essence of
to-face in a classroom (Gaudine & Moralejo, 2011). the material and internalize the knowledge to
The outcomes of the instructional design process eventually translate that knowledge to practice is
(Baker, 2010; Kim & Hannafin, 2011), as defined the ultimate outcome. To achieve this outcome,
by the educator, who dictates the interaction and an effective design and implementation of the
engagement with the students while promoting learning process to promote and inspire positive
regular communication, are essential to facilitate experiences for the student, and educator, is
online teaching-learning success (Carter, Hanna, fundamental (Carter et al., 2016).
& Warry, 2016). And as with all learning outcomes As a nurse educator, this author has taught a
and course assessment, measurement is based on variety of courses, beginning with the typical brick
the university’s evaluations. and mortar classroom. Flipping the classroom to the
Faculty need to expand their educational online community over a decade ago prompted this
processes to integrate technology as a tool and not author to begin developing virtual course template
as a pedagogical methodology. There needs to be processes. With each passing semester, design
a focus on providing quality educational learning and implementation of the e-learning template
experiences for students while integrating online became more detailed, tailored, and structured.
educational design practices (Kowalczyk, 2014). Needless to say, this educators’ learning curve
As in any classroom environment, the educators’ was steep in the beginning as an early adopter of
awareness of diverse types of learning styles is online teaching. With over a decade of revising,
important and even more so with online learning. refining, and organizing an instructional teaching
Varying the learning strategies can be an effective process for virtual facilitation, a template was
tool to providing a broad base for different learning successfully developed. This author has utilized
styles. Typically, an online course is asynchronous, this e-learning template in a variety of courses,
3. such as a prelicensure baccalaureate nursing of these quirks has decreased stress for both the
course in Women’s Health, a graduate course in student and the educator.
Therapeutic Counseling Modalities: Advanced Development of An Online Course
Nursing Perspectives and Practice for psychiatric
mental health nurse practitioner students, and a The online community.
graduate/Doctor of Nursing Practice course in Based on the university’s learning platform,
Clinical Genetics. designing the online community is essential
for student success. At this authors’ university,
Educator’s Experiences and Learning Curves Blackboard is the educational learning platform
One of the first learning curves was redesigning (, but any learning
the syllabus. An online course syllabus requires platform would provide the same functions. An
more details, instruction, and structure. The entire semester of content must be disseminated
author learned that repeating information in the via e-learning that promotes critical thinking,
syllabus and with online platform application reflection, and active participation, and that
announcements helped to organize the course for thoughtfully engages collaborative learning. This
successful student outcomes. Being extremely is a tall order for any educator, hence the need for a
clear on the required assignment deadlines, to structured course development process. Organizing
the exact minute that an assignment would be
the course in advance deters from last minute
considered late, was essential. It is necessary for
distractions for the educator. Setting up virtual
the educator, as well as the student, to be able to
office hours, implementing the 24- to 48-hour rule
adapt to expected and unexpected situations that
of responding to email for students and educator,
may arise throughout a course. Yet, having clearly
and providing as much clarity and transparency of
defined criteria and expectations are the ground-
course requirements and criteria for success are
work for achieving success. Transparency in any
extremely positive steps for all involved. Regular
environment is paramount to provide guidance
communication via announcements and class
regarding assignments, learning activities are
emails provides more guidance and keeps students
briefly discussed in the syllabus with extensive
on track for weekly expectations and course criteria
material posted on the learning platform.
that needs to be met.
In addition to mandated inclusion content
per university policy and procedures, providing Keeping a community in a large class.
comprehensive information pertaining to online This author has facilitated online courses
examination, such as tips for taking an online exam, ranging from 7 to 119 students and the process for
helps students to prepare in advance by testing group dynamics remains the same. Group dynamics
their browser compatibility and computer skills. are a part of all relationships, which is why grouping
This is obvious for technologically savvy students five to seven students in each group is sufficient to
in undergraduate education courses; however, have a thoughtful and engaged dialogue. Grouping
advanced degree students or nontraditional students together fewer than five students does not promote
require additional information to alleviate anxiety a robust discussion while more than seven tends to
with an e-learning format. Tips such as rebooting/ lead to an overwhelming experience. An educator
restarting their computer before taking the needs to know what works for their course and
examination has shown to be effective in helping content and how to assist students to glean the
students to close numerous browser webpages. knowledge that the class is presenting. Over years
Also, inform students in advance about little quirks of experience with online teaching, this author has
of online testing. For example, if a question asks grouped students in a variety of manners, ranging
for a numerical answer, use the actual number from 5 to 10 students. To allow for a natural organic
and do not spell out the number, such as 50, not flow of students’ dialogue, 5–7 students proved the
fifty, as fifty will be marked incorrect. And do best for active, deliberative peer discussions with
not put any other descriptor, such as % sign next educator facilitation while coproducing content
to answer, as 50% will also be marked incorrectly. within the group discussion. The larger the group,
As the educator who has reviewed countless online the more arduous it was for students and educator
examinations, informing students in advance to fully engage with each other. An e-learning
4. collaborative course with student interactive Learning Modules
engagement promotes reflective peer discussions Weekly content is organized into individual
to meet the envisioned pedagogical learning needs learning modules (under Course Materials, for
and outcomes for any course (Chadha, 2017). One example) with a title for that module that correlates to
of the fascinating aspects of online teaching is the the syllabus week. This educator learned that titling
minimization of the quiet student who typically the weekly learning module to the syllabus provided
would not engage in a face-to-face classroom additional organization. Considering the various
dynamic. Shy, quiet students are obligated to learning styles of students, repetition is a beneficial
engage in a group discussion. There will always tool. Labeling a learning module Week 11 does not
be dominant voices online, but e-learning has provide the same clarity, and intellectual connection
provided a venue for the quieter student to voice to content, as Week 11: Psychopharmacology and
his/her opinion, thoughts, and ethos. The author Psychotherapy. As shown in Figure 1, within each
of this paper has tried two ways of structuring weekly learning module there are numerous items
groups, either allowing students to form their and files pertaining to the topic (Screen Capture
own groups or randomly assigning students to of Module Week 11—Psychopharmacology and
a group. Each process has its own merits, but, Psychotherapy). PowerPoint presentations cannot be
after experimenting with these two processes, the
Figure 1. Screen Capture of Module Week 11- Psychopharmacology
author believes that randomly assigning students and Psychotherapy
to a group is more beneficial. The rationale for
random selection of students is that it facilitates
meeting different people that students may not
typically engage with provides a wider range of
insight (as friends characteristically have similar
beliefs and philosophies) and permits for enhanced
group diversity (such as culturally, intellectually,
dominant vs quiet voices). As an example, the author
allowed a cohort of prelicensure baccalaureate
nursing students [119 students] to preselect their
groupmates. At the end of the semester, the students
were asked if they would have preferred being
randomly assigned to a group. Interestingly, the
majority of students said they would have preferred
being assigned, commenting that they stayed in
groups with their friends and felt that if they have considered the sole teaching apparatus, as they tend
diversified, they would probably have gained more to disengage students (Peisachovich et al., 2016).
insight into the topics discussed. However, providing PowerPoints presentations still
Another strategy for communal building is holds merit as a teaching tool for dispensing the basic
a concept that this author refers to as “questions material to be covered. In addition to PowerPoints,
from a colleague.” Within the first several weeks social media platforms, such as YouTube and Ted
of an online course, the author requests that Talk, are useful apparatuses for synthesizing and
groupmates first ask each other for assistance in distributing information to students that enhance
clarifying any questions. When a student requires experiential learning and facilitate further insight
further clarification, the author posts the question into the topic (Green & Hope, 2010; Sharoff, 2011).
on the learning platform announcement page with Utilizing voice thread and screen capture provide
a subject heading of “question from a colleague.” additional learning strategies, and uploading
The assumption from this educator is that if one exemplary articles and resources adds to the depth
student has this question, then others do as well. of disseminating knowledge. As all educators are
The question (without the name of the student) aware, tapping into various learning styles and
and the answer are posted for the community to resources is essential to help students successfully
learn from. achieve the learning outcomes.
5. Online Group Forums which allows the groups to organically progress
For each group, the author created separate in their own way and gently guides them to make
forums, and within each forum, created two certain that aspects of the content are explored for
individual threads: Answers and Discussion, as a deeper understanding. Students are informed via
shown in Figure 2 (Screen Capture of a Group the syllabus that in the Group DB they should not
Discussion Board). The recommendation to have create additional threads to the discussion. In other
Figure 2. Screen Capture of a Group Discussion Board Page words, they create their own thread in Answers
when uploading them but reply when in the Group
DB (shown in Figure 2). This process allows for
an even flow of discussion without having to
click in and out to read responses. Furthermore,
as course facilitator, noting the date and time a
student responds permits the author to determine
if a student is a habitual late responder. Per DB
Point Deduction Criteria, a student can lose points
off their Final DB grade if they are habitual late
responders, they post all their responses on the last
day of the content week, or they embed responses.
Finally, an important aspect to teaching online,
which the author of this paper had to learn, is the
loophole of students not completing the work but
passing assignments. As such, every e-learning
two separate threads to further organize the process syllabus for this author clearly states that students
was suggested by a student in the authors graduate
Clinical Genetics course. For each individual must achieve the equivalent of a “C” or
week, the author developed specific facilitated 70% in your Final Group Discussion
guided questions based on the content. Students are Board grade to receive a passing grade in
expected to submit their individual answers under this class. Meaning, the Final Discussion
the Answer thread. For example, class begins on Board grade must be 70 or better to pass
Sunday at midnight and answers are due by Monday this class. Students will automatically
at noon. Submitting answers before or after the receive an F for the course if they fail the
stated deadline results in a Final Discussion Board Discussion Board aspect.
(DB) point deduction. The authors’ experience Through trial and error, this educator has
has demonstrated that if students submit early, a become aware of the many loopholes of learning
level of competition develops within the group. A
student who always submits late is referred as a Figure 3. Screen Capture of Module Week 12
habitual late responder. In either event, a weekly
point deduction will ensue based on the criteria
developed. This process allows students at all
levels to learn accountability and responsibility for
their actions and consequences. The Discussion
thread is utilized for the general discourse of the
material. Students are expected to read the answers
by their groupmates and a discussion to examine
the material in a deeper manner begins. The
discussion aspect routinely begins no later than
Monday midnight and continues through Thursday
11:59 p.m. As the course facilitator, the author has
access to all the groups. As such, the author will
post additional questions to further the discussion,
6. to teach online (Figure 2; Figure 4, Excerpt from a
other reflective aspects.
Syllabus; and Figure 5, Screen Capture of Course Remember, it’s the Quality, not the Quantity of your postings. However,
Information). you must have a minimum of 3 postings in the Discussion Thread. Initial
Figure 4. Screen Capture of Course Information Answers should be uploaded in the Thread marked: Answers. Answers
are to be uploaded between Sunday 12midnight through Monday until
12pm of the beginning of the content week. Online discussion should
be in the Thread marked: Discussion. The Content Week’s discussion
concludes on Thursday 11:59pm. Summaries are due on Friday by 12pm
in the Class Discussion Board, with the Group # in the Subject Heading.
Finally, everyone is expected to read and comment on the other groups’
discussion board summaries under Class Discussion Board. You do not
have to comment on every group for each summary, you are expected
to make at least ONE comment. If you do not participate in this aspect of
the class, then 5 points will be deducted for not commenting on Group
Summaries. This is an integral part of our dialogue, as this is how we
will learn what our colleagues were discussing in their individual
groups. This aspect of the course brings us back together as a learning
community, this way, we can fully glean what all our colleagues were
Do Not upload a word document for our weekly discussions, please cut/
paste your weekly DB answers and summary so everyone can easily
Figure 4. Excerpt from a Syllabus Regarding Discussion Board Participation read it
Please refer to Discussion Board Weekly Topics handout on BB for the
Class & Weekly Blackboard Case-Based/Practice Question Case Study Project, you must upload your individual assignment as a
Participation (50%) Word Doc. This is the only assignment that can be uploaded as a Word
Activity on discussion board and interactive learning activities. Each Doc [your case study paper, not your summary].
week’s discussion board {DB} will be graded and the cumulative grade You must achieve the equivalent of a “C” or 70% in your Final Group
will be the 50% for activity on discussion board and interactive learning Discussion Board grade to receive a passing grade in this class.
activities. You are expected to answer ALL the DB questions. Meaning, your Final Discussion Board grade must be 70 or better to pass
[Per Rubric: you must have a minimum of 3 DB postings, which DOES NOT this class. You will automatically receive an F for this course if you fail
include your answers to the DB questions. REVIEW RUBRIC FOR POINT the Discussion Board aspect.
DEDUCTION CRITERIA Discussion Board Rubric Evaluation – please see Blackboard/Rubrics
Please Keep to the Schedule of Classes…this way, we are all on the same
content topics together. Bringing a virtual class back together as a
Each group will engage in their online discussion [in their Group community requires creative thinking on the part
Discussion Board]. All answers are to be uploaded in the thread of the educator. This author requires each group to
marked ‘Answers’. The Discussion aspect goes in the thread marked
decide on their own who will be a Group Leader
‘Discussion’. Remember, your Answers must be uploaded between
Sunday 12midnight through Monday 12noon. The first person who goes
(GL) for each week. That individual is expected to
into that Content Week should create a thread for ‘Answers’ and a
provide a clear, concise summary of the group’s
separate thread for ‘Discussion’. weekly discussion with the group number in the
Summaries of each week’s Group Discussion must be uploaded by the subject heading and post that on the Class Discussion
Friday of that week, by 12pm please in the Class DB. Please put your Board between Friday midnight and noon. This
Group Number in the Subject Heading. I suggest that you decide on who is an important aspect as it brings the class back
will be the Group Leader [GL] for each individual week. If the Summary together as whole after being separated into their
is not uploaded between 12midnight and 12non on the Friday of that individual groups. Every student is expected to
content week, then that Group Leader will receive a 5-point deduction read and submit at least one comment on another
from their overall Final Discussion Board grade. Thereafter, the entire groups’ discussion board summary under Class
group will receive a 1-point deduction for each day that the summary
Discussion Board. It is integral for an online course
is late.
The week’s summary should be a clear, concise and succinct overview
to unite students as a learning community so the
of what your group discussed based on that weeks’ content, including
class as a whole can fully understand what their
but not limited to the YouTube videos, Case study assignments and any colleagues were discussing. As noted in Figure 2,
the first forum is Hello and Welcome, which is a
7. forum for groupmates to organize their GL roles collaboratively. The course content orchestrates
and share contact information. the type of assignments with majority of work in
Resources an e-learning course being independent with an
Providing an abundance of online resources infusion of collaboration. Individual completion of
gives students an avenue to further explore the work assignments allows students to learn at their
material. From this authors’ experience, students own pace, while the discussion helps to further the
tend to explore on their own and forward links for understanding of the material by a sharing insights
articles and additional web-based resources. As and viewpoints.
the facilitator of the course, I post these student- Not only is it important for students to receive
found resources (once legitimacy and relevance instructor feedback, but as the online facilitator,
to the course are verified) in an announcement it is essential to learn what most hinders and/or
acknowledging the student with a subject heading enhances the learning process to be able to continue
“shared by a colleague.” This further promotes an to improve the teaching-learning collaboration.
active collaborative learning process. Resources Asking students to provide feedback, not just
specific to weekly content (including articles, in the basic summative teacher evaluation but
mashups, weblinks, video links, and Flickr in a formative suggestion for enhancement and
photos) are uploaded in the corresponding module. improvement, is worthwhile. The author of this
Generalized resources for the course are uploaded paper has received plentiful feedback, usually on
at the beginning of the semester to allow students the structure of the online course, such as: “I like the
to peruse them on their own time, as can be seen in way you structure the class and your involvement,”
Figure 5 (Screen Capture of Course Resources for while another student wrote:
Graduate Clinical Genetics). I just wanted to tell you that I really have
enjoyed being part of your class and have gathered
Figure 5. Screen Capture of Course Resources for Graduate Clinical Genetics knowledge that will help me in my future classes.
I have also seen that you have asked for feedback,
so I think that what helped me learn the most was
when you would connect what we were learning in
class to your own experiences as a nurse.
Giving students an opportunity to share their
thoughts can provide valuable insight into how
one educates and continues to grow professionally.
Student feedback regarding this authors’ online
class process has encouraged this authors’ continued
development of e-learning courses. Given the
positive feedback this author has received, not only
have the learning outcomes been achieved but the
continuation of enhancing e-learning promotes the
collaborative engagement that this author has set
out to achieve. Meeting students’ learning needs,
EDUCATOR REFLECTIVE PROCESS through creative and innovative teaching/learning
The overall objective of online education is pedagogical processes, is the goal of any educator.
the same for face-to-face didactic methodology: Being able to have an active presence, guide
provide students with an excitement to learn, students through the learning process, and enhance
engage, and seek knowledge. Unique issues arise their comprehension of the content while fostering
with online learning that require the educator to a sense of proactive and student-centered learning
be creative and innovative in meeting pedagogical is the true essence of teaching. Committing to this
objectives and outcomes. Creating individual and ideal in an online course requires organization,
group assignments can be a successful integration structure, clearly defined boundaries, and
that assists students to learn both independently and transparent criteria for students to achieve success.
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