Jump to main content

Online Teaching Best Practices

These best practices will set you up for success in your online courses. Click on the best practice for tools and resources.

  • Let Student Learning Outcomes Guide Course Design

    Review your course learning outcomes (sometimes called objectives) for the entire course. Then determine how students will demonstrate to you that they've achieved these goals (summative assessments). Once you have your summative assessments, think through the specific content and skills students need in order to be successful. This will guide the course design and determine the content and formative assessments you need to include.

    Learn more in the Course Assessment Toolkit

  • Prepare Students for Online Learning and Know your Students' Needs

    Consider contacting your students and asking them a series of questions about  their needs for class. Below are links to sample questions. You can create this in Qualtrics, through Canvas, or use a Google form.

    Pre-Created Survey in Google Forms. Note, you must make a copy of this form in your own account.

    Questions in Google Docs. Note, you must download a copy and edit.

    Sample Questions

  • Use Authentic Assessment of Learning

    Authentic assessment requires application of course knowledge to a new situation. These types of assessments focus on complex, real-world situations that require a student to think about application of knowledge and skills in society rather than just in the classroom. 

    Because authentic assessment asks students to apply knowledge they are typically more
    interesting and thus more motivating for students. Authentic assessments are also typically a better measure of student learning, especially for higher-order thinking skills. They also eliminate any concerns about academic dishonesty since the student is producing original work, usually in parts.

    Learn more in the Course Assessment Toolkit

  • Assess Learning Early Using Low-Stakes Assessments

    Low-stakes assignments are forms of evaluation that do not heavily impact students’ final grades or other educational outcomes. The purpose of low-stakes assignments is to provide students with an indication of their performance while taking a course and give students an opportunity to improve their performance prior to receiving a final grade, either on an assignment or in a course. Mid-term projects or exams come too late to yield the necessary guidance. 

    Learn more in the Course Assessment Toolkit

  • Solicit Early Feedback About How the Course is Going 

    Early in the semester, around week 3, ask students how it's going. Early feedback surveys or informal discussions with students throughout the course asks students to provide feedback on what is working well and what will help them have a better course experience. Do this early so that you can make corrections and modifications to your course.

  • Be Present

    Students won't see you most of the time so it is important that you are in regular communication with them. Use the Canvas communication tools such as announcements and discussions regularly. You should plan time to be active in your online courses multiple times per week - daily if you can manage it! When faculty engage with students regularly online a community is built just like an in-person course

    Here are some suggestions for remaining present in your online course:

    • Set regular virtual office hours 
    • Create a discussion board for student questions and set notifications so you know when to respond.
    • Create a discussion board that you use to post course-related materials such as news articles, memes, pictures, etc. Students can post also as a way to build community.
    • Be clear about when you are available and when students can expect a response to an email or post.
  • Create a Supportive Community

    Design a course with multiple ways of interacting so that students engage in student-to-faculty and student-to-student interactions.

    Student-Faculty Interactions

    • Provide a personal introduction at the start of class so students get to know you. Video is a great idea since students won't get to meet you in person.
    • Provide Mini-lectures in video, text, or audio
    • Engage in weekly coaching and reminder announcements
    • Engage with students through office hours, discussions, or announcements to explain course content as a class or individually

    Student-to-Student Interactions

    • Start class with an introduction discussion board and asks students to post a video or written introduction that includes fun facts and a photograph
    • Create a general discussion forum for students where they can ask questions and get help from each other
    • Use small groups where students are responsible for working through course readings and other materials
    • Set up small group activities or discussions using the Canvas group feature
  • Share Clear Expectations

    Online learning is intensive and it is important for students to have clear expectations about the course schedule, deadlines for participating in discussion forums, due dates, and participation or attendance. 

    It is also important that students know what to expect about communication. How will they interact with you and how will you communicate with them? How long will they wait for a response to an email? This is important for an online student because they won't see you at the next class session as in an in-person course.

  • Use a Variety of Large Group, Small Group, and Individual Work Experiences

    Online courses can be more enjoyable for students when they have the opportunity to work together. Build in this opportunity but also provide individual assignments. A mix of the two is ideal. Group work does not have to be tedious in an online course. Instead of graded group assignment or presentations consider discussion groups where students discuss a reading, problem, or case study/scenario. 

  • Create Discussion Posts that Invite Questions, Discussions, and Reflection

    If you want a good discussion you have to pose a good question. You want to avoid posting a discussion question that asks for facts or questions with a yes/no answer. Make sure your questions are open-ended and require engagement with the course material.

    Tips for Online Discussions

    • Model good Socratic-type probing and follow-up questions. Why do you think that? What is your reasoning? Is there an alternative strategy? Ask clarifying questions that encourage students to think about what they know and don’t know.
    • Stagger due dates of the responses and consider mid-point summary and /or encouraging comments
    • Provide guidelines and instruction on responding to other students. For example, suggest a two-part response: (1) what you liked or agreed with or what resonated with you, and (2) a follow-up question such as what you are wondering about or curious about, etc.
    • Be flexible. Consider indicating a number of discussions students must participate in throughout the semester. This provides flexibility for working students and parents and gives all students some choice in how they engage.
    • Have students (individually or in a small group) pose questions throughout the semester. This puts them in charge of the discussion and allows you to see where students are struggling with course material and/or have misconceptions.

Online Teaching Technology Support

You can find resources for using teaching technologies from the Instructional Design and Development's ID On Demand Library