How to succeed in online courses—for students and teachers

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New this fall, RIT students can begin working toward a masters degrees in health informatics or health care interpretation— all without ever setting foot on campus.

The two new online degree programs are just a part of RIT’s growing catalog of online offerings, which includes 36 programs, more than 600 courses and 37 non-credit bearing offerings with edX. Among some of the most popular web-based options are flexible general education courses and programs for adult learners.

Working along with faculty and academic departments to develop and manage these offerings is RIT’s Innovative Learning Institute (ILI). The two units within ILI—Teaching and Learning Services and RIT Online—work together to grow online enrollment and inspire faculty who haven’t taught online or just want to learn new pedagogy.

“In just the last five years, we’ve seen a shift in the perception of online learning,” said Jeremiah Parry-Hill, interim manager of instructional design in Teaching and Learning Services. “Online courses have become social learning experiences, and they can be just as engaging as the traditional face-to-face classroom.”

To begin the process of creating an interactive online course, Parry-Hill recommends that faculty go blended—replace a few face-to-face exercises with online activities. But that doesn’t mean simply converting traditional lectures to online videos.

“Ask, ‘What will help your students attain the desired learning goals efficiently and with the highest satisfaction?’” Parry-Hill said.

For Gretchen Wainwright, senior lecturer and program chair of civil engineering technology, online teaching in her graduate-level courses has been a learning process.

As part of ILI’s Guided Online Learning Development (GOLD) program, Wainwright has joined faculty from across the university in workshops to discuss online education techniques and experiences.

“For example, online students need to be assessed using different methods than those in the classroom setting, because of the unlimited resources available to them,” said Wainwright. “I test for how well students can apply and analyze what they have learned, which can be a new challenge for many students who have never been assessed using these higher level skills.”

Overall, the smartest approach to online teaching is recognizing that it’s going to be different from the face-to-face classroom and using that to find new avenues for interaction.

Top 3 tips for online teachers

1. Get organized. Make sure your course has a coherent structure. Show your course to a friend or colleague and ask them whether they can tell what students are expected to do first.

2. Be responsive to students. Give them feedback on their work quickly and often.

3. Share a very clear set of expectations for your students and for yourself as to how you will communicate, and how often.

Top 3 tips for online students

1. Organize your workspace and your schedule. Set yourself up for success by managing yourself.

2. Make a connection to your instructor early on. Open the lines of communication before it’s crisis time.

3. Log into the course before the official first day to check whether you need additional textbooks, equipment or software.