Introduction to Online Teaching

Contributed by:
Sharp Tutor
This pdf points to Building a foundational knowledge of the functionality, possibilities, strengths, and limitations of
online instruction
1. An Introduction to Online Teaching
Learning Technologies Workshop
2. Table of Contents
I. Overview.................................................................................................................................................... 3
II. Elements of Online Learning
A. Instruction ............................................................................................................................................. 4
B. Course Design ....................................................................................................................................... 6
C. Student Engagement............................................................................................................................. 7
D. Assessment ........................................................................................................................................... 9
III.. Online Student Profile ......................................................................................................................... 11
IV. Seven Myths About Online Learning .................................................................................................... 13
V. Moving Forward ..................................................................................................................................... 14
VI. Helpful Resources ................................................................................................................................. 16
VII. Sources ................................................................................................................................................. 17
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 2
A decade ago, it was common to hear that “online learning is the future!” Indeed, it
became the future and is now very much the present, but our idea of what online
learning should be has changed dramatically over those ten years. Educators are
now at a point where they have revised what effective online learning means,
discarding the early passive, consumption-oriented model for one that is far more
engaging and interactive.
This two-part workshop offers a hands-on introduction to online learning. Part I provides a general
overview of online teaching, course design best practices, common myths and mistakes, and questions
for any newcomer to consider. Attendees will leave Part I with an assignment which they will complete
and review as a group in Part II. Part II will also provide an opportunity to discuss further questions,
concerns, and ideas for online teaching.
Instructors with minimal knowledge of and/or prior experience with online teaching.
 Build a foundational knowledge of the functionality, possibilities, strengths, and limitations of
online instruction.
 Recognize similarities and differences between online and face-to-face teaching.
 Understand the processes, roles, and responsibilities of designing and facilitating an online class.
 Know how to avoid common mistakes in online teaching.
 Learn about the characteristics and expectations of the typical online student.
 Part I (90 min)
o Presentation – “What is Online Teaching?” (45 min)
o Q&A (15 min)
o Begin assignment for Part II (40 min)
 Part II (90 min)
o Share finished assignments from Part I (25 min)
o Review, refine, and share assignments together (50 min)
o Discuss goals and next steps for online teaching (15 min)
Learning Technologies
Brett Coup, Associate Dean
8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (M-F) | BIC 3401 | [email protected]
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 3
I. Instruction
In online learning, you are a “guide on the side,” not a “sage on the stage.”
Online learning is a powerful, flexible medium that can offer transformative learning
experiences to your students – but it is up to you as the instructor to make that
Success in the face-to-face classroom is no guarantee for success in online teaching.
The goal of the two formats is the same – to help students develop knowledge, skills,
and understanding – but what works well in the classroom may be only minimally
effective online, and vice-versa. Your first step to being a successful online instructor is to recognize
that you will need to approach it as a unique experience.
Here are four tips to orient yourself toward effective online instruction:
1. Make online learning an active experience
A good online course is not simply a repository for articles, PowerPoint slides, and multiple-
choice tests. While these components may occupy a small part of a successful online course,
they are limited in their ability to engage students and develop critical thinking skills. It is up to
you to take what are otherwise passive, consumption-model materials and replace them with
active learning experiences.
2. Use a variety of resources and activities
Videos tend to be more engaging than PowerPoint slides, but relying on videos alone (or any
single type of resource) doesn’t guarantee effective instruction. In the world of online learning,
the sky is the limit! Think about ways to incorporate simulations, interactive websites, online
museum exhibitions, social media, and gamification.
3. Be a regular, visible presence in the course
You might put a great amount of time and effort into creating your online course’s resources
and activities, ensuring that they are both interactive and engaging, but you also need to log in
regularly and provide individualized feedback, discussion comments, and summaries of each
unit’s “big ideas.” Simply responding to student emails is not enough; you need to initiate
regular contact to show that you are present and that you care about student learning. If you
don’t seem to care, why should they?
4. Aim for andragogy, not pedagogy
Pedagogy is a model of learning that is appropriate for younger students, who have limited life
experiences and depend more on the instructor for guidance and instruction. Andragogy, on
the other hand, is better suited to working with adult learners, and is guided by the following
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 4
5.  Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
 Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
 Adults are goal-oriented
 Adults place a high value on relevancy and practicality
 Adult learners like to be respected as equals (Knowles 1984:12).
As you build your online course, try to incorporate activities and learning resources that are
andragogical in nature. The table below (Jarvis 1985: 51) explains how andragogy differs from
Pedagogy Andragogy
Dependent. Teacher directs what, Moves towards independence; self-
The learner when, how a subject is learned and directing. Teacher encourages and
tests that it has been learned nurtures this movement
A rich resource for learning. Hence
The learner’s Still developing; hence, teaching
teaching methods include discussion,
experience methods are didactic
problem-solving etc.
People learn what society expects People learn what they need to know, so
Readiness to
them to. So that the curriculum is that learning programs organized around
standardized. life application.
Acquisition of subject Learning experiences should be based
Orientation to
matter. Curriculum organized by around experiences, since people are
subjects. performance centered in their learning.
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 5
6. B. Course Design
A clear, navigable, and media-rich learning experience allows students to explore content in a variety of
Strong course design is arguably the most important way to ensure a successful
online experience for your students. Course design refers to such things as content
organization, user-friendly navigation, visual consistency, clear directions, and ADA-
compliant accessibility.
Solid planning is the best way to ensure that your course will be a successful
experience for students, providing them engaging, rigorous opportunities to learn
and demonstrate growth. The way your course is laid out should be so intuitive and smooth as to
almost be unnoticeable. Confusing navigation, muddy information, and inconsistent layouts will
frustrate students, detract from learning, and cause countless emails to flood your inbox with questions
about what to do next. These frustrations can be minimized by employing some simple course design
Below are just a few common course design problems, and some easy ways to solve them.
Problem Solution
Endless blobs of content Break large pieces of content into shorter, bite-sized “chunks.” This
makes it easier for your to organize your course, and easier for students
to review and remember what they are learning about. Also, add images
and charts to brighten and elucidate content.
Unintuitive or Visually map out your course ahead of time, and see how you can
inconsistent navigation consolidate its components into groups that make sense. A good rule of
thumb for navigating is “two clicks is good; one click is best.”
Confusing or incomplete Online courses lack the luxury of having you personally explain what you
directions want students to do with their assignments. Make sure that all of your
directions explain things as clearly as possible. (Having someone
proofread your directions can be a big help with this.)
Low ADA accessibility Tiny text and unusual color combinations may not bother you, but it
might be a real problem for someone with vision problems. Consider
high-contrast text and captioned images/videos to accommodate a
wider audience.
Broken links and old Before a course goes live, check all links to make sure that they’re
articles functioning properly. Old articles can be useful, to be sure, but try to
find more current versions if they exist.
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7. C. Student Engagement
Engaging students might be difficult at times, but it can mean the difference between deep learning and
rote memorization.
Online students tend to prefer the freedom, flexibility, and self-directedness that is
inherent to online learning. That should not suggest, however, that they are not
also eager for a highly engaging, connected, and guided experience that both ignites
their passion for learning and recognizes them as individuals.
Because of the nature of online learning, engagement may seem like a more
difficult hurdle than in face-to-face teaching, but in fact the opposite may well be
true. Online courses offer a variety of different ways to work with your students, and enable you to
draw on an array of tools and resources to do so.
As the instructor, you have a great deal of control over how students interact with course content, with
each other, and with you. It is important that you provide a strong, clear structure in your overall course
design, and populate it with resources and activities that pull them into wanting to explore the content.
Just as important, however, is your presence in the course itself.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Content Delivery
 Video Lectures
PowerPoints can be useful in a face-to-face course, but when they’re just thrown online, they
tend to fall flat because you are not there to present them! Static slides will likely have minimal
impact on knowledge retention and skill development. Consider creating a series of short (5-7
minute) video lectures instead.
 Interactive Websites
Not all content has to be delivered straight through you and your course – remember, the entire
internet is right at your fingertips! Find some sites that provide an interactive, media-rich
experience for exploring content. Here are a few examples:
o Kowloon Walled City -
o Visualizing the U.S. Electrical Grid -
o Historic Threads: Three Centuries of Clothing -
o Hubble Space Telescope -
o CyArk UN Cultural Heritage Sites -
o British Library Sounds Archives -
 Variety
No matter how you deliver content, make sure that you use a variety of resources to do so.
Relying solely on one medium will bore your students, and possibly cause you to overlook what
works best for a given topic.
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 7
8. Group Activities
 Discussion Forums
Discussion forums allow students to address a topic/issue/question together asynchronously
(i.e., at different times) by writing individual responses and “posting” them for everyone to read
and respond to.
The typical model for online discussions involves students answering one or two questions
posed by the instructor, and later responding to each other. This model, if overused, can have
limited learning potential. Instead, consider splitting students into groups to create a piece of
work that they then share with other groups, and offer suggestions for improvement.
 Wikis
Wikis give students (often divided into small groups) a blank webpage to collaboratively
assemble information on a given topic. They can create, edit, or delete anything on it
asynchronously, and their groupmates can do the same. What results is a single, collective piece
of work that showcases the best thinking of all contributors.
 Email
When students have a problem, big or small, they will email you. It is
important that you don’t leave them waiting too long for a response;
try to respond within 24 hours.
NOTE: Make it clear to your students early in the course what they can
expect for turnaround time on email responses.
 Participate in Discussion Forums
By contributing to discussion forums, you are demonstrating to students that you are a partner
in their learning, and are actively reading what they have written.
 Provide Individualized Feedback
One of the biggest complaints online students have is a lack of instructor feedback. Don’t just
give student work a grade – tell them why they earned it, what they did well, and how they can
improve it.
 Announcements
Is there an important deadline coming up, or a due date change? You can send out an
announcement to students that will be automatically be sent to their COD email accounts.
 Virtual Office Hours
Offering students a couple of opportunities each week to speak with you virtually (via chat or
other synchronous tool) can be a valuable resource for them – and for you!
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 8
9. D. Assessment
Assessment is more than quizzes and tests; it is an ongoing process by which students show increasing
mastery of the knowledge, skills, and understandings that they are building in your
Like in any face-to-face course, online students need to demonstrate their learning
beyond rote memorization. As a recognized authority in your discipline, students
will look to you to provide meaningful opportunities and feedback on their growth.
Online learning offers a multitude of tools to make this a successful experience, but
it is up to you to take advantage of them. While it might be tempting to rely on the relative ease and
clarity of what is familiar, you can transform assessment into a powerful experience by taking advantage
of the many online tools available to you.
Below are some suggestions to keep in mind as you get started with creating your online assessments.
 Objectives
Your course and unit objectives should be clear to students, because they communicate the
purpose, direction, and goals of what you are asking students to do. Burying your objectives
somewhere in the syllabus and never mentioning them again kills their tremendous potential.
Every time students begin exploring a new topic or assignment, the applicable learning
objective(s) should be restated.
 Bloom’s Taxonomy
Bloom’s Taxonomy (2001) provides a useful way to conceptualize
different levels of critical thinking. Each level needs to be Create
addressed throughout a course to ensure for comprehensive, Evaluate R
deep learning, which won’t happen if all that students see in
Analyze I
your online course are article links and multiple-choice G
quizzes. Instead, think of how you can challenge and Apply O
engage in more meaningful ways. This doesn’t R
necessitate using fancy technology tools – it’s simply a
matter of using the tools you choose more
purposefully . Bloom’s Taxonomy (2001)
 Quizzes/Tests
Often, quizzes are the “go-to” form of assessment for online instructors because they’re
straightforward, familiar, and easy to score. To be sure, they can be effective tools, but consider
using them primarily as ungraded practice activities or pre-assessments.
 Case Studies / Authentic Assessment
Giving students a real-world problem to solve can be a deeply meaningful (and fun!) way for
them to demonstrate their ability to think critically and build important skills. These can be
done alone or in groups.
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 9
10.  Rubrics
Rubrics are charts that break down how students are scored on a given assignment against a
range of performance criteria, and corresponding levels of achievement for each. Rubrics help
students understand what is expected of them and why they received the grade they did,
(thereby removing any suspicion of arbitrary scoring), and can be applied to pretty much any
assessment. Online learning makes it easy to incorporate rubrics with a variety of assignments.
Here is an example rubric for a writing assignment:
High Proficiency Proficiency Some Proficiency Limited/No Proficiency
Develops fresh insight Thesis is somewhat Thesis may be obvious Thesis is missing.
that challenges the original. or unimaginative.
a) Originality
reader’s thinking.
Thesis and purpose are Thesis and purpose Thesis and purpose are Reader cannot determine
Thesis clear to the reader; are fairly clear and somewhat vague OR thesis and purpose OR
b) Clarity closely matches the match the writing only loosely related to thesis has no relation to
writing task. task. the writing task. the writing task.
Fully and imaginatively Organization supports Some signs of logical Unclear organization OR
supports thesis and thesis and purpose. organization. May have organization plan is
purpose. Sequence of Transitions are mostly abrupt or illogical shifts inappropriate to thesis.
ideas is effective. appropriate. and ineffective flow of No transitions.
Transitions are effective. Sequence of ideas ideas.
could be improved.
Substantial, logical, and Offers solid but less Offers somewhat Offers simplistic,
concrete development of original reasoning. obvious support that undeveloped, or cryptic
ideas. Assumptions are Assumptions are not may be too broad. support for ideas.
Support/ made explicit. Details always recognized or Details are too general, Inappropriate or off-topic
Reasoning are germane, original, made explicit. not interpreted, generalizations, faulty
and convincingly Contains some irrelevant to thesis, or assumptions, or errors of
interpreted. appropriate details or inappropriately fact.
examples. repetitive.
Uses sources to support, Uses sources to Uses relevant sources Neglects important
extend, and inform, but support, extend, and but lacks in variety of sources. Overuse of
not substitute writer’s inform, but not sources and/or the quotations or paraphrase
own development of substitute writer’s skillful combination of to substitute writer’s own
ideas. Combines own development of sources. Quotations ideas. Possibly uses
Use of
material from a variety ideas. Doesn’t and paraphrases may source material without
of sources, including overuse quotes, but be too long and/or acknowledgement.
personal observations, may not always inconsistently
scientific data, and/or conform to required referenced.
authoritative testimony. style manual.
Doesn’t overuse quotes.
 Vary the Stakes
Although some college courses may traditionally rely on just one or two major assessments
(such as term papers) for the entire semester, numerous studies reject this as the best way to
assess student learning. To be sure, summative assessments, such as portfolios, papers, and
other projects are great to include, but they should be interspersed with many more formative,
low-stakes assessments, such as short Q&As or mini-quizzes. Low-stakes assessments give
students more opportunities to check their own growth and mastery, thereby helping you and
your students identify areas they need to address more intensively.
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 10
Today’s online students, like any group of students, represent a wide variety of backgrounds. However,
there are some common characteristics that tend to be true for many of them. Becoming familiar with
what those are can help us frame our approach to online teaching more effectively.
Who is the Average Online Student? COD Online
Gender Distribution
The average online student will look slightly different depending on the
institution, but the following tend to be true for most.
 Is slightly older than the typical college-age student
 Has work and family commitments
 Prefers online courses for cost and schedule flexibility
Characteristics of Successful Online Students
In many cases, the qualities that help online students to succeed are the Male Female
same ones that would benefit any student. However, those listed below
are of particular importance for the online learner.
 Able to manage time well COD Online
 Organized and self-disciplined Age Distribution
 Intrinsically motivated to succeed
 Communicates well in writing 8%
 Has a regular study space and access to a computer
 Is comfortable using technology
Expectations & Preferences of Online Students
Online students tend to look for:
 Regular communication from/with instructor 18-24 25-34 35-44 > 45
 Equal balance of instructor-led, independent, and tutorial activities
 Courses that incorporate active, rather than passive, learning
 Shorter courses (6-8 or 9-12 weeks)
Biggest Complaints of Online Students
Despite independent learning being an attractive feature for most online students, they nevertheless
are eager to have a significant amount of interaction with the instructor throughout a course. Lack of
direct interaction may explain the higher attrition rate for online courses.
 Lack of instructor-initiated contact
 Lack of meaningful feedback
 Long wait for instructor responses
 Lack of clear directions
 Course content being limited to PowerPoints and articles
 Confusing course design
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 11
12. Illinois Online Courses and Enrollments
 Illinois colleges and universities reported
323,396 distance education enrollments during COD Online Enrollments
the Fall 2014 term. This is a 29% increase from 11000 10342 10233
Fall 2013. 10000 9374 9640
o The 40,891 enrollments for Fall 2014 9000
account for 12.41% of all distance 8000 7387
education enrollments.
o Community colleges account for 27.4%
of all online course enrollments. 6000
 College of DuPage online enrollments for 5000
Fall Spring Summer Fall Fall
spring 2015 was 10,233. The next largest
2013 2013 2013 2014 2015
enrollment was Parkland College at 4,330.
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 12
Just like the teaching profession in general, the realm of online learning is
sometimes the unfortunate recipient of unjustified or misguided
assumptions. Below are seven myths you may have come across.
1. The more information I provide, the clearer the activity/resource
will be.
Clarity in an online course is optimized when you reach that “Goldilocks” zone between not
enough information and too much. While you don’t want to leave students confused with a lack
of direction, you also don’t want to drown them in a sea of text.
2. The more content I provide, the more my students will learn.
Meaningful learning is not determined by amount of information. Although there might be 12
good articles on the topic you’re covering, is it necessary to read all of them to meet the unit
objectives? Might students’ time and effort be more effectively balanced between reading a
few articles, analyzing them, and discussing their ideas with the other students?
3. All discussion forums (or wikis or tests, etc.) have the same learning potential.
Just like the adage, “It’s the singer, not the song,” the learning potential of an online activity
depends more on how you set it up than on the fact that it simply exists, regardless of what it is.
A discussion forum used in engaging, innovative ways will trump a poorly designed social media
assignment every time.
4. Students don’t want to see videos of me.
Yes, they do! Watching some video lectures of you talking about a given topic is certainly
preferable to reading static text and PowerPoint slides. (And feel free to add a little humor!)
5. Students are all tech whizzes / they know more about technology than me.
Yes, they may be masters of Facebook and Twitter, but when it comes to basic computer skills
and online learning, you might be surprised. In many cases, attaching documents and
performing simple tasks in MS Word is unfamiliar territory for them.
6. If the course is pretty, then it is user-friendly.
Just like cars, computers, and appliances, a pretty online course has no guarantee of being user-
friendly. Can students navigate their way through and between units, resources, and activities
quickly? Are directions and information easy to understand? Are there clear headings and sub-
headings for sections?
7. Successful face-to-face activities will be successful online activities.
As noted in the Online Student Profile, although many of the qualities and habits that help a
student succeed in face-to-face learning will also help online, some will not. For example, a
student who thrives on in-person discussion and hands-on experiences may flounder online.
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 13
So you’re ready to step into the exciting world of online teaching – welcome! The first thing to
remember is that you are not alone. COD’s Learning Technologies is here to help you make your online
course a successful experience for both you and your students.
Step 1: Get Your Feet Wet
If you’re completely new to online learning, there are a number of ways you can learn
more about it. Here are just a few:
 Ask another faculty member who has experience teaching online to show you some of his/her
 Register for a free online course through Coursera ( or edX ( Both offer
hundreds of courses through major universities, and tend to be only 3 to 8 weeks long.
 Read some e-learning blogs, such as Connie Malamed’s or Jason
 Create a free Blackboard course through CourseSites ( and play around with its
 Stop by COD’s Learning Technologies (BIC 3401) and ask the friendly folks there to give you a
one-on-one overview of online learning.
 Sign up for the Online Faculty Certification Course (see below).
Step 2: Wade into the Pool
Online instruction is an ongoing, active collaboration in which you are course designer,
builder, and instructor, not just a passive partner relegated to the sidelines. Therefore,
it is essential that you familiarize yourself with not just using Blackboard, but designing, creating, and
editing content within it. With than in mind, you will want to complete the Online Faculty Certification
Course as early as possible, which is offered through Learning Technologies. This five-week, fully online
course will give you a functional understanding of how Blackboard works, and an opportunity to practice
using many of its tools.
Step 3: Dive In!
Speak to your Coordinator or Associate Dean about which online course you’d like to
teach and how soon you’d like to teach it. If a master course file has already been
created by another instructor, then you will get a copy of it and begin planning out how
you will be using it. If no master course file exists, then you will be working with an online course
development team to brainstorm, plan, and build it. This process will take approximately a full semester
to complete.
As you build or modify your online course, keep these tips in mind:
1) Your course should be an active, engaging experience for students. Think carefully about how
you will achieve that.
2) Have an adventurous attitude toward online learning, and be willing to learn new tools and try
new things.
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 14
15. 3) Know that you’re not alone – Learning Technologies is always here to help you! Colleagues and
online communities are also great for building a network of ideas and support.
4) Don’t feel like you have reinvent the wheel. The internet is full of excellent resources, many of
which are freely reusable (i.e., “open”).
5) Organization and navigation should not be obstacles for your students; they should be seamless
and intuitive (i.e., where you would expect things to be).
6) Make your course your own! Don’t feel beholden to what others have done.
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 15
COD Online
COD Library e-Resources
OER Commons
Online Learning Consortium
eLearning Industry
Introduction to Online Teaching and Learning
The Ultimate eLearning Course Design Checklist
Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy
4 Tips for Content Chunking in e-Learning
5 Tips to Spark Lively Online Discussions
Online College Students 2012: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences
Learning Online is Not a Spectator Sport: How to Make it Active
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 16
Algogenius. Medienkompetenz. Digital images. The Commons. Flickr, Feb. 2011. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
Aslanian, Carol B., and David L. Clinefelter. Online College Students 2012: Comprehensive Data on
Demands and Preferences. Rep. LearningHouse and Aslanian Market Research, July 2012. Web. 3 Mar.
Demographics of COD Online Students. 22 Dec. 2014. Raw data. College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn.
Distance Education Enrollments at Illinois Colleges and Universities (Fall 2014). Rep. University of Illinois
University Academic Programs and Services, 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
Jarvis, P. (1985) The Sociology of Adult and Continuing Education, Beckenham: Croom Helm.
Knowles, M. et al (1984) Andragogy in Action. Applying modern principles of adult education, San
Francisco: Jossey Bass.
"Northeastern Illinois University Writing Rubric." N.p., n.d. Web.
"Successful Online Learner Characteristics." Duquesne University, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.
An Introduction to Online Teaching - 17