Online Teaching Ideas and Resources
November 25, 2014 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I teach English and Humanities classes at a community college. Because of scheduling issues, half of my course load has moved to online classes. I am seeking recommendations for activities, assignments, best practices, and resources that people have either a) used in their own online teaching or b) experienced as a student in an online class. What worked for you? What kept the students engaged and learning? What kept you from wanting to gnaw off your own leg to escape the tedium?

I've taught a few online classes over the years, but I feel the typical format - LMS discussion boards trying to replicate the class-discussion experience - often doesn't translate well and fails to incorporate any benefits an online environment might have. My cynical opinion is that online classes benefit the institution's finances more than the students' education, but I also accept that online learning is not going away, and I'd like to teach the most effective, engaging classes that I can.
posted by bibliowench to Education (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Don't over-rely on the discussion boards. They can be valuable but shouldn't be the sole means of fostering student engagement.

Here are a couple ideas:

Have students create longer and more detailed blog posts instead of short discussion posts. Have half the class create (individual) posts one week, then the other half has to create with blog posts of their own, responding to any of the others that they choose from the previous week. The response can be a rebuttal of an idea or an extension of the original post with further research or thought about the topic.

Depending on the specific subjects and classes you teach, multimedia presentations (like voice-over powerpoints) about assigned topics can be farmed out to students (individually or in groups) to have them independently research a unit and "teach" it to the rest of the class. The rest of the class then needs to post responses on the discussion boards to correct any mistakes made or fill in any missing info. Of course you should do the same by the end of the unit.
posted by trivia genius at 10:56 AM on November 25, 2014

Be creative in your postings by either posting a video (a recorded PowerPoint presentation with voice over, a video of just you talking, etc) and press students to do the same. I just started an online program for Instructional Design which is very, very different from my experience as an undergrad. In the two classes I enrolled in, one instructor posted a brief overview/summary of the last module to kickoff the new module and the other just had the readings and the discussion board. It was far more engaging for me, as the student, to see and hear my instructor summarize the previous week's content and lay out the new module. Your school may have Instructional Designers to work with you on building these courses-- at the very least they can give you a really good understanding of Blackboard/whatever LMS you're using to be able to try out more creative ways to engage student.

And I second the "don't rely on discussion boards" statement. It's easy to get really overwhelmed and easy to skip posted information (not that I have ever done that....).
posted by thefang at 11:19 AM on November 25, 2014

Best answer: I got my MLIS a decade ago, and approximately half the classes were online. What I took from the experience:

1) Discussion boards didn't work unless the prof required and enforced actual discussion. Otherwise, in the classes where the prof just said "You must make at least one post to the discussion board per week," and left it at that, the students mostly took that week's reading questions, wrote up their responses, and posted that to the board, and didn't stick around to read anyone else's post or engage them in conversation. (As a fellow student I was annoyed by that and made a vow to only reply to other posts instead of doing my own in those classes, but nobody ever replied to my comments.)

2) The classes that worked best required the students to form groups and work on collaborative projects. We were forced to interact with each other, and could lend each other expertise.

In one class, we all lived in town and got together offline to work on the website we were required to build. In another class, our project was that we were required to pick a subject, take photos, and create a cohesive online exhibit. Each member of our particular group happened to live in a different city or state, so we picked front doors as the topic, and trooped off to the historical commercial districts of our own area and took photos of interesting doors for an exhibit that compared them across the country, then built the site together, with each of us taking on a different task.

I only survived the cataloging course because were were put into groups and could work together on the cataloging homework. This particular class was a short summer class, so a lot was crammed into a very short period of time, and it was only the 2nd time the prof has taught it online, so she was still learning. Our group happened to have someone in it who'd been doing cataloging professionally already (this is not uncommon in library courses), and she explained the concepts to us in a different way than the prof and checked our work before we turned it in. I was the resident expert in another class, on digitization, because I'd headed up a small digitization program at my previous job. (These were core curriculum classes that we had to take for the degree, if you're wondering why we ended up in them if we already knew the material.)

3) When I had a problem, I appreciated it when the prof or TA was able to get back to me quickly, and with clear explanations. I will never forget the TA who, when I sent him a question, replied with a convoluted, opaque breastfeeding metaphor. I suppose this goes for face-to-face classes too, but when it's online there's less chance of the TA seeing my WHAT THE HELL? face and clarifying.

4) I only attended 2 online chat sessions, mostly because I was required to, because I preferred doing the work on my own schedule and the chat sessions tended to be chaotic.
posted by telophase at 11:41 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Make office hours a thing using a scheduled (could even be on-air) Google Hangout. You can answer questions and get to know students a bit. You can also use these for discussions. With a backchannel like Twitter (with a class hashtag) or you can have people talking on air and interacting live in a "chat room". I would require participation in a few of those every semester, but do about double the required amount so students have options. These are essential if you're reading literature together because its where the real meat of a college English class exists.

In the online course my partner and I teach, we start the unit with a video outlining the content, then have students explore that topic through some curated resources we developed (and later, students curate a shared set of resources together). Then we have them do a project applying that content and they share it on our LMS. Next, students watch/read other students' work and give them feedback. Finally, we ask students to reflect on what they've learned in a blog post. Get them reading each other's blogs if possible. Real audience means more motivation and effort.

These are approximately week long cycles.

That limits the "you must post six times and three must be replies" thing, which I hate and I know most of my students hate. It also makes it easy to grade - a blog post submitted is much easier than trying to total up a person's post submissions.

For other things, like grammar lessons or extra content, offer choice in how and what to do. Frankly, the more choice there is, the better. And ask for feedback as you go - if things aren't working, make changes quickly and make sure they know you're listening to them and that changes are at their request.

I'm watching other responses so I can steal some good ideas too!
posted by guster4lovers at 12:21 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

One more thing: for the love of God do not have items due at midnight! You will waste SO. MUCH. TIME. trying to explain whether "midnight" refers to the morning or evening of a day--"midnight Friday" will be confused with midnight Thursday night or Friday night. If you're going to go with a time like that, 11:59 PM Friday night is much clearer.

(I am still smarting ten years on when my prof chewed me out for asking which day the assignment was due because, she said, it had been clearly explained in the syllabus which day was meant when she said midnight. Actually, she had a typo in the syllabus that made it seem it was the *next* day, and I note that a few weeks later she opened the assignment again and let us upload if we hadn't done so before, so I think she finally realized it.)
posted by telophase at 7:57 PM on November 25, 2014

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