3 Great Classroom Strategies for the Online Environment

Author: 
Simuelle Myers
Online Learning

This month the TLC is launching the Online Teaching Institute, a program that prepares instructors for online teaching. The OTI is suggested for faculty of all levels and experience to improve their online teaching and provide students with a rich, interactive learning environment.

Simuelle Myers has been with the TLC since November of 2014. In her role as instructional designer, Simuelle helps faculty to effectively deliver online courses and to reconfigure existing courses to reflect best practices in online learning. She is also a key developer for the OTI. In this post, she provides insight on effective classroom strategies that should be carried into an online course.

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An October 2014, Insider Higher Ed survey found that only 26% percent of faculty felt that online courses could achieve learning outcomes similar to face-to face (F2F) courses.  Another study published by the Babson Research Group and Inside Higher Ed in 2012 found that the majority (58%) expressed feeling more fear than excitement at the prospect of growth in online learning.

Yes, the online environment is a very different “world” when compared to a F2F course.  However, teaching online is not a lesser alternative to the classroom, but an opportunity for instructors to evaluate their teaching practices and provide students with a rich learning environment in a new medium. Good classroom strategies should not be abandoned when moving a course online, as there are many long-standing practices that are important for both a F2F and online course.

3 Strategies to move to the online classroom

In a Faculty Focus article on teaching with confidence for new faculty, Maryellen Weimer reviews concepts from a classic article by James Eison. The three main points she highlights are 1.) Speaking actively 2.) Teaching actively and 3.) Caring actively within the classroom. Each of these are also vital components to a successful online course, but can be easily overlooked through a standard “post and read” format.

1. Speaking Actively Online

Online courses do not offer instructors the traditional “stage” they are used to, specifically when looking at asynchronous communication; but this does not mean active interaction isn’t possible. Whether you are creating a video or putting together a lesson:

  • Let your enthusiasm for your subject show through your words and expressions. Allow yourself to share passionate moments with students by providing your own real world experiences with the subject.
  • When “talking” to your camera, imagine that your students are watching you in that moment. When writing, consider how your words would sound spoken aloud. Are they interesting? Do they inspire additional thought? These are goals you should seek to achieve in most aspects of your online course.

2. Teaching Actively Online

In the classroom, we typically try to get away from the standard lecture format, because we know in many cases, it does not engage students. In an online course, “wall of words” lessons combined with dense readings are not very different, and can easily cause students to disconnect, especially without the instructor present.

  • Consider “chunking“ lessons, by including a combination of reading, audio, video and questions or activities. Switching gears every 10 -15 minutes keeps material fresh and provides students with defined “checkpoints” in which they can either ask questions or pause and come back at a later time.
  • Require students not only to read, but also interact with other course material or complete a task using the internet. This provides a higher level of learning and a more enriching experience. 

3. Caring Actively Online

Although you may never meet your students in person, it is still important to convey a sense of caring in an online course. Research has found this to be significant for students and an article in Faculty Focus identified it as one of the five key factors for motivation in an online course.

  • Get started by having students participate in a forum where they introduce themselves to the class or a small group (if your class is larger) and go beyond the typical “name, major,” questions.

Example: In my most recent Introduction to Sociology course, my students watched a TedTalk describing how people can have limited views of groups or individuals. They then had to give an example of this in their own lives; allowing them to share as much or as little as they wanted. Responses from classmates were extremely positive and many were excited to see replies from me as well.  

  • Communicate with students by sharing your policy for responding to emails (i.e. 24 hours etc.) and then make sure to stick it.
  • Provide resources for course navigation and technical help to support students who may not be used to an online class. 
  • Let your students know you are there to support them and reach out to students who suddenly stop participating or show a decline in work quality.


By keeping these long standing best practices in mind while designing your online course, you are not only developing an environment that is learning centered, but you are creating patterned and deliberate ways to make your teaching more effective.

Let’s Exchange Edvice

In what ways can or have you used concepts of active speaking, teaching and caring in your online course? Have you found any specific strategies to be very successful? 

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