Words of Wisdom

UWM instructors have a wealth of online teaching experience and innovative strategies for engaging their students. To draw upon this extensive knowledge, CETL has requested words of wisdom from online instructors to online instructors. Click each title below for advice related to that area of online instruction. Quotes without attribution are provided anonymously at the request of the submitter.

General Advice

✦ “The magic of online teaching happens when teachers dovetail a clear and predictable course structure with creative learning components that foster student connections with content and each other in meaningful ways … I try to think creatively and experiment with different types of interactions and class experiences connected to my student learning outcomes. There is not one “perfect” practice or assignment; instead there are myriad opportunities throughout a semester to encourage imagination and connections across the arc of the class. While every instructor has their own teaching style and personality, I encourage teachers to try new things to see what works best for them to spark student curiosity.” — Sarah Riforgiate

✦ “Less is more. So much learning can take place in ways that don’t overtax you or your students. More work, for them or for you, does NOT equal better teaching. I learned so much from CETL, but also from Laura Gibbs (http://mythfolklore.net/) about ways to do this. One tool I use, and learned from Gibbs: students self-grade their discussion and their reading. They have to take a 5 point quiz each week with True/False questions: “I read the Hoverson reading.” “I posted in the discussion and commented on two other posts.” “I completed the library module.” etc. I can spot check, but it saves me having to sit there and tally responses, and holds them accountable.” — Jennifer Jordan

✦ “Prepare the course much, much ahead of time. Much before the start of semester, email drafts of the course syllabus, timetable, and student materials to enrolled students … Listen to their ideas and concerns. Based on the feedback, keep tweaking and improving.” — Yezdi Godiwalla

✦ “You get out what you put into your course. That being said, you don’t have to make it perfect the first time out. Pick the things that will be the most impactful areas to address first. Also, some things may work better than you expected, and others may not. It’s OK. Own it.” — Shelley Lund

Assessing Your Students

✦ “Backward design is critical for developing a good online course. First, identify your course learning outcomes: What knowledge and skills do you want your students to have at the end of the course? Next, think about how you can assess whether the students have achieved those learning outcomes. This does not have to be an exam! Finally, design activities that allow your students to acquire that knowledge and practice those skills. Do not just focus on the content of the course, focus on how you can help your students actively engage with the content.” — Ann Raddant

✦ “Put a due date on everything. I thought I was giving student flexibility by not specifying a date since some students might need more time to learn material than others. What I found is that the lack of a due date signaled some students permission to wait to even open the assignment. Now I put a date, and work with students who need more time to understand that submitting late for me is not a big problem for certain assignments.” — Sheila Feay-Shaw

✦ “What has worked well? Structure the class in modules with a predictable set of tasks and deadlines, and provide an intro document for each module that bullet-lists learning goals and to-do items and deadlines. Give the students a chance to build and see their grade each week and include some self-grading assessments so it is sustainable for you. Scaffold any large projects and provide interim feedback (learning is so much preferable to bombing!).”

✦ “I use frequent low stakes quizzes, assignments, and discussions to keep the students engaged with the material and give them plenty of opportunities to demonstrate they have engaged with it. The quizzes are short, 10 questions, and nearly every week. The discussions (six) allow them to express what they think about the topic.” — Barbara Wesson

✦ “Allow students to drop the lowest quiz grade. It gives them flexibility especially during times of uncertainty like the times we live at with the pandemic.” — Yaron Zoller

✦ “Beware of assigning too much too close to each other.”

Delivering Content

✦ “In addition to your step-by-step instructions for assignments … make a short explanatory video to go along with it. Priceless!” — Alison Donnelly

✦ “Fight the temptation to ‘cover’ too much.”

Building Community

✦ “I’ve found that it’s very important to interact with your students on a regular basis. This can be in the form of comments and feedback on their assessments, but also through more creative ways. This semester I record a video each week about myself, my opinions, etc. … and students respond to it in videos of their own. I can see their faces and hear about their lives, which helps to connect us better.” — Allison Libbey

✦ “Having online conferences with your students in an online course is one of the best practices in any online class. Meeting with your students every few weeks online would help build an online community and give your students the chance to ask you questions about the readings, assignments and the quizzes and also share any concerns with you about the class.” — Islam Hindi

✦ “I like to use editable documents. I’ll send out a mini-lecture as an editable document and ask my students to type their questions and/or comments into it. I respond to questions and comments in the document, so there’s a sense of real time interaction, even if it’s all asynchronous. When it’s ready, I send the link to everyone via an announcement.” — Mary Brehm

✦ “One of the qualities of online teaching that has become more crucial—and possibly overlooked—is that of trust. When we prioritize and foster trust, many of the disparities between in-person and online learning begin to narrow.” — Kristopher Purzycki

✦ “Finding ways to create community in a virtual environment is critical. Students need to feel connected to you as the instructor, as well as to each other.”

✦ “Write good discussion prompts specifically tied to the content. The better your prompts, the better the discussion.”

Supporting Your Students

✦ “A practice that has worked for my hybrid and fully online courses is what I’d title ‘hyper-transparency.’ In other words, I try to make everything (e.g. assignments, due dates, lectures, homework, discussions) very clear and transparent on their Canvas homepage. For each unit/module in the course (roughly 3-4 weeks), I include “Text Headers” for each week (e.g. Week 1, Week 2, etc.), and then I include a weekly outline, activities completed, assignments due, all of which are included under each weekly “Text Header.” I organize them chronologically, and at the start of the week, I do a 20-30 minute “recorded lecture” where I review what is due on a Powerpoint, and post the video on Canvas.” — Mark Sullivan

✦ “Set your standards early. Be clear about your expectations. Take time to show students the course site on Canvas so they are confident navigating on their own. Tell them if you plan to use announcements/email for communication. Tell them how they can reach you and how quickly you will respond. Even if all of these things are clearly spelled out, taking time to establish clear channels of communication will help your students know that you are there for them.”

✦ “The single best advice I have to give is to organize your class within an inch of its life! Set a strict weekly schedule for your students and for yourself, and stick to it. It is so easy for both students and teachers to lose track of what is happening, and this is a way to ensure both are able to maintain focus and clarity. Make it a contract you enter with your students where expectations are consistently met on both sides. Be ruthlessly punctual.” — Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece

✦ “Keep it simple for students by providing them with checklists. Online spaces can be abstract and overwhelming. I’ve found that students benefit a lot from checklists that help them know they’ve thought about all of the relevant requirements and expectations for an assignment.” — Taylor Katz

✦ “Use communication tools on Canvas. Announcements keep students engaged. Also re-read your syllabus periodically and send more complete explanations of assignments. If you receive one question, chances are good that other students have the same question.”

✦ “Have flexible office hours to meet their needs as well as yours.”

Synchronous Teaching

✦ “Use synchronous sessions to actively engage students. Connectivity and distraction issues limit the effectiveness of lectures. Instead, students should engage at that level on their own time and use synchronous sessions to ask questions, challenge concepts, share ideas, and solve problems.” — William Cleveland

✦ “Don’t lecture. If necessary, break it into small chunks. Ask questions regularly. I use the poll feature in Collaborate Ultra regularly. I think that feature is very useful because it keeps students engaged, and everyone participates.”

Contribute Words of Wisdom

If you would like to contribute, please complete the form below. Your comments can focus on anything related to online teaching, but here are some possible topic areas: assessing your students, delivering content, supporting your students, building community, evaluating your course, and synchronous delivery.

Your response may be included on the CETL website or in the Online and Blended Teaching Program. Thank you!