Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education

Contributed by:
Jonathan James
The articles contained in the report will help you establish online instructor best practices and
expectations, and include the following principles of effective online teaching:
• Show Up and Teach
• Practice Proactive Course Management Strategies
• Establish Patterns of Course Activities
• Plan for the Unplanned
• Response Requested and Expected
• Think Before You Write
• Help Maintain Forward Progress
• Safe and Secure
• Quality Counts
• (Double) Click a Mile on My Connection
1. 10 Principles of Effective
Online Teaching:
Best Practices in
Distance Education
Featuring content from
2. 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching:
Best Practices in Distance Education
In the traditional college classroom today, faculty and students arrive with a certain set of
expectations, shaped largely by past experiences. And although students may need the occa-
sional (or perhaps frequent) reminder of what’s required of them, there’s usually something
very familiar about the experience for both faculty and students alike.
In the online classroom, an entirely new set of variables enters the equation. It’s a little like
trying to drive in a foreign country. You know how to drive, just like you know how to teach,
but it sure is hard to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road, you’re not quite sure
how far a kilometer is, and darn it if those road signs aren’t all in Japanese.
This special report explains the “rules of the road” for online teaching and learning and
features a series of columns that first appeared in the Distance Education Report’s “Between
the Clicks,” a popular column by Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan, Director of Instructional Design and
Development for Penn State’s World Campus.
The articles contained in the report will help you establish online instructor best practices and
expectations, and include the following principles of effective online teaching:
• Show Up and Teach
• Practice Proactive Course Management Strategies
• Establish Patterns of Course Activities
• Plan for the Unplanned
• Response Requested and Expected
• Think Before You Write
• Help Maintain Forward Progress
• Safe and Secure
• Quality Counts
• (Double) Click a Mile on My Connection
These principles, developed at Penn State’s World Campus, outline the core behaviors of the
successful online instructor, and help to define parameters around the investment of time on
part of the instructor. In his articles, Ragan identifies potential barriers and limitations to
online learning, and specific strategies to assist instructors in achieving the performance
Christopher Hill
Distance Education Report
2 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education •
3. Table of Contents
Establishing Online Instructor Performance Best Practices and Expectations ..............................................................4
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #1 Show up and Teach ..................................................................................5
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #2 Practice Proactive Course Management Strategies ....................................7
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #3 Establish Patterns of Course Activities ......................................................9
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #4 Plan for the Unplanned............................................................................11
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #5 Response Requested and Expected ..........................................................13
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #6 Think Before You Write ........................................................................15
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #7 Help Maintain Forward Progress ............................................................17
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #8 Safe and Secures ....................................................................................19
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #9 Quality Counts ........................................................................................21
Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #10 (Double) Click a Mile on My Connection ..............................................23
10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • 3
4. is to show up in the designated
Establishing Online Instructor location, and conduct the course to
the best of my ability through to suc-
Performance Best Practices and cessful completion for the students.
The responsibility of the learner is to
meet the criteria for satisfactory
Expectations course completion as measured by the
The asynchronous online classroom
has little or no similarity to the
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. classroom experience. There may be
no “class schedule,” no meeting room
or physical location, and, certainly in
the asynchronous classroom, no
was recently invited to conduct a how to perform—I would offer
I Magna online seminar based on a
research project identifying strate-
gies to help faculty manage the online
another interpretation.
When we step into a physical
defined timeframe for operation. Even
the dynamics between teacher and
student is challenged because online
we can all appear to “be equal.”
workload. Apparently this topic hit a
Other than a vague sense of responsi-
nerve of concern for faculty, support
bility to “teach the course,” the in-
staff and administrators alike. The
response to the presentation
One senior faculty, well structor has little definition of these
new and often ill-defined operating
suggested this was an important area versed in the domain of online parameters. The course instructor is
for further exploration and develop-
left on their own to figure out what
ment. The presentation generated education, responded to my constitutes a successful learning
many more questions than I was able
approach by saying, “if you experience.
to address during the program.
Many years ago I was in a faculty
Helping faculty learn to survive and
even thrive online is critical if we are
don’t tell us what is expected, meeting and we were discussing the
issue of defining instructor perform-
to realize the potential of this new how will we know what to do ance. I was soft-selling the idea of
learning space. This column will be
defining these behaviors for fear of
my attempt to tease out the most to succeed?” His point was insulting our faculty. One senior
critical of the questions I received, to
faculty, well versed in the domain of
reflect and respond, and to share my well taken.
online education, responded to my
insights on a variety of topics. I hope
approach by saying, “if you don’t tell
you will find it informative and
us what is expected, how will we
know what to do to succeed?” His
classroom we are stepping into a
point was well taken. Although we
Communicating expectations time-tested model with well-defined
assume that faculty know something
During the presentation, I made operating parameters. There is a class
of the face-to-face learning setting, we
reference to a strategy that an institu- schedule and syllabus that tells me
cannot assume that knowledge trans-
tion can employ to help faculty save when to meet with my class, for how
lates to the online classroom. It is our
time online. I referred to a document long, and even the room location.
responsibility to provide the instructor
created at the World Campus as the There are a set of familiar tools such
with the best definition of successful
“10 commandments” of faculty per- as a chalkboard, a podium and
performance for their success and the
formance. Simply put, it is the articu- seating for the students. There is also
success of their students.
lation of what our organization an inherited protocol of classroom ex-
Clearly defining and communicating
expects from our online instructors in perience—I am the teacher and you
the expected performance behaviors
order to ensure a quality teaching and are the student. We both roughly un-
for online instructors saves faculty
learning experience. Although this derstand the dynamics of the interac-
time because it eliminates uncertainty
may initially sound like a “heavy tions of this arrangement. My
handed” approach—faculty being told responsibility as the course instructor
4 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education •
5. FROM PAGE 4 In recent discussions around this The approach I will take over the
topic we acknowledged this is an next several columns will be to
about roles and responsibilities. evolving document based on what expand on the 10 principles outlined
These suggested guidelines, based on we and our faculty have experienced in the document, providing a
best practices gathered through expe- in our online activities. My intent in rationale, identification of barriers
rience, serve as a benchmark for sharing this document more broadly and limitations, and specific strate-
faculty to gauge their online course is to test our basic assumptions and gies to assist instructors in achieving
activities and manage their online refine our thinking. I welcome input the performance expectations.
workload. The intent of the “Online and insights into this document and
Instructor Performance Best Practices know that it will evolve and change Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
and Expectations” (or “10 over time. Additionally, each institu- Director of Instructional Design and
Commandments”) document tion or organization must review and Development for Penn State’s World
generated by the World Campus is consider how these expectations are Campus. ●
not meant to be all-inclusive but interpreted within the operating
rather to define a baseline of online context of their own online program.
Principles of Effective Online Teaching:
#1 Show up and Teach
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.
n the previous article, I introduced What we know about teaching in the of activities for online instructors, and
I the need to effectively define and
communicate for instructors what
it is expected in the online classroom.
classroom, good or bad, may not
translate well online with somewhat
complicated technologies, new social
help to define parameters around the
investment of time on part of the in-
This is based on the premise that, for orders, and media-rich resources. During a recent online faculty de-
many instructors, the online teaching Without express guidance on what is velopment program we engaged in the
and learning environment is different expected of the online instructor, they question of quality of performance by
from the face-to-face educational are left to “figure it out,” leading to the online instructor. One individual
setting. Often, instructors teach in the frustrated students and probably a expressed their understanding that the
face-to-face setting the way they were less than desirable teaching experi- online instructor should be available
taught. That is, they use similar in- ence. to the students 24/7. I raised a
structional strategies as instructors as The “10 principles” of online in- concern about this approach with the
those they engaged in as learners. struction were developed by Penn participants because I feared this
This can be a good thing if they ex- State’s World Campus to specifically belief would inhibit good instructors
perienced sound instructional strate- define the performance expectations from getting involved in teaching
gies during their formative years. of the online instructor. This online. It was clear that, although
Most would agree however, that our document attempts to create an ex- well intended, asking the online in-
own learning came in educational pectation of the core behaviors of the structor to be available, that is online,
settings that were sometimes less than successful online instructor, and all the time was setting them up for
optimal. So, many instructors end up serves to clear the air on how the in- failure and frustration. We do not
repeating the same mistakes as their structor can be most effective in expect that dedication from the face-
professors. Now, overlay the new teaching their online course. These
dynamics of the online classroom. expectations establish a minimum set
10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • 5
6. FROM PAGE 5 general, this is true. Whereas in the and manage the learning experience
face-to-face classroom the instructor more than in the face-to-face
to-face instructor, and nor should we may craft the learning as the class classroom. Students may come to
expect that of our online instructors. unfolds, the online classroom depend on the instructor as their
Principle #1: Show Up and Teach generally requires more preparation primary link to the course and
“Students in an online course rely and development time before the demand more time and attention indi-
on the instructor to follow the estab- event begins. If you think of the time vidually since that attention is only a
lished course schedule and to deliver it takes in both the face-to-face and click away. One strategy often
the course within the scheduled time online classroom as roughly equal, employed by experienced instructors
frame. The online instructor is you begin to realize one difference is the use of a “frequently asked
expected to make schedule adjust- between the two modalities is a shift questions” section and well developed
ments as needed to manage special in the time and energy it takes to syllabus that addresses many of the
circumstances.” develop and deliver. More time may course dynamics most likely to
This may seem like an unnecessary be spent prior to delivery of the generate student inquiries.
statement of the obvious. The online online classroom with more energy in
instructor is expected to conduct the teaching once the class has begun. The Role of the LMS
class from beginning to end and to This approach creates a more stable Most learning management systems
make adjustments when necessary in and usually more enjoyable teaching provide a rich array of tools that assist
order for the student to complete the experience for the instructor because the faculty in attending to the details
learning experience. However, the they are not continuing to create of course management. For example,
necessity of this statement is borne of course material while also providing reporting functions such as
the misimpression that the online instruction. This approach however summaries of student online activity,
class “teaches itself.” Since most of also depends on the instructor being participation in discussion groups and
the course is already authored and an active participant in the online completion of course assignments can
designed for online delivery, the in- classroom managing the learning at a easily be generated and tracked. It is
structor may believe they simply need distance. to the advantage of the online instruc-
to serve as the proverbial “guide on Of all the responsibilities of the tor to become familiar and competent
the side” as the students navigate the online instructor, the role as with the learning management system
learning system. “teacher,” however that is defined, is in order to take full advantage of this
Additional evidence of this belief the most critical. For many, the design capability.
was expressed early on in the devel- and development of the learning Ultimately it is the role of the in-
opment of online learning, when space prior to delivery can be a liber- structor to oversee the course from
some educators expressed concern ating experience. For once, more beginning to end. Not “showing up
that the online class could be “self attention is placed on interacting with for class” in the online environment
taught” and reduce the need for the the students around the course leads to confused and frustrated
instructor. Although there are courses content than worrying about the gen- learners. The online classroom
designed as self-instructed modules, eration of tomorrow’s slide presenta- requires diligent attention to course
this is not the predominant model for tion or handout materials. Faculty are progress. The face-to-face classroom
the effective online classroom. The free to concentrate on responding to provides a defined set of parameters
role of the instructor is actually more student inquiries regarding the course including time and location for both
important than ever before. The content, addressing particularly instructor and learner. The online
students are looking to the instructor difficult subject matter or discussing classroom does as well--the parame-
to serve as the guide, facilitator and relevant topics in discussion spaces. ters simply need to be communicated
“teacher” and the need for them to do Many faculty respond that they enjoy and managed for a successful learning
so is pronounced because of the lack this aspect of online learning more experience for both the instructor and
of face-to-face interactions. than face-to-face because they can be the student.
One commonly held belief about more efficient and more equally reach
the learning design and development all students. Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
of the online classroom is that the The online classroom does however Director of Instructional Design and
core teaching material, resources, and have a slight drawback in this area as Development for Penn State’s World
instructional strategies need to be in well. That is, the instructor is required Campus. ●
place prior to the start of the class. In to “attend” to the classroom dynamics
6 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education •
7. face-to-face classroom, if they fail
they fail and it’s their own fault!” In
Principles of Effective Online most cases, online instructors use the
same philosophy toward managing
Teaching: #2 Practice Proactive the educational activities and partici-
pation as employed in the face-to-
Course Management Strategies face classroom. The level of oversight
and management of the educational
activities is fundamentally a personal
choice and reflects an individual phi-
losophy as well as the practical limi-
By Lawrence C. Ragan tations presented by the educational
setting. The degree of course man-
agement must be balanced with the
n the previous article, I discussed gies include, but are not limited to,
time and energy available and
the first expectation of instructors monitoring assignment submissions, demands of the course structure. It is
teaching online as “Show Up and communicating and reminding also dependent upon the age and ex-
Teach.” The primary point of this students of missed and/or upcoming perience of both the instructor and
simple statement was to explicitly deadlines, and making course the learner.
define the anticipation that the in- Initially, a different level of course
structor actively participate in all di- With a new course, new management by the online instructor
mensions of the online classroom. may be required. This instructional
Most importantly however, “Show Up instructor and perhaps new oversight is necessary because the
and Teach” was designed to counter online classroom presents a signifi-
the misperception that, once created, students, it will be necessary cant shift in the understanding of
the online classroom can manage roles and responsibilities on part of
to monitor and respond to both the instructor and the student.
Since, in most cases, the course student activity (or lack Also, the degree of course manage-
content has been created and stored ment will evolve and become more
in the learning management system, thereof) more proactively. efficient with experience. The instruc-
some instructors may believe that tor will learn how to clearly define
their role of providing the course progress adjustments where and and communicate student expecta-
content is complete and therefore when necessary. tions as well as define and communi-
their role as instructors in the online NOTE: The term “course manage- cate their own performance
experience is complete. Just as we ment” can encompass many dimen- standards. With a new course, new
expect in the face-to-face classroom, sions of the educational experience. instructor and perhaps new students,
the online instructor is required to be For example, managing student it will be necessary to monitor and
visible and active in leading the rosters, assigning team structures, respond to student activity (or lack
learning experience. The second ex- grading assignments and submitting thereof) more proactively. Through
pectation in the list describes the type grades and taking discipline action trial and error, the instructor will
of active participation required in the can all be part of “course manage- develop a sense of where and when
online classroom and speaks to the ment.” For the purposes of this to insert course management strate-
need for class oversight and article, “course management” is used gies that lead to the best learning
management. to refer to those activities directly outcomes for the students positively.
related to the teaching and learning The challenge for the online in-
Principle # 2: Practice activities involved in the online structor is to find the degree of inter-
Proactive Course Management course. action and intervention that works
Strategies Now I wholly expect this expecta- with the dynamics of their online
The online instructor can help tion to raise a few eyebrows and even classroom. The goal is to structure
create a successful learning experi- draw a knee-jerk reaction of “I expect the course management strategies so
ence by practicing proactive course my students to monitor their own
management strategies. These strate- progress in the course, just like in my
10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • 7
8. FROM PAGE 7 ment system can serve to identify and improve the communications of
students not keeping pace with the expectations to the learners.
that the online learner is able to course. An automated response may With proper design, management,
control their own learning experi- be programmed to remind those indi- tracking and adjustments, the man-
ence. As may be expected, the more viduals of missed assignments. The agement of the learning activities of
actively managed classroom will general course announcement tool the online classroom can lead to a
place more demands of time and can be used to remind all students of rewarding learning experience for all
energy on the instructor. The expecta- important deadlines or upcoming course participants. The goal is to
tion that the instructor teach as well course events. If the large enrolling empower the online learner to take
as manage the online classroom can course has multiple discussion responsibility for managing their own
place additional responsibilities onto spaces, other creative solutions may learning experience and free the in-
an already busy online instructor. If be required to monitor student structor to concentrate their time and
the instructor is busy with sending participation. energy on crafting a truly engaged
reminders to individual students learning experience. Watching and
regarding missed class assignments learning from others, using student
or project completion dates they may feedback, analyzing evaluation data
not be spending time responding to The goal is to empower the and frequently asked questions can
inquiries and interactions around provide insights into where and how
course content. After the course has online learner to take to improve the learning experience.
been taught a time or two, it may be Some are of the belief that the tools
helpful to reflect on the time spent
responsibility for managing
and capabilities of the online
teaching the online class, the instruc- their own learning experience classroom can lead to a richer and
tor may reveal “time drains” of more equitable learning experience
classroom management that detract and free the instructor to than the face-to-face classroom
from the primary role of providing because we can provide communica-
instruction. concentrate their time and tions to all participants. Certainly the
There is an additional dimension opportunity exists to structure a
of this performance expectation that
energy on crafting a truly learning experience rich in interac-
relates to the number of students engaged learning experience. tion, student-managed and focused
enrolled in the course. Low-enrolling on addressing the needs of the
courses (under 40 students) enable a students in attaining the course
higher degree of instructor oversight learning outcomes.
due to the student-teacher ratio. It is The Key to Success
simply easier to monitor the activities Regardless of the size of course en-
of 40 students than 400. These rollments, the key to a successful Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
courses are typically designed for teaching and learning experience for Director of Instructional Design and
more interaction and dialogue both the learner and instructor is Development for Penn State’s World
between course participants. communication. Clearly defining and Campus. ●
Monitoring and managing student communicating the expectations will
performance (or lack thereof) may address the uncertainly of what role
happen by simply reviewing the and responsibility is required of each
posting log or activity records in the participant. The efficiency and effec-
learning management system. A tiveness of this communication will
quick follow-up email can remind the evolve with experience. Chances are
student of the required class assign- it will not be perfect the first, second
ment, or missed homework. or maybe even third offering.
In medium to large enrollment Refining the course management is a
courses, a different approach to continual “work in progress” that
course management may be required. requires a commitment on part of the
Typically the course activity monitor- instructor to carefully monitor, adjust
ing tools within the learning manage-
8 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education •
9. fact, some of the early marketing
Principles of Effective Online materials spoke to the ease of access
with phrases such as, “your degree is
just a click away!” and “earn your
Teaching: #3 Establish Patterns degree on your terms!”
For the traditional-age college
of Course Activities student the draw to take a course that
did not require attending classes at
8:00 am Monday morning also had
great appeal. It seemed that everyone
could find a reason to like the flexi-
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.
bility of study based on one’s
personal schedule and needs. As it
turns out, the potential of the
o far in this series we’ve of work serves to define the bound-
S defined several fundamental
“principles” of teaching in the
online classroom. Number 1: “Show
aries between the online class activi-
ties and the rest of life.”
“timeless” classroom was slightly
oversold for the majority of online
coursework. Although there are ex-
ceptions, most online courses follow
Up and Teach" expressed the expecta- One of the most challenging a defined schedule of operation from
tion that the instructor, although not start to finish.
required to be physically present in a aspects of designing an online
One of the most challenging
location, be an active presence as the classroom is working without aspects of designing an online
teacher in the online classroom. classroom is working without the
Number 2: “Practice Proactive Course the confines of time and confines of time and location.
Management Strategies," stressed the Although this may have great initial
importance of instructor engagement location. Although this may appeal to both learner and instructor,
in the online classroom and taking a
proactive role in managing the
have great initial appeal to the reality of this lack of operating
parameters becomes quickly evident.
learning activities in the virtual both learner and instructor, the Courses without time and location
learning space. This article focuses operating parameters can become
on one aspect of the online classroom reality of this lack of operating management challenges for busy
that benefits both the learner and the students participating in online class
instructor, that of establishing the
parameters becomes quickly
activities while still balancing the
pace and sequence of learning events evident. demands of work and family life. For
and activities. the instructor, the lack of time and
location constraints can cause a
Principle # 3: Establish The Seemingly “Timeless” blending of class and non-class activ-
Patterns of Course Activities Classroom ities. Establishing a pattern of course
“Although the online classroom en- In the beginning, the online activity and communicating this
vironment provides tremendous flexi- classroom was seen as having sequence to the learner enables the
bility of time and place of study, tremendous advantage over a fixed- learner to develop a plan of study to
establishing and communicating a time course format. The “answer” for address the requirements of the
course pace and pattern of work can those busy adults who wanted to course. This course schedule and
aid both instructor and student and continue their education without pattern also aids the instructor to
alleviate confusion of course leaving home, work and their contain the course-related activities
operation. For the student, an estab- community was touted as “study at to an appropriate duration and
lished pattern of course activities your convenience, anytime and any workload.
allows for planning and management place!” Who could disagree with the
of other non-course activities around concept of getting an advanced Learner Benefits
their e-learning activities. For the in- degree without leaving home or In many ways, the operation of the
structor, establishing and communi- needing to take a leave-of-absence
cating a course schedule and pattern from the workplace? As a matter of
10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • 9
10. FROM PAGE 9 class day is “over.” The temptation to 2.Use the syllabus or course infor-
reach out and be available to the mation page to communicate the
on-line classroom resembles the face- online learner all the time is hard to schedule of course-related activi-
to-face format more than it does the resist when the laptop and wireless ties.
independent learning model of the computers make accessing the course 3.Use a dynamic communications
correspondence distance education so easy. The very advantages of flexi- method such as group email or the
class. There are set start- and end- bility and freedom of choice regarding general class announcement pages
dates. Tasks need to be completed and where and when to conduct the course to inform the class of unplanned
assignments submitted within defined turns into a trap that makes the in- changes to the course activity
timeframes. In some cases, an actual structor feel the online classroom schedule. If possible, describe why
synchronous event such as a chat demands constant and ready access. the change has occurred.
session, teleconference or webinar The results can be an exhausted and 4.Provide the instructor “work
style meeting may be required. The in- overwhelmed instructor, even when schedule” informing students of
dividual learner may progress through class size is manageable. As in the the time constraints of your course
the course material and take self-check face-to-face classroom, online instruc- related activities. These may also
quizzes on their own but there are fre- tors need to establish defined and rea- be posted to the syllabus or
quently group projects, presentations, sonable work periods where welcome letter.
and discussion forums requiring a course-related activities occur. These
high degree of team-work and work timeframes help to confine Summary
cooperation. course work to a time frame separate The many advantages of “anytime,
The challenge for the online learner from other life activities (such as anyplace” education can also present
is to establish the discipline and time family time and vacations!). challenges for both learner and in-
management skills to keep paced with Defining and communicating these structor in time management and
the requirements of the online work patterns also aids the learner in operation. Establishing and maintain-
classroom. Some research has understanding that the instructor “has ing a predictable pattern of course
suggested, at least anecdotally, that a life.” Although instructors are open studies can serve the learner by
traditional aged learners and younger to receiving emails and course com- providing a foundation for planning
may be more challenged in the online munications at all hours of the day other life activities. For the instructor,
classroom because they have not and night, the learner quickly comes a defined schedule of class activities
developed these core skills. to realize that the instructors’ response can serve to prevent the class from in-
A course with a predictable pattern (except in cases of dire emergencies, terfering with other responsibilities
of operation and sequence of events of course) will be confined to a and balance the expectations of
provides the online learner with the defined timeframe. Both learner and learners who may desire 24/7 access
structure they need to succeed. An in- instructor fall into a comfortable to their “virtual teacher.”
structional design model with consis- rhythm of class-related activities. One
tent pacing and course activities well-seasoned online instructor I know Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
allows the learner more control over shared with me that his students know Director of Instructional Design and
their online learning experience. For exactly when he is available and when Development for Penn State’s World
example, if lessons begin and end on he is not and they behave accordingly. Campus. ●
consistent days and assignments are
due on a regular schedule the learner The Key to Success
can plan other life activities around A few simple strategies for applying
these aspects of their online course. the principle of establishing a pattern
Where the course structure deviates of course activities include:
from an established pattern, early noti- 1.Establish and maintain a predica-
fication and reminders are helpful in ble course pattern of course-
order to aid the learner in making the related activities. This may include
necessary adjustments. such activities as “opening” new
lessons, due dates and times for
Instructor Benefits assignments, schedules for syn-
An unforeseen challenge for the chronous activities and self-assess-
online instructor is knowing when the ment and online quizzes/exams.
10 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education •
11. the established patterns with the
Principles of Effective Online online learner serves to reduce the
stress and anxiety of pattern
Teaching: #4 Plan for the Life Happens
Unplanned The good news and bad news of in-
structing in an online course is that
there are fewer technology-related
excuses for not being able to
continue the course operation. Travel,
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. either local, nationally, or interna-
tionally does not typically deter
course activities because a reliable
he 10 principles of online in- quirement for those who must travel internet connection is often an
T structor performance have thus
far focused on proactive strate-
gies that ensure the instructor is
and have a desire to continue the ed-
ucational activities. The predictability
and accountability of established
“internet café” away. With a little
preplanning, course operation can
continue without much adjustment
or interruption. The bad news is
visible and active in the online patterns of course activities allow
classroom. Somewhat predictably, both the instructor and student the there is little room for “downtime”
this article addresses the need to for the online instructor! This speaks
communicate changes to the estab- to the need to consider the pacing of
lished pattern of course activities. the learning events during the time of
Established course-related course design. Carefully consider the
Principle # 4: Plan for the cycle of course activities in relation to
Unplanned patterns reduce stress and the length and duration of the
Online learners look to the instruc- required student activities, a.k.a.
frustration on the part of the homework, so that the pace is com-
tor as their main source of course in-
fortable and doable for both learner
formation and progress. If an learner because they provide
instructor will be unable to log into and instructor.
the course for more than four predictable patterns of Even in the best-designed course
business days (e.g., during profes- however, “life happens.” Little and
sional travel), the instructor is asked activities. large surprises can impact the pace
to give one week's notice to the and pattern of the course operation.
students. In emergency cases, in- If travel schedules and special events
structors are asked to notify students ability to plan and manage the are known prior to the course
as soon as possible if they will need learning sequence. Changes to these offering, consider these events when
to be away from the course and when patterns can confuse and frustrate the designing the course syllabus. For
they will provide additional course learner when not appropriately those other small or not-so-small
operation information. informed. occasions when “life happens,”
In the online classroom, the in- having and communicating a strategy
Creatures of Habit structor may be the primary link for informing the students of these
One of the touted advantages of the between the learner and the educa- changes can go a long way to main-
online learning space is the flexibility tional institution. Established course- taining course continuity. In many
it allows the instructor and the related patterns reduce stress and cases the interruptions may be brief
learner. Because in an asynchronous frustration on the part of the learner and simply change the due date of an
online course there are no fixed because they provide predictable assignment or limit instructor access
meetings times or locations, the time patterns of activities. When these for a few days. These types of course
of instruction or study is at the dis- patterns change, either by planned or adjustments are easily communicated
cretion of the participant. Although unplanned circumstances, that all- to the students via the announcement
all class participants appreciate this important predictability is inter-
educational freedom, it is often a re- rupted. Communicating changes to
10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • 11
12. message describing the interruption concern should something more sig-
and when the course activities will nificant happen.
page or whatever “all class” commu- resume, alleviates the anxiety of the
nication tool is used in the course. learner whose primary contact is The Key to Success
It is not necessary (unless you through the course instructor. A few simple strategies for applying
want to) to share with the students Informing the students at the the principle of establishing a pattern
what event has caused the course beginning of the course, for example of course activities include:
operation adjustment. Simply through a brief statement in the 1.Develop and plan a communica-
informing the students of the change tions strategy for managing brief
with a definite “resume function” and more significant interrup-
date will allow the student to adjust tions to the course operation.
their course responsibilities accord- Having thought through 2.Communicate to students how
ingly. For example, when an course interruption information
unplanned event or travel may limit communications strategies for will be communicated.
your ability to maintain course partic- 3.Clearly define for the students
ipation, simply stating that, “Due to the nature of the interruption, the
both short term and long term anticipated duration, any impacts
an unexpected change in schedule
plans I will be unavailable for the to course operation or activities,
next two days for ENG 101. Due to
scenarios enables all class and when you expect to resume
my schedule change, the Lesson 4 as- course participation. It is up to
signment, Loop Design Schematic, participants to manage those your discretion to define the
should be completed and submitted reason for the interruption.
by Friday June 20th.” times when schedules change, 4.Arrange with a departmental staff
There are times when life happens assistant, graduate or teaching
larger than a simple date change or assistant or colleague a plan for
course adjustments need to be
schedule adjustment. In these cases managing for larger/longer
you may be unable to communicate course interruptions.
with the class members. Planning for
made, and “life happens.”
these events can be more challeng- Summary
ing. If there is a teaching or grad For the online learner, the instruc-
assistant supporting the course tor may serve as the primary point of
delivery, they may be able to step in course syllabus, enables them to contact with their online learning ac-
and pick up the course communica- manage their activities accordingly. tivities. When that service is inter-
tions. In other cases, an effective Additionally, providing contact infor- rupted, confusion and anxiety may
strategy may be to provide the mation regarding more long term or arise. Having thought through com-
students an “emergency contact” “larger” emergencies situations can munications strategies for both short
such as a departmental staff assistant also serve to reduce student anxiety. term and long term scenarios enables
or colleague who has agreed to serve all class participants to manage those
as a point of contact for the students. Instructor Benefits times when schedules change, course
Keeping in mind that in many cases Having a prescribed strategy for adjustments need to be made, and
the distant student cannot “wander managing and communicating “life happens.”
around the halls” seeking informa- unplanned schedule changes can
tion on the interruption to the course reduce the “panic” reaction on the Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
activities. part of the instructor. Clearly commu- Director of Instructional Design and
nicating to the students the method Development for Penn State’s World
Learner Benefits you will use (email, text messaging, Campus. ●
Knowing how changes to the course postings etc…) to announce
defined schedule of course events course changes provides you and the
will be communicated greatly reduces students a predictable method of
the stress for the online learner when handling such events. Having a
changes occur. An email, course an- “back-up” plan for managing larger
nouncement page posting or phone course interruptions can reduce your
12 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education •
13. with the departmental office to seek
resolution to an issue. In most of the
Principles of Effective Online research examining student satisfac-
tion with the online learning environ-
Teaching: #5 Response ment, connectedness to the instructor
is frequently cited as the most
Requested and Expected rewarding and potentially most frus-
trating aspect of learner satisfaction.
A Reasonable Response
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. The challenge for the online instruc-
tor is defining a reasonable timeframe
for responding to student inquiries, as-
signments, or discussion postings. An
he “10 principles” of online in- how we do our work and play. With
instructor once stated that they fully
structor performance have thus the speed of our modems and penetra- intended to be active and responsive
far focused on proactive strate- tion of broadband access, we have to their learners by checking into the
gies that ensure the instructor is come to count on an immediate and course “at least once a week!”
visible and active in the online ready response to our inquiries and Needless to say, this response rate
classroom. This article discusses a communications. We become annoyed would be unacceptable to most partici-
“reasonable” time frame for instruc- at the web site that takes too long to pants when the entire online learning
tors in responding to student inquiries. load or the colleague or family experience may be only 14 or 15
member that takes to long to respond weeks long! In a course with a shorter
Principle # 5: Response to our email. It’s as though someone duration, this rate or response would
Requested and Expected slipped a little note under our door prove detrimental to student progress.
Timely instructor feedback is marked “urgent reply requested” when Left to individual instructor discre-
essential for the online learner in order we receive an email requiring a tion, a “reasonable” response
to manage their learning experience. response. Each email seems to be timeframe may vary from 24 to 72
Instructors are expected to provide marked “urgent!” hours. Depending on the nature of the
feedback to student inquiries within Whether we agree or not on the course, content domain, expectations
one business day. If the instructor amount of time we expect until we get of the audience, course duration, and
cannot provide a detailed response a response, we have developed indi- the support system provided, this
within one business day, the instructor vidual “norms” for how long it should range may be considered acceptable.
is asked to respond to the student take before we send a second “gentle Industry standards suggest a reason-
within one business day to note when reminder” message or, finally in frus- able response timeframe of one
a more detailed response will be tration, pick up the phone and attempt business day (24 hours) during the
provided. a response via the old fashion person- week and 48 hours over a weekend.
to-person voice method! Don’t you This window of response enables both
Expecting a Response NOW hate it when your inquiry goes unan- the instructor and learner to establish
Much of our academic and personal swered within our expected time a rhythm of interaction that supports
lives now include some dimension of frame? learner progress and is manageable for
information technology. It has become A delay in the response rate for the the instructor. It also implies that the
the expectation that we all have, and online learner is complicated by the instructor is attending to the course
use, email accounts and instant fact that further progress in their activities at least once per weekday,
messaging systems for connecting academic work may hinge on the in- and at least once over the weekend.
with our children. We are quick to structor’s reply or feedback to an idea Without clearly defined guidelines
use web searches for information or question. In the case of the true and expectations, instructors are left to
gathering before setting out for a distance online learner, this delay of determine their own standards leading
vacation or purchasing a large ticket response is multiplied by the lack of to wider variations between courses. If
item. The impact of these communica- contact with the learning institution. the online learner is participating in
tion and information tools is at first The learner is less able to stop by the
subtle but quickly becomes integral to instructor’s office or even to check in
10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • 13
14. why, after 4 hours, they still did not of course activities include:
hear from their instructor. This 1. Clearly understand program or in-
several online courses, this can lead to approach also defines the responsibili- stitutional expectations for instruc-
frustration and aggravation as the ties for the instructor and prevents the tor response rates to student
student accommodates each instruc- impression that they must be available inquiries, lesson assignment
tor’s rate of response. A programmatic 24/7. feedback or discussion postings.
or institutional standard allows a more 2. Clearly describe for the learner
consistent expectation for both the in- Learner Benefits what they may expect by way of
structor and learner. For the online learner, knowing the response time. The instructor may
defined response timeframe of the in- also wish to define the course
Setting the Expectation Too structor enables them to plan and “operating hours” and other
High sequence their learning experience. If special time-related course
Some instructors view the rate of the timeframe described will not features. For example, posting a
response as a measure of the quality suffice in a given situation the student notice that Monday evening
of their instruction. The quicker they may wish to seek alternative contact between 6:00 and 8:00 pm EST the
respond, the higher they perceive the with the instructor. A well articulated instructor will be available on IM
quality. Although this is an admirable response plan or protocol also for course-related consulting.
goal, it can also set up unreasonable balances the unreasonable expecta- 3. Monitor student inquiries
expectations on the part of their tions that the instructor is available carefully. If similar inquiries are
learners. The old adage of “the 24/7 and will respond immediately to received on an aspect of the
shortest time of response becomes the every inquiry. The online learner must course operation or content, it
longest expected” can set unreason- respect the need for the instructor to may suggest a refinement in the
able expectations on part of the separate the course activities from instructions, adjustment to the
learner. An often-told story to illustrate other work and family responsibilities. content, or additional clarification.
this point is of the instructor who,
working late one evening, responded Instructor Benefits Summary
immediately to a student’s inquiry at By providing a defined acceptable For the online learner, timely
2:00 am. The student, of course, was window of response the instructor can feedback from the instructor to a
pretty impressed, thinking, “this plan their course-related activities, and student inquiry serves as a vital link
teacher’s available 24/7.” After several control the expectations that they between learner and learning system.
hours of interaction, the instructor respond immediately to every inquiry. Establishing and communicating a
quit working. The student, continuing A one-business day/two-day weekend response rate expectation can
to send in assignments, assumed rule allows the instructor the freedom eliminate the guessing and frustration
something had happened to the in- of managing their course work. It also of not receiving an immediate
structor when they stopped respond- provides an incentive to check and response. Excessive delays, for
ing at 4:00 am. Finally in a panic, the monitor course level activities on a example longer than 72 hours, may
student called the instructor at home daily basis. Included in their response inhibit student progress in the course
to make sure nothing terrible had plan may be a description for the and will most definitely lead to
happened! student of the type of information they student dissatisfaction with their
Establishing and communicating a can expect a response to, and the learning system.
plan for responding to course inquiries nature and timeline of the response. In
can alleviate much of the confusion order to reduce frivolous inquires, the Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
and aggravation for all course partici- instructor may indicate, for example, Director of Instructional Design and
pants. This plan of response may that the student should first consult Development for Penn State’s World
include the normal course “hours” for the course syllabus for the information Campus. ●
when the learner may expect a prior to sending the instructor an
response, a method of “emergency inquiry.
contact information,” and the
intended timeframe in which the The Key to Success
student may expect a response. This A few simple strategies for applying
way, the student is not left wondering the principle of establishing a pattern
14 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education •
15. communications stripped of other
visual cues. This leaves text messages
Principles of Effective Online delivered open for a degree more of in-
terpretation or misinterpretation by the
Teaching: #6 Think Before receiver. Although we have an increas-
ingly rich set of media-based commu-
You Write nications tools such as voice delivered
via podcasts or audio messages or
even video, the vast majority of
dialogue between sender and receiver
is primarily text-based. Add to this
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD. text-based communications system the
potential global reach of online
learning and the cultural aspects of
s our series on the principles of cations continues to prove a critical communications quickly becomes a
A effective online teaching
continues, this article intro-
duces the importance of careful and
piece of the success of the online
teaching and learning experience.
In today’s online classroom, student-
factor for these online exchanges.
Most experienced online instructors
can relay a variety of stories illustrat-
thoughtful communications from the to-student and student-to-instructor in- ing the frustration of a dialogue with a
online instructor to the class partici- teractions remain an important student that went awry due to a misin-
pants. component of the learning experience. terpretation or misunderstanding of
Increasingly studies report that this is the intended message. These “commu-
Principle # 6: Think Before You a vitally important feature of success nication lessons” temper the instruc-
Write for the online learner. These interac- tor’s next response and, through trial
Feedback on assignments is most tions, conducted largely via text char- and error, the online instructor
helpful to students when clear and acters on a screen, may be delivered improves these messages to remove
concise language is used to explain the through static messages such as in- room for misinterpretation or misun-
degree to which relevant course structions embedded in a lesson or di- derstanding. Even then, it is always in-
outcomes have been met. Even when rections on completing an assignment, teresting to experience the misuse or
student questions are vague, instruc- or as dynamic messages delivered via confusion of what appears to be a
tors are encouraged to stimulate a chat windows, emails, or text “perfectly clear” message or instruc-
dialog that will help students under- messaging. Regardless of the format of tions. When these messages are
stand and communicate their needs. the messages, they each share a intended for delivery to the entire
potential common delivery flaw, they class, the value of clear and concise
The Whole Package are presented without the rich set of text is magnified!
The promise of online learning has verbal or visual cues provided in a
created tremendous excitement and face-to-face exchange. Taking Advantage of the
energy because of the richness of the Format
media, the ability to serve learners A “Simple” Text Message Sent There are several advantages asyn-
anytime and anyplace, and the con- It is widely accepted that the spoken chronous communications provides
venience of learning within the word is not the only message sent or that can help in addressing the deficits
context of our daily lives. With received during a face-to-face commu- of delivering text-based messages.
increased broadband connections, the nications exchange. Subtle or not-so- With forethought and planning, these
immediacy of “connection” via syn- subtle messages are also advantages can turn what appears to
chronous and asynchronous technolo- communicated via voice intonations, be a limitation into a positive
gies creates a feeling of almost instant facial expressions or body language. It dimension of online communications.
community. One of the most challeng- turns out that what we hear is contex- The most obvious is that, due to the
ing dimensions however of the online tualized in how it is presented creating asynchronous nature of the online
classroom remains the aspect of a complex system of meaning. In the course, time for crafting and reflecting
human interactions. As it turns out, online classroom, dependent largely on a response is more available than
the technology is often not a limita- on the written word, the expression of the immediacy needed in the face-to-
tion. The delicate and intricate art and ideas, opinions, humor, criticisms or
science of human-to-human communi- praise represents a “simpler” form of
10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • 15
16. FROM PAGE 15 appropriate parameters of that same interpret the message or instructions
discussion in the online forum. This and more time engaged in the lesson
face classroom. Another advantage can be done through a thorough de- activity. In addition, language that is
allows instructors to reuse a single, scription of the rules for engagement clear and concise aids the global
well-crafted response to the more “pre- and perhaps example of acceptable learner by removing barriers of under-
dictable” questions or challenges that and unacceptable language in the standing local or contextualized
might arise in the course. Frequently a exercise instructions. language.
collection of these responses can be
amassed and accessed on an assign- The Role of Netiquette Instructor Benefits
ment-by-assignment basis. As in any set of interactions, under- For the instructor, the time allotted
Additionally, these messages can be standing and adhering to the rules of in many asynchronous learning online
improved over time based on their ef- dialogue and interactions is critical for experiences provides the ability to
fectiveness. To avoid seeming effective communications. This is even craft a well-thought-out response or
“canned,” the instructor can freshen truer for online exchanges. Some delve deeper into the student inquiry
up the response with a personal might suggest that we have not yet, as in order to better understand the
reference or specific point based on an a society, agreed upon a common set problem. Developing a set of prepared
individual’s post. Various writers from of norms for online communications. responses to common instructional
Cicero to Pascal have been credited Many of the rules applied are contex- problems improves the instructional
with the quote “if I’d had more time I tual to the particulars of the online efficiency, enables the use of “best”
would have written a shorter letter.” communications forum. Online responses, and allows the instructor
The online classroom provides the etiquette rules may be provided as time to further develop supporting
luxury of that time to craft the general guidelines at the start of the materials that aid student learning.
effective and short, concise message. course, or in situations where special
Special care is called for when rules apply clearly defined. It is also The Key to Success
crafting feedback to a student. The the responsibility of the instructor and A few simple strategies for applying
subtleties of humor, for example, or hold participants accountable to a set the principle of establishing a pattern
the use of colloquialisms can of engagement rules. of course activities include:
challenge the receiver to interpret the Although this may seem like “extra 1.View student difficulties with as-
correct meaning of the instructor’s work” for the online instructor, institu- signments or course activities as
message. Simple, clear and direct tional policies defining appropriate an opportunity to refine and
(tactful and polite of course) responses online communications behavior may improve communications.
will be of more help to the learner already be available. Of course the in- 2.Establish and communicate the
than witty sayings or sarcastic structor is also to be held accountable etiquette expectations for the
comments that may work in a face-to- for adhering to and applying standards course exchanges. Also establish a
face exchange but do not translate of behavior in the online classroom. protocol for holding students ac-
well to the online environment. The Over time, the example set by the countable for adhering to the com-
online instructor is also encouraged to online instructor establishes the ac- munications expectations.
engage the learner where possible, in ceptable and unacceptable behaviors 3.Establish a “frequently asked
a dialogue expanding and exposing the for the rest of the class participants. questions” document that
student’s struggles before providing addresses potential areas of
feedback. Learner Benefits student confusion or inquires.
The global nature of the online Clearly defined communications, 4.Establish a database of responses
classroom exacerbates the communi- whether pre-written or provided spon- that may be used as feedback to
cations difficulties for students not of taneously, serve to improve the student assignments. Refine and
the same geographic location. Not learning efficiency by removing doubt, improve this database based on
only can message points be lost or confusion, or questions that detract experience of the responses effec-
misinterpreted, but also the style of from the learning task. Learners tiveness.
writing can confuse, offend, or benefit from a well-crafted assignment
mislead the learner. The instructor feedback that has been developed and Summary
who takes pride in the “intellectual refined over time by getting the best Of all the dimensions of the online
rigor” of face-to-face debate in an response possible. They will spend
online course, needs to articulate the less time trying to decipher or
16 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education •
17. FROM PAGE 16 Establishing and adhering to a set of satisfying teaching and learning expe-
rules for communications behavior rience for all class participants.
classroom, interactions between class can reduce the occurrence of misun-
participants remains a critical and derstanding or confusion. Finally, Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the
challenging factor of success. taking full advantage of the unique Director of Instructional Design and
Developing and continuously features of the online classroom Development for Penn State’s World
improving the static messages can including time to reflect and well- Campus. ●
greatly improve the online experience crafted responses, can lead to a more
for both student and instructor.
Principles of Effective Online Teaching:
#7 Help Maintain Forward Progress
By Lawrence C. Ragan, PhD.
he 10 principles of online in- students are able to monitor their random meetings between instructor
T structor performance have thus
far focused on proactive strate-
gies that ensure the instructor is visible
progress in the course through subtle
and not-so subtle strategies. The in-
structor typically establishes a
and student separated by geographical
distance or time zones differences are
obviously less likely to happen online.
and active in the online classroom. procedure and precedent for how as- The online student is more dependent
Returning assignment and exam grades signments are graded and returned and upon the instructor to post or commu-
in a timely manner enables the student announces when the grades will be nicate graded progress through other
to stay on track and make positive posted to the most recent quiz or more formal techniques.
progress in their studies is the subject exam. If this information is withheld In many cases, course assignments
of number 7. from the students, the constant are inter-related or sequential in
inquiries and questions may be enough nature, for example writing assign-
Principle #7: Help Maintain to stimulate completion of the task on ments constructed over the duration of
Forward Progress the part of the instructor. Additionally, the course and culminating in the final
Students in the online classroom rely the students have immediate and ready writing project. Quizzes and exams, a
on the timely return of assignment and access to the instructor via after-class rich learning opportunity for “learning
exam grades in order to maintain discussions, office hours, or casual en- what and how to learn,” can be
progress in their studies. The instructor counters in the departmental office. effective for providing corrective
is asked to facilitate this process by Each of these techniques serves to feedback to students as they progress
submitting grades of all digitally inform the savvy student as to their through the course. In some cases, ad-
formatted assignments and exams to progress in the course and allow them ditional progress in the course requires
students within two business days of to adjust their course workload appro- feedback and completion of the first
receipt. Proctored exams should be priately. assignment or test score before subse-
graded and submitted to students The online classroom is at a bit of a quent work can proceed. Timely
and/or appropriate administrative disadvantage due to the lack of these feedback in both these cases enables
systems (whatever is appropriate) subtle or not-so subtle cues for the student to take corrective measures
within five business days of the com- students monitoring their course if necessary in order to successfully
pletion. progress. Although the student can complete the course.
send a communication requesting
Monitoring Progress feedback to the instructor, the message
In the face-to-face classroom, can just as easily be ignored. Casual or
10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education • 17
18. FROM PAGE 17 plexity of the assignments. These The Key to Success
variables may directly impact the in- A few simple strategies for applying
The Key to Forward Movement structor’s ability to turn around the expectation of a two-business day
The instructor plays a critical role in student grades in a short time frame. If response to assignment or quiz and
informing the students of their it is understood from the beginning of exams grades.
progress on assignments and quizzes course design that the assessment and 1.Clearly define assessment strate-
or exams. An expectation of a two- evaluation strategies require signifi- gies for determining student
business day turn-around ensures the cantly more processing time, alterna- achievement of course and module
student receives the information tive techniques may be considered. At level objectives at the time of
necessary to maintain positive forward the very least, the course author can course design.
progress. Once the student has elec- determine the pacing and nature of the 2.Seek additional input from col-
tronically submitted the assignment for evaluation and assessment techniques leagues, instructional designers
grading, it is essential that the instruc- that may limit the negative impact on and/or students on the alignment
tor review the submission and respond the learners. of the stated course objectives with
within a reasonable period of time. In There will always be situations the student assignments and
some institutions this time frame may requiring assessment techniques that quiz/exam assessment strategies.
be specified by policy or cultural cannot be returned in the specified 3.Determine if institutional policy,
practices. Whatever the defined time frame. Where and when these standards, or cultural practices
timeframe may be, the communication occur, communications to the online exist that need to be considered
to the students of when they may learner as to when they can expect a when designing or delivering an
expect a response enables them to response can serve to minimize the online course.
monitor and plan their course activity degree a delay may impede student 4.Consider communications strate-
and if necessary, take corrective action. progress. gies that explicitly define the
expected turn around time for
Initial Instructional Design Learner Benefits feedback. If the anticipated turn-
Considerations 1.Assignment and exam feedback around time is greater than
An important design construct in the provide enables the student to normal, consider providing
creation of any educational experience monitor progress and adjust course students partial feedback in order
is the alignment between the course activities if necessary. to maintain forward course
learning objectives and the assessment 2.Ready feedback also serves to momentum.
strategies. Alignment refers to the maintain a communication link
proper relationship between the nature between the student and course in- Summary
of the learning objectives and the type structor. Establishing a protocol of providing
of student performance (a.k.a. assign- Instructor Benefits student feedback/grades on electroni-
ment or evaluation) that adequately 1.Planning for timely feedback of as- cally submitted assignments or exams
measures student the degree of student signment and exam grades serves ensures student progress on course ac-
success. Do the measurement tech- to establish milestones (a.k.a. tivities. A two-business day turn-
niques/strategies match-up to what deadlines) for course instructors. around or other institutionally defined
was described as the desired learning 2.Considering strategies for time frame ensures that students have
goal for the student? Considering that providing immediate feedback can ready access to course progress data.
match-up from the beginning can provide a mechanism for control- The alignment of the assignment and
alleviate some of the potential for over- ling the use of assessment strate- exam strategies to the stated course
design of the assessment strategies that gies to those critical to the course and module objectives can greatly
put undo burden on the instructor and and in support of the learning ob- reduce stress or tension of “over
the student! jectives. designing” measurement techniques.
This particular performance expecta- 3.Providing timely feedback enables
tion is the most likely to raise concerns students to self-monitor course Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the Director
from faculty who feel the two-day turn progress. of Instructional Design and
around is unreasonable or unattainable Development for Penn State’s World
due to a number of variables including Timely feedback is generally consid- Campus. ●
the number students in the course, the ered a “customer service” best
nature of the content, and the com- practice.
18 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education •