Online …with feelings – Cheat Sheet

One more cheat sheet to provide some guidance in our teaching during this pandemic. If you have been reading the Blended Learning cheat sheet you will know that one clever way to gradually move from face-to-face to online is to adopt a blended approach first and find your feet before launching online. However, during Covid the reality has been that for many moving online was neither a planned nor calculated exercise, it had to be done and done quickly. But now that we have all experienced what it is like to teach online it is time to look at what makes a good online teaching/learning experience and what does not. Simply replicating face-to-face teaching does not provide all the elements needed in an online environment but equally removing all personal connections also makes it less than desirable. 

The positive online experience 

 Raise your hand if you have been in an online meeting that you feel you could not contribute much as it was not clear why you were there and you were mostly talked at. Now transfer the same experience to the online class. The motto for a positive online experience is “maximise the personal and the engagement and minimise the confusion and passiveness”. One aspect that people bring up when you ask what is good about participating in person in a class is the personal connection, with their peers and teachers. The fact that you will be teaching remotely doesn’t need to be a barrier in making online learning just as much connected and personal as a classroom experience, minus the 4 walls. However, it is the “little things” that brings the experience down: the absent teacher that seldom answers posts or messages, the lack of “personality”, the lecture that starts and gets down to business without the nicety of a real interaction (even for pre-recorded lectures), and for live lectures – no interaction, no way to comment and ask questions, no space for connecting with other students or options provided for study groups (for example). The other detracting aspect is disorganization and confusion. What, when, how and why for every aspect of the course should be spelled out clearly and everything should be easy to find at any time – from what will be learned and why to how feedback will be received on assessment.  

Just a few nuts and bolts 

In designing a course for online delivery use the same basic principles we explored in the Blended Learning cheat sheet, to summarize here are just some but go and read the other cheat sheet for more detailed info: 

Clear communications – Use tools like announcement, forums, labels, glossary, etc. to ensure that everything is clear and at any point students know what to do. Because of the nature of working online, include, if you can, any instructions about technical skills/tools students need to use and netiquette (look for more in the Blended Learning cheat sheet). For some online courses we have created an Orientation Module to ensure students have all the info and skills needed to successfully learn online. Talk to the EDS if you are interested in exploring this option.  

Well organized and structured content – use books, pages, folders, labels, etc. to have a clear and easy way to follow the site. Keep in mind that students these days use their mobile device to access course materials so think “small screen” and make it as accessible as possible including ways to download materials and work offline.  

Assessment – all assessments obviously need to be online using tools like Assignment, Turnitin, the Workshop module, Wiki, etc.  Also consider Podcasts, Videos, audio assessments, virtual exhibitions, etc. All assessments need to have clear explanations in terms of what is expected, how it will be assessed (rubric) and any technical needs for the assessment to be completed successfully. Also, all feedback needs to be delivered online with clear indication of when and how it will be provided. Use audio feedback to personalise your comments.

Recorded or pre-recorded lectures – all your lectures need to be recorded (live online) or pre-recorded. Teach your students to use the tools in ECHO360 to make notes or ask questions in recorded lectures, etc. and learn to use these tools to connect with your students. Think of making both live and pre-recorded lectures interactive (again look at the Blended Learning cheat sheet for ideas). Also think creatively with lectures, do they really need them to be all videos? Short audio podcast lectures are also good so think about how to engage your students in different ways with your lecture materials – think “any time anywhere”.  

Read the Blended Learning cheat sheet for more on building your online course site. Also look at other cheat sheets to help you with engagement like: Asynchronous Online Learning, Synchronous technology-based interactions, Advanced Zoom and the Creative assessments ones. 

Now for the important part 

Personal, enthusiastic and friendly –The missing physical presence in the online environment can be overcome by creating a connected learning community. This requires both teacher and students to get to know each other, to look at the learning environment not just as a learning space but a social space, providing opportunities to have informal communication. Sometimes it is as easy as leaving a bit of time at the end of the online live lecture for students to stay back and talk, have an icebreaking question at the beginning of each session, create a Padlet get to know each other well, have regular mini posts or mini podcasts, use chat, use audio feedback for assessment instead of text, organise an online celebration. Remember what we said earlier about why people like being in a face-to-face class? Shorten the distance created online by finding ways to infuse more social interaction and connection.  

Engage, share and collaborate – If making learning active and engaging is important in a face-to-face and blended offering, it is even more important in an online context. In one of the articles I have linked below, the importance of collaborative learning is highlighted in ensuring positive online learning experiences. Group work and teamwork need to be part of an online delivery not just for assessment purpose (although well-constructed and real-world group assessment is a powerful learning experience). Promoting online group discussions, team activities, etc. is very important both from a learning and social aspect. Providing spaces to share knowledge and understanding, places for students to help each other, allowing student groups to organise themselves and be accountable to each other and the teacher for their contribution are necessary to fostering engagement and building an online community. Students tend to disappear and disengage when they feel excluded or are not missed. Creating an environment where everybody is valued and everybody contributes, benefits and is accountable shifts the discussion to pedagogies that support self-determined learning (heutagogy). Providing spaces for choice is not always easy but given the vastness of the online environment, there are many ways you can do that. The EDS team can advise you at your course building stage so get in touch.

You have probably noticed that I have not talked about technology at all in the “important part” bit, not because technology is not important but because we often focus too much on the technology and technological issues without realising that even well supported and technologically well-crafted and well-run courses still fail if what I have said above are missing. 

Finally let’s address the elephant in the room – learning online is not for everybody in the same way during the pandemic. Some people like working from home and others do not, so we must accept and recognise this and be prepared for it. In a perfect world, with the adequate financial commitment the best approach should be to offer both online and in person opportunities as I believe that flexibility is really the key. 


Some links for you (in this article there is also an easy-to-use rubric to evaluate online courses it is quite old but still contain some good measuring tools, just don’t laugh when you read the word fax)