Faculty in colleges and universities across the country often learn about teaching and classroom management informally through observing faculty whose classes they enjoyed taking as a student, discussions with colleagues, or consultations with your teaching and learning center staff. When you begin to teach online, your exemplars and experiences from the face-to-face classroom may not be as helpful when you interact primarily with students asynchronously at a distance. While you’ll find many little differences and make many little adjustments as you teach online, there are several major areas of difference that you’ll want to make sure to consider.
Time and Expectation Management
Keeping a sense of balance is key when teaching online. One common issue that arises when teaching online is the feeling that there’s just not enough time in the day to do what needs to be done. Email from students needs to be answered. Assignments need to be graded and grades posted in a timely manner. Groups may need to be monitored, technology issues managed, or replies to discussion questions posted.
The main areas that can cause challenges for instructors are:
- Saying they will reply to messages in a particular time frame but taking longer in reality
- Saying they will grade and provide feedback in a particular time frame but taking longer in reality
- Telling students to reply to others’ posts with substantive comments and their own comments are “nice point” or “good example”
If students come to expect sporadic, delayed communication from the instructor and lack of substantive participation they begin to wonder why they should put forth the effort to be a timely and active participant in the class.
A good way to keep your time commitments under control is to manage expectations from the beginning of the course – both your students’ expectations and your own. You may not expect to be answering email at 3 AM now, but when you find yourself doing just that a month into the course, it’s important to take a step back and review the parameters you originally set. If your syllabus states that you will answer email within 24 hours or that grades will be posted within one week of the assignment deadline, that doesn’t mean that you have to answer email as soon as it comes in and grade on the day the assignment is due. For some people, the psychological stress of an email backlog is harder to deal with than the backlog itself. Knowing yourself and how you prefer to work will help you set expectations and boundaries that are reasonable for both you and your students.
Keep in mind that you aren’t the only source of technical support for your students. There will always be students with technology challenges in any online class. Troubleshooting technical issues can eat up time if you allow it. The most important thing to keep in mind regarding the tools and technology used in online classes is that you are not the only source of technical support for your students. Providing clear, tested instructions – using video if possible – will help reduce the amount of questions. The Canvas Guides are an excellent source of illustrated and video instructions for tools and tasks within Canvas.
Vanguard provides 24/7 phone and live chat support for distance students as well as walk-in support for on-campus students. If students are experiencing technical difficulties with a university system such as Canvas or a university-supported product such as Microsoft Word, you can direct them to the Information Technology department.
Organizing Your Time
If you have the opposite issue of avoiding messages and grading, setting aside regular chunks of time throughout the week to respond to email, grade, and interact in discussions is helpful. Treat this time as a commitment the same way you would to physically go teach a face-to-face class. Dedicate a portion of this time to open online office hours if you need external motivation to stick to a schedule. One way to make sure that important things don’t fall through the cracks in all the busy-ness is to use a check sheet like the Assessing Online Facilitation Instrument from Humboldt State University. This form breaks out the key Managerial, Social, Pedagogical, and Technical responsibilities of an online facilitator before, during, and after the course.
One last thing, if you have a tendency to lose track of due dates and office hours/student meetings that you have on your Canvas calendar, you can add your Canvas calendar to Outlook by subscribing to your Canvas Calendar. This will show you all the calendar items for all the courses you are teaching side by side with your Outlook calendar.
When teaching online, some instructors feel the need to significantly increase the amount of graded assignments to more closely assess student learning. While ongoing knowledge checks can be a sound strategy, if you have to manually review each one it can lead to grading overload. The Quizzes tool in Canvas provides options for automatically graded knowledge checks which can be mixed in with other, instructor-graded options like muddiest points.
The SpeedGrader tool in Canvas can help streamline your grading workflow. You don’t have to download assignments, put comments in them, re-upload them, and enter grades anymore (you can if you want to but you don’t have to.) In SpeedGrader you review and comment on the assignment within Canvas. You can leave comments on the paper directly and/or you can leave summative comments to the side.
Summative comments can be text but they can also be audio or video. If a student misses a step in an equation, it’s easier to show them what they did wrong than to explain it in text. Note that the video comment feature that allows recording directly into SpeedGrader is flash-based and will not work on iOS or Android devices.
You can hide or post assignment grades from SpeedGrader. You can also hide grades or post grades from the Gradebook. If you want ensure grades are automatically hidden or posted, you can set a posting policy for an assignment or set a posting policy for a course.
When assignment grades are hidden, students will not receive grade change or instructor comment notifications for the assignment. Students will also be unable to view their grades, including grade and score changes, instructor submission comments, Canvas DocViewer comments, and curved grades for the assignment. Students can still see and submit the assignment and will be informed on the student grades page that assignment grades are hidden.
When assignment grades are posted, you can select to post grades to everyone or post to students with graded submissions. When the Everyone option is selected, the Visibility icon will be removed from the Grades page for all students for this specific assignment. Learn more about managing grade visibility in your course and view the interactive Student Grade Visibility Flowchart.
Rubrics are both assessment tools for faculty and learning tools for students that can ease anxiety about the grading process for both parties. Creating rubrics does require a substantial time investment upfront, but this process will result in reduced time spent grading or explaining assignment criteria down the road.
Research indicates that rubrics:
- Encourage students to think critically by linking assignments with learning objectives.
- Increase transparency and consistency in grading by helping to normalize the work of multiple graders such as across multiple sections of a course or with TAs sharing grading tasks in large courses.
- Reduce student concerns about subjectivity or arbitrariness in grading.
- Increase the efficiency of grading by reducing the time you spend grading assignments and supporting the provision of timely feedback which has a positive impact on the learning process.
- Support formative assessment when coupled with other forms of feedback (e.g., brief, individualized comments) to show students how to improve.
- Enhance quality of self- and peer-assessment by giving students a clear sense of what constitutes different levels of performance.
The Rubric Tool in Canvas is an easy way to both share rubrics with your students and speed up your grading. Once you create a rubric for the assignment, that rubric will appear in SpeedGrader where you can click on the rating the student earned for each category, adjust points within a points range for that rating, and make comments specifically to that criteria. This is especially helpful if you have teaching assistants (TAs) grading for you and you want to make sure they include all of the criteria in each student’s feedback.
Other Grading Options
In some courses, an easy way to speed up grading is to develop a bank of comments. When you have taught a course multiple times, you know the common errors and misconceptions that occur. To save re-typing basically the same comment over and over, save the comment either with your answer key or in a more general comment file for the module or course and then copy and paste it in, personalizing it as needed. For more suggestions on streamlining grading, see Ten Tips for More Efficient and Effective Grading .
If you find that, despite your best efforts, you are having trouble keeping up with grading and interaction, it’s all right to stop and re-assess what you are doing and what you are asking your students to do. A mid-semester check-in with your students via an anonymous survey is a good way to find out if they are also feeling overwhelmed, lacking connection, not understanding what is expected of them, or needing a different kind of feedback.
For more thoughts on the topic, see Time Management Reminders that Boost Efficiency, Peace of Mind (Faculty Focus Article).
Resources for Effective Online Teaching
MERLOT (open/free educational resources)
MIT OpenCourseware website
Check out these Microbiology Lab Ideas
Check out this video showing you how to use a USB writing tablet, Microsoft Word, and Canvas Studio to record whiteboard videos for your courses. You and even your students can also use this same writing tablet or available touch screen along the Zoom whiteboard to conduct live sessions and record those.
Check out this video showing you how to use an iPad and Zoom to record whiteboard videos for your courses.
Check out this video on how to post Zoom recordings on Canvas.
Check out this great resource on using Zoom effectively.
Check out this extensive list of Open Educational Resources:
Simulations and Virtual Labs for the sciences
Creating an Online Community, Class or Conference – Quick Tech Guide, curated by Stephen Downs
The content found here was designed by Indiana University and adapted for use by the Institute for Faculty Development at Vanguard University. This material is offered under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license and should be considered under this license unless otherwise noted. The original content was imported from “Designing and Teaching for Impact in Online Courses” from within Canvas Commons.