Ten Things I Learned About Teaching Online-Part 1

For the last few months I have been taking a Teaching Online and Blended Learning course with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. It was a fast paced, rigorous course which has inspired me to jump into the world of online teaching. The following are my takeaways for each week of the ten week course. This blog is part one of two in which I will share highlights of the lessons learned from the first five weeks.

Week #1-Have a vision for your course and be clear on your purpose and goals.
What skills, habits and competencies do I want learners to walk away with after completing my online course? The answers should guide the development of my future course. Our class work on analyzing various theorists and constructing a learning philosophy helped to remind me that what I plan in both asynchronous and synchronous spaces should be aligned with my overall purpose.

Week #2- Hit the “sweet spot” of planning.
When I asked Sheryl for the advice she would give to new online instructors, she noted the tendency of new online teachers is to either under plan, relying too much on “winging it” or to over plan and not allow for flexibility. I will consider in advance how I can best structure the learning for my students, and also want to be open to the unplanned opportunities that may arise in a course. I would also like to incorporate the goals of my students, so that as much as possible, I can create a program that will result in meaningful learning experiences.

A consideration for instructors of adult learners is the need to be mindful of the juggling act that students face when taking online courses. Sheryl was excellent at considering what format might work best for learners juggling work, family and life. She was able to maintain high standards, while encouraging us to jump in when we can and always welcoming us if we hadn’t been able to pop in for awhile.

Week #3: Leverage your syllabus and multimedia to set the tone of your course.
Having only taught face-to-face courses to this point, I now recognize the importance of and committing to creating an engaging syllabus as this will likely be my first point of contact with students in an online setting. Also, in my first email to course participants, I would like to include two videos. The first will be an introductory video to help learners get to know me and encourage relationship building. The second will be a course video to help students learn more and get excited about the course. To address any questions that learners may have, I will be constructing a course website that students can access and obtain further information. I hope creating these resources will help students to connect with me and the course, as well as allow students to focus on the learning ahead.

Week #4: Online instructors jump into the learning.
In my early years of taking online courses, my interactions with instructors were largely consultative in nature. After taking this course, I know when online instructors jump into the learning, it pushes the learning of all. When instructors adopt a learning stance, they demonstrate all three types of online presence. Understanding social, cognitive and teaching presence and adjusting your approaches to your prospective learners’ varying strengths in these areas are part of constructing a dynamic learning environment. I plan to use the different types of presence as another framework in which I can assess if my approaches as an instructor are balanced and meeting the needs of various learners.
In addition, understanding how a group develops is important to forming a learning community. Through Sheryl’s modelling, I learned that it is important to be very present in the beginning of a course and then slowly back off as the group develops. (If you are unfamiliar with the stages of group development, this may be a helpful resource.) By giving your class more space in the later stages, it helps them to grow as a cohort and lets the class take learning in the direction that makes the most sense for their needs.

Week #5: Community Building is an essential part of online learning, not an add-on.
I have taken a variety of online courses and what strikes me as different about PLP courses is the focus on community. This focus on community building early on and throughout has really deepened my learning as a student. This is because when an environment of collegiality is created and supported in the course, you learn from more than just the instructor. Your peers become a critical part of the learning process. Your thinking gets pushed, new ideas and reflections abound, and once the class is over, you have an expanded network of colleagues to learn from.

So how will I build community? It involves being mindful of opportunities to build community in synchronous sessions and asynchronous realms. It can be as small as incorporating a brief collaborative activity at the beginning of a synchronous session or structuring in larger collective knowledge activities in asynchronous discussions. I plan to incorporate a designated social space such as a virtual café or lounge. This is a place for learners to gather during the course so that they can get to know one another beyond academic discussions. I will also create a community bulletin board to post questions. These small steps will help individuals build rapport and trust over time.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post (Weeks 6-10).

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