After you’ve designed your online course (or perhaps you’ve inherited a course that’s already been designed and even developed in myCourses), what comes next? The answer, of course, is teaching your online course.
Online teaching is uniquely about exerting social and cognitive “presence” via the available online communication tools, such as announcements, discussions, and e-mail in myCourses, or synchronous meetings in Zoom.
Support Social and Cognitive Presence
Build community through social presence
In your facilitation of online interactions, for example, you can convey social presence by:
- Setting a safe and supportive climate for learning
- Identifying areas of agreement and disagreement
- Seeking to reach consensus and understanding
- Encouraging, acknowledging, and reinforcing student contributions
- Drawing in participants and fostering an ongoing conversation
Foster inquiry through cognitive presence
While facilitation is necessary to build community, it’s not sufficient to engage students in the content and meet the learning outcomes. In order to perform your special role as a content expert, you can exert cognitive presence by:
- Presenting content and questions
- Focusing the discussion on particular issues
- Commenting upon and summarizing the discussion
- Confirming understanding through assessment and explanatory feedback
- Diagnosing misconceptions
- Injecting new knowledge into the course from diverse sources and formats
Engage students before the official start of the course
Email students before the course
Email your students one week before the official start date with:
- A very brief welcome message the shows you’re a real person (use an inviting tone)
- Detailed information about obtaining any textbooks
- Tips on getting prepared for and succeeding in the course
- Invitation to chat with you synchronously via phone or Zoom
Post a welcome message
Post a welcome message with (ideally) a video in the myCourses News area to:
- Share your “passion” for course subject
- Provide overview of your teaching style/philosophy, particularly to online education
- Explain “how the course works”
- “Walk” students through the myCourses course shell
Combine traditional and active approaches to online discussion
The traditional approach asks students to first respond to the assignment prompt, then reply to other classmates’ posts. While often effective, the traditional approach can be disengaging if overused. Consider asking students to also reply to one or more reflective questions, such as:
- How has this discussion changed the way you are thinking about this topic?
- What question or questions does this discussion inspire you to ask?
- What assumptions that you had about this topic have been confirmed or questioned for you by this discussion?
Additionally, active approaches often treat the discussion board as a “public presentation and conversational space” for engaged learning; examples include:
- Student-initiated and –led discussion activities
- Discovery and exploration discussion activities
- Peer-review discussions (pair and small group formats)
- Cross-cultural and globally-networked discussion activities
Remain connected with students
Participate in discussions
You need to be active in the discussions, but how active?
Regardless of how the online discussions were designed, once the course begins you need to be directly involved in them. But how involved do you need to be? The general rule of thumb is that you should apply enough, but not too much involvement. Deciding when and how to post in the discussions depends on contextual considerations, which might include the following:
- To raise an content-related or reflective question (see the above section)
- To respond to a question directly addressed to you, the instructor
- To model, as your comments can be models for students in their posts
- To summarize a variety of student posts or positions
- To offer a correction
Conduct a mid-term evaluation to get actionable student feedback.
By the time you receive results from any summative course evaluation process, it’s obviously too late to alter your teaching or course design. Consequently, consider offering a formative, mid-term (or earlier) course evaluation as a myCourses Survey or Discussion topic. This evaluations typically ask students to answer a few open-ended questions, such as:
- What’s working well in the course?
- How could the course be improved?
- What’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
- What other comments and observations do you have?