Teaching Online in Higher Ed

10 Essential Tips for Teaching Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As a result of the Coronavirus disease outbreak, nearly every college and university professor is having to move their instruction online. For many, that’s uncharted territory. For others, they may have experience teaching online — but certainly not during a pandemic. The good news: Through compassion, open-mindedness, and guidance, we can all ride this wave together.

Here are 10 quick tips for any professor having to immediately deliver their courses online. (We have the tips in text-form as well!)

10 Essential Tips for Teaching Online in Higher Education During COVID-19

First things first: no need to panic! Remember, you are an expert in your subject matter — you’ve got the content. Now you just need resources to guide your moving the curriculum into an online venue.

If you already started without knowing every detail of your school’s learning management system (LMS), that’s okay! Now spend some time between classes getting the hang of it until you feel confident you can handle the technical stuff.

Especially if you’re conducting synchronous video calls (although most schools are encouraging asynchronous lessons during this time). Those tools can be sensitive to background noise, so find a place where you can speak clearly and also work comfortably.

At a time when our future is so uncertain, your students need routine. They need organization. Let them know when to expect class, feedback, homework, and so forth.

Whether that’s live, recorded, or typed up in a module, now’s the time to turn up the warmth. Some professors are logging into courses a few minutes early to allow students to connect on a personal level before starting instruction.

In the classroom, you could easily give another example, or “another way of putting it,” when students struggle to understand something. Remember to do the same online; post videos, share articles, use graphs—anything to further explain the lesson at hand.

It’s easy for students to feel like they’re not being seen or heard over the computer. To make sure they do, and to keep their progress going in the right direction, do your best to turn around feedback within 24 hours.

This pandemic is frightening, and truthfully, you may have no idea what mental state your students are in or what they’re dealing with at home. Lots of teachers are giving out their numbers in case their students need someone to talk to, but that’s entirely up to you. At the very least, have compassion. If someone is missing class or not turning in homework, reach out and find out if they’re okay.

Set aside specific days and times when students can email or call you for questions on the work — just like you would have on campus.

If you’re unsure how you’re doing as an online instructor, ask your students! See what your colleagues are doing that’s working for them. We’re all in this together.


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.