Success in the online learning environment can take on a trial and error approach, especially for novice faculty or those mainly familiar with a face to face teaching environment. While some face to face strategies carry over, facilitating an online class demands a separate set of skills and may require more attention from the professor. Some professors find themselves suffering from negative reviews and not fully understanding the reasons while others may be apprehensive about transitioning to teaching online.
Then there are those who believe they are outstanding professors in their online class but in reality, they can improve by stepping it up a few notches. This article is intended to provide tips to support your success in teaching online.
If you have read any of my prior articles, you know I often focus on work-life balance and overall wellbeing. Part of our wellbeing as professors is helping students achieve their own success; one of the most rewarding benefits in education.
In this article, I identify some tools and strategies that have come in handy and have allowed my work and effort to stand apart from other instructors. Regardless whether you are novice or seasoned professor, pause for a moment and reflect on your practices and see whether you can do more to support your success in the teaching online.
Ensure you sustain an active presence online.
Simply because the class is an online class does not mean that you should not set aside ample time to devote to facilitating your course. An online course does not necessarily mean the course is on automatic mode. As an instructor, it is essential to commit sufficient time that supports active consistent involvement that is observable to your students. Do you post announcements intermittently? How timely is your response to student’s discussion posts, questions or emails? Would you feel that the professor was absent or not sufficiently present if roles were reversed?
Your online presence does not mean you are engaging.
As professors, we are inundated with messages of how important it is for us to engage our students. However, many professors confuse being present in the online course room, that is, checking emails, posting announcements, and grading assignments in a timely manner as being engaged. Simply peeking in the course room a few times a day to see what is happening is not the tone to set (although checking for messages and Q&A posts a couple of times a day can be helpful). As an instructor, you should be reading the discussions, prodding thoughts, asking questions, checking in on students in a manner other than a “robo-instructor”. The students should be able to feel your energy and help maintain the momentum you have set in motion.
Avoid instructing only, aim for learning.
When I first started teaching face to face, I recognized quickly that I was teaching focused. I wanted to ensure that my students received as much of the subject matter content as I could deliver. After all, they paid for the class and I was paid to “teach” them. However, teaching does not translate to learning. Others, like I once did, teach for students to be information regurgitators or with the intense desire to fulfill the course objectives and give students what they paid for. However, professors need to balance instructing with meaningful learning, that is, finding ways to evaluate whether your students assimilated and digested the material provided. Students appreciate when professors help them understand the importance of concepts and the applicability of these concepts to real life. Such transparency in teaching can be achieved by moving beyond the traditional passive lecture environment where students listen without active engagement to one where the lecture is supported by worldly, personal, or student’s examples that allows them to apply, retain and transfer knowledge as their situations changes.
Strive for reviewer status.
As a student, I hated when a professor graded my work without understanding where I failed or told me what I excelled at. Now as an online professor, I practice reviewing and evaluating my student’s work versus simply providing an overall grade. I coach students as much as I can through constructive feedback. Feedback is important not only to point out only what the student did right or wrong, nor solely to provide suggestions for improvement, but to prod student’s thinking to assist with their own self-improvement. Professors can help students identify themes, ask what they think is missing, and provide tips to helping them fix errors as opposed to simply identifying the correction. This practice can be time consuming, but it provides students better long-term outcomes.
Lend a hand as needed.
Some professors firmly believe that students should be left on their own. If a student is consistently absent, does not check in online, or does not communicate first, then the professor’s belief is that the onus is on the student. Professors believe that students should be responsible and accountable. However, in maintaining a coaching and mentoring mindset, a professor’s role is to support the student’s success. How do you do that? One method is to lend a hand as needed or walk alongside them. Consider to be the first one to reach out, send an email, have a chat after class, help facilitate a discussion to help them stay on the path to success.
Establish a connection with students.
As professors we hear so much of the importance to establish a connection with students, but this is not always easy especially in an online environment. However, with maintaining an active presence, engaging students through some form of communication, and providing timely feedback help maintain some form of “human-ness” to a sometimes isolated, mind-numbing online environment.
Don’t be afraid to be try.
Frequently, professors receive suggestions from students or other colleagues on teaching strategies and techniques. Sometimes when these strategies or techniques are implemented, success isn’t always at the forefront. Instructing and learning is dynamic, don’t be afraid to experiment and fail. It may take several iterations before you perfect a strategy or technique.
Stay abreast with the current times.
History has its place today, but as professors we need to be open to our rapidly changing teaching environment. Not because as a professor you have been successful teaching the same material over and over means that you should always remain status quo. It is imperative to keep up with changing technology, concepts and teaching strategies to be all you can be as a professor which ultimately benefits your students.
I encourage you to reflect on your practices, and if you can, consider applying these tips to help support your success in teaching online.
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About the Author
Dr. Dhanraj received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from St Martin’s University and her Master’s in International Relations, graduating magna cum laude from Troy State University. She earned her doctorate with an emphasis in Organizational Management from Capella University.
Dr. Nicole B. Dhanraj is a radiology professional, working as the radiology administrator at Guam Memorial Hospital on the beautiful tropical island of Guam. Currently, when she is not saving the world one x-ray at a time, she spends her time as a researcher, writer, and an educator. She is dedicated to issues such poverty, entrepreneurship, environment sustainability, leadership, personal and business finance, women affairs and higher education growth. With her philosophy of knowledge is power, she seeks to empower others through her presentations and articles on topics related to these issues.