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Best Practices and Advice for Online Teaching

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PWR Lecturer Tessa Brown compiled her best practices for online teaching based on her experiences as an online instructor. We've augmented her notes (from 3/14/2020) with resources to help you follow her advice.

Tessa's Suggestions

Be extremely regular in your communications and deadlines

As much as possible, communicate with students at the same times every week and have due dates be as consistent as possible. So, responses always due on a given date/time, class-wide emails/announcements always sent out at the same date-time. Advance planning helps you create your system in advance so that it doesn't have to evolve as much as our courses often do in person. Keep your word and don't move things around; regularity, predictability, and stability are more valuable than that extra day you suddenly think they need, especially at this moment when so much is in flux.  

See "Scheduling Office Hours and Conferences" for more on how to keep up regular communications

Use intuitive information design on the Canvas site 

Keep readings all in one place; assignments all in one place. Design your virtual space in advance for maximum navigability, anticipating it will be harder to orient students to it. 

See "Options for Organizing Your Course Materials in Canvas" for more on intuitive design

Try to embed your personality in your writing

Even if we are still video conferencing our courses, it is harder to get to know our students and communicate our care. Try to embed your weird jokes, puns, emotionality, concern, priorities into written communications as much as possible. 

See "Creating Class Community" for more on bringing you and your students together

Build redundancy into your course materials 

This is a principle of User Experience (UX) design. Create multiple routes for students to access the same information--so readings are linked to in multiple places, deadlines are listed in multiple places, etc. 

Set boundaries and keep them

Teaching online with no videoconferencing/phone demanded a tremendous amount of writing from me. Using Zoom for teaching and conferencing will actually save us a lot of labor compared with the course I taught. However, students can tend to treat e-mail like text messages, and when they can't stay in the classroom to chat, they may want to e-mail back and forth forever. I think it is reasonable to say things like, "These are great questions and I'm glad you're engaging them. I think it's time for you to continue navigating this process on your own. Use my suggestions from the previous e-mails to keep moving forward on your own, and I'll see you at the next class." Setting boundaries in writing can be extremely important when there aren't the constraints of a classroom needing to be emptied, for example. 

Talk about healthy work-from-home study habits

Students do not know how to do this. Emphasize finding quiet spaces, sitting at a desk or table for class, thinking about their schedules and when they will work on coursework. In that same first assignment I asked students to think forward about what their schedules were and when they were going to do their homework every week. Many students were working full-time and I think many of our current students will be picking up additional work or having childcare duties while at home. 

Emphasize re-reading

At the top of my syllabus and at the beginning of course instruction, I asked students to read everything twice. I framed this as a good research/reading practice in general as well as something that would be crucial when everything is transmitted through writing. I continually reminded students of this. I also told them to re-read any relevant syllabus or assignments before emailing me! I insisted that I was happy to field any questions but they better re-read the relevant documents before asking me a question! 

Emphasize annotation

I asked students to find a way to annotate things whether through printing or online, and after the first reading they had to share a screenshot of their annotated text. I framed annotation as the first step of the writing process, helping you notice what you notice and save time later.

See "Annotating Digital Sources" for tips on annotation tools that students can use