Success in teaching online is usually the result of combining one’s personal preferences for teaching with best practices in delivering instruction in this modality. What is most important is that you apply those specific practices that best support your current pedagogy success – and adapt to the virtual learning environment.

What are the best practices in online higher ed instruction?

Although there is a range of best practices that have been identified for online teaching, there are six fundamental areas that will get you started on the path to success in your online class or support the success you are already having.

Following is a summary of each of these for you to use, with more details to come in future blogs:

1. Build community amongst your students

Learning online can result in students feeling isolated, which can often lead to a high rate of attrition. Developing a feeling of membership and a sense of belonging will build community within your class. To get started building community, include active learning activities such as case studies or other group projects that connect students in smaller communities.

2. Use the iterative process

You may discover that many of your students have not developed the writing skills needed to be successful in an online course. Improving writing skills in both native and non-native English speakers requires both time and feedback on multiple iterations of written assignments. Using the iterative process addresses both of these approaches; that is, using the iterative process gives students the opportunity to resubmit assignments and benefit from your feedback. More on the iterative process in an upcoming blog.

3. Find your “online voice”

Although written communication is the primary exchange that occurs between you and students in an online course, there are many chances to feature your unique approach to teaching. Announcements, mini-lectures, and responses to students are all opportunities for you to infuse your style. And if you enjoy being the “sage on the stage,” remember that you can offer audio or video recordings of directions, mini-lectures and answers to questions using your “online voice” translated from the classroom setting.

4. Establish a culture of honesty

Many faculty fear that teaching online might invite academic dishonesty among students. Yet this perception is not supported by data. Apart from institutional safeguards, faculty can implement strategies to prevent cheating on their own such as making academic integrity expectations clear, and offering effective online assessments that by their nature discourage cheating. It’s not impossible for students to cheat, but we can sure make it harder!

5. Teach to adults

Teaching adults online requires respect for time commitments and constraints, effective communication, value-added feedback on assignments, and discussions that encourage real connections. Adults have unique learning needs and motivational challenges. One challenge is to define and create a safe and accountable learning environment. For example: setting guidelines for discussion boards – what are acceptable exchanges and what are not.

6. Plan for student success

Remember that your online course will require as much work as your f2f course! Strategies that address motivation, time management, self-determination, and self-efficacy are key to planning for your students’ success. There are specific strategies and online learning skills that are crucial to successful course completion and ensure that students are committed to the learning process beyond that of a spectator sport!

In the coming days and weeks, we will continue to provide proven effective best practices so that how you design and execute your online courses will give your students the mindset that they need to be successful.

Dr. Mary Jane Pearson is the Chief Academic Advisor for HotChalk. One of her notable accomplishments is the design of the highly successful model of support and mentoring for online higher education faculty, which has resulted in over 90% retention rate for online faculty, and an overall average of 4.5/5 faculty rating from student end-of-course evaluations. Dr. Pearson’s unique credentials as a teacher educator include chairing the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC), the largest educator licensing agency in the U.S., during which she co-authored the research on California’s beginning teacher support that has become the worldwide standard for the induction, mentoring and support of new teachers. In addition, Dr. Pearson was appointed by the U.S. President to serve as the Regional Representative for the U.S. Department of Education. In recognition of her service to education, Dr. Pearson was named California Teacher Educator of the Year. Dr. Pearson earned her PhD from the University of Kansas.

Dr. Gail Kirby is the Online Instructional Mentor for HotChalk and is a published subject matter expert in online higher education faculty support & mentoring. In addition, she is an Associate Professor of Special Education at Western Kentucky University. Dr. Kirby has 33 years of experience teaching P-12; over 25 years in higher education, including community college, and both private and public college and university settings. She earned her EdD from the University of San Francisco.