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Ten Promising Practices for Effective Online Teaching

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Are you trying to distill some top practices for teaching online? Here's our Top 10 list of some principles and practices to bear in mind if you're teaching in a fully or partially online environment.

1. Create opportunities for students to connect with you, as the instructor, and with each other, as a peer learning community

Social presence is a critical part of any learning experience, and that's especially true in online contexts. As an instructor, create spaces for students to talk with each other and with you since those spaces won't organically emerge in a hallway meet-up or in the time before and after an in-person class session.
For example, schedule regular office hours that occur at a variety of times so that students know they can meet with you one-on-one. Create times for students to hop online and use a live text chat stream to connect with each other. Check out more options for building a class community.

2. Make all course material accessible online 

Equitable courses give all students access to the material regardless of where and how they're joining your class. All of your lecture notes, lecture slide decks, readings, assignments, and assignment submission places should be accessible to all students in the course learning management system (Canvas) so that they can participate in the course.
For more on accessibility, and ensuring that course materials are readable and available, check out our page on Equitable Access.

3. Pick one digital "home space" and link any additional resources from the home space 

Learning online can be confusing for students if they don't know where to go. Try to keep the bulk of your course materials in one home space so that students know where to go. This will most likely be the learning management system, Canvas.
For more on approaches to designing a digital "home space," view the page Organizing Canvas Content in Canvas.

4. Ask students about their online learning experience 

Our students are diverse, and they appreciate knowing that their instructors care about them and their needs. Build in times at the beginning and middle of the course to check in on students and ask how they're experiencing the class.
Ask them, for example, at the start of the term, what their learning environment is going to be like and if they have anything they'd like you to know about their experiences as learners. As the middle of the term approaches, ask them if there is something they're struggling to find or if they'd like course material made available to them in a different way. See more on seeking student feedback

5. Establish class norms and expectations for online learning 

Students have likely experienced a range of online courses. Therefore, it is worthwhile to connect with your students and consider what they'd like to see from your class's learning environment and what they'd like to see established as norms for communicating with you and with each other. Learn more about setting class norms.

6. Vary the class activity types to reach different learners 

Online learning may not feel engaging to students if they are always doing the same thing (e.g., watching videos, being in Zoom classes, etc.). The more variety you can offer to your students, from varying how students experience learning activities and when, the more you can help keep students engaged.
For more on varying your activity types, check out our guide on Balancing Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching.

7. Connect students to multimedia resources.

In a primarily face-to-face environment,  you may not have thought about connecting your students to relevant videos, interactive infographics, 3D exhibits, or other kinds of resources. But since your students may be accessing your class either partially or fully online, you may want to consider some ways to connect your students to a variety of resources so that they can engage with the content, not just at the level of text, but also with audio, video, or a mix of media resources.
Check out the Stanford University Library's Streaming Media Resources and Digital Exhibits collections as starting points.

8. Establish clear expectations for how and when you will be available for support. 

Teaching online may feel like you are "on" 100% of the time, but that does not need to be the case. Plan ahead for when you'll be available for "live support" for students and when you'll be responding to e-mails or messages that you might not respond to students in real time. Let students know what these expectations are so that they can know when to reach you. 

9. Streamline your curriculum to make room for getting used to the learning environment. 

It's easy to feel anxious about mistakes happening online, and technical glitches will be inevitable. Consider streamlining the content you would normally teach in an in-person term so that you do not feel overwhelmed by content coverage alone.
Since the learning environment will be different, consider how you can maximize the main goals you want to create for your class and consider the best ways to deliver the core ideas to your students. For more tips on teaching design, check out our pages on Theory to Practice to understand effective and established course design models.

10. Ask for support. You are not alone. 

Teaching effectively online can take a lot of resources and expertise, so please do not hesitate to reach out and find the university resources you need to succeed.