A Survival Guide to Teaching Online

Once you have your course content developed, the fun begins! This section contains timely information to help you implement your technology-enhanced instruction and anticipate possible challenges. Hopefully, you have developed all of your content by now, but you need to continue engaging students in the course site, especially if you are teaching a fully online course. You need to have a regular presence so students feel there is someone on the other end.

Tips for the First Day(s) of Class

Welcome the class

Post a general “Welcome” announcement including how to get started in the class (e.g., read the syllabus and first unit) in addition to creating a discussion forum for “Class Introductions”. You can post a more thoughtful and complete welcome message to the class in the discussion board which may sound repetitive but consider this as an opportunity to humanize yourself in an online course as well as setting a tone for the class. Another great option would be to post a short video clip containing your greeting and brief introduction to course goals.

Finalize content

Aside from the syllabus, you should strive to have all major assignments, grading schemes, samples, readings, unit commentary, etc., available for use (you don’t want to be writing the course and teaching it at the same time). Once enrollments are loaded, any content released to students will be accessible as soon as they log into your course site. You may opt to date-release certain content (vigilantly check your dates for accuracy) but make sure everything loaded onto Isaak-Sakai is otherwise complete, accurate, and finalized.

Check your links

It is a good policy before the course goes “live” to click around and make sure all your external (and internal for that matter) links are active and bring the user to the intended destination. This measure is especially worthwhile when teaching a course developed in previous semesters, as online content may have been moved, modified, or withdrawn without your knowledge.

Set up and assign custom groups

If you are dividing your students into custom groups for tailored access to course content, discussions, or group projects, now is the time to create and assign groups to course site tools as appropriate. More information about creating custom site groups is available on the Manage Groups help page.

Set up the Forums

If you plan to use the Forums tool to facilitate weekly, monthly, or topic-based discussions, consider having the structure roughly in place to immediately greet students. This also means that any custom groups should be assigned to forums and discussions as needed. It is also helpful to have one of your own posts in place to offer greetings and serve as a model for students as they begin crafting their own forums content.

Set up the Assignments tool

If you plan to accept online submissions via your course site, the Assignments tool provides a great solution. Having this in place and properly configured with assignment information as needed will allow your students to better anticipate course expectations from the start.

Choose a communication method

Provide information about your intended communication format, frequency, and style so that students know what is expected of them moving forward. Isaak-Sakai offers several tools, such as Messages, Email, and Chat Room, for communication directly within course sites, but it is also possible to externally use Brock University email. Note that external email platforms such as Gmail or Yahoo are less secure than Brock University internal email and are thus not recommended for course-related correspondence.

Begin maintaining a presence

Particularly over the first few weeks, it’s advisable to be active within your course site to engage your students. While it may not be possible to respond to every student posting in the course forums, skimming through and posting summative comments and observations fairly regularly will serve as an indication that you are following student-generated course content.

Tools to support instruction when class is cancelled

Though course lectures, seminars, and office hours may be cancelled or made problematic due to occurrences of inclement weather or flu pandemic, academic instruction can often continue in lieu of brick and mortar meeting places using Isaak-Sakai and other instructional technologies. Here are some specific tips when class has been cancelled:

  1. Have students submit work through Isaak-Sakai’s Dropbox tool or the Assignments tool.
  2. Conduct office hours privately using the Isaak-Sakai’s Messages tool or openly using the Chat Room tool.
  3. Facilitate collaborative work using Isaak-Sakai’s Forums tool, Etherpad, or a Kumu-hosted wiki.

Tips for Avoiding & Managing Overload

The following list of suggestions and tips may help you overcome some of the challenges you may encounter as a result of incorporating the use of the Internet into large enrollment classes.

  1. Set aside blocks of time each week for responding to student email. Be realistic about how much time you can devote to this each day. Then stick with your schedule!
  2. Be honest with students about the volume of email you receive daily and provide them with an honest window of expected response time back from you.
  3. Tell students to be precise in creating subject lines, keep messages short, and focus on a single topic. Hold students accountable to your guidelines. Return files or messages that do not conform and ask that they rewrite or re-save their work.
  4. Post to the group; rather than responding to each individual student contribution, respond to several at once by weaving them together and posting your answer to the class using tools like Announcements, Messages, or Forums.
  5. Tell students to avoid fancy formatting such as tabs, tables and fonts unless you are certain all users can view them.
  6. Model behaviour you expect in your own messages, such as making contributions short and making subject lines specific.
  7. Include information, within your course site, on how to access technical assistance and support.
  8. Students can be overwhelmed, too; give tips on how to handle overload. Also consider that multiple classes with multiple discussions generate many messages for students as well.
  9. Use TAs for class support: assign TAs to monitor and/or moderate discussion forums and respond to discussion list questions to ensure they stay on track and on task.
    • Train Teaching Assistants in the use of technology.
    • Assign Teaching Assistants to be available to help students with problems.
    • Include Teaching Assistant names, emails, and times they are available for assistance on your site.

Tips to Encourage Academic Integrity in the Online Environment

Academic integrity and plagiarism have become more complicated issues with the explosion in access and use of the Internet. These tips are just a starting point for you to consider how to encourage academic honesty and discourage plagiarism. Further in-depth resources are available within the CPI’s guide to Academic Integrity in the online learning environment.

  • Show that you care about academic honesty. If your faculty or department does not promote an honour code, consider creating one for your course.
  • Include information in your syllabus about intellectual property and academic honesty. Go over that information with the class.
  • Provide online resources that further explain the details (and examples) of plagiarism and adhering to copyright law. This is sometimes more meaningful at the time of the assignment.
  • Be a role model.
  • Explain where and how you obtained your own online resources or examples.
  • Exemplify and discuss ways to cite resources.
  • Discuss the libraries’ role in helping access electronic reference materials.
  • Prepare your TAs to be role models, and to know how to detect plagiarism in grading.
  • Discuss the negative impact of online “paper mills” that allow students to purchase work instead of creating their own.
  • Indicate that you utilize search engines or software to detect plagiarism.

Academic Integrity/Plagiarism Resources

How to get support

The Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI) guides academic instruction in many forms; staff are pleased to offer support to educators intending to instruct or supplement instruction using tools within Isaak-Sakai or other Brock-supported platforms as well as advise on the use of externally-hosted options such as social media. For technology-related support for instruction, contact edtech@brocku.ca or 905 688 5550 x4734; for information about individual contacts within CPI, visit the CPI contact page.


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Guide to Teaching with Technology Copyright © 2019 by Centre for Pedagogical Innovation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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