Teaching online requires your input in various ways (asynchronous and synchronous) including the design and management of your Blackboard (Bb) site, as well as the synchronous sessions in which you directly interact with the students. This article provides an overview of what it means to be a good online teacher while our resources about teaching in the Bb environment and synchronous tutorials, lectures and workshops can provide practical tips for those experiences. It is useful to remember that all of your students can access your Bb site, making it a valuable resource for you to provide access to communication, interactions and content for all students.
Organise the unit Blackboard site
Navigating the site needs to be easy and consistent. This will help students to focus on learning by removing the stress of items being difficult to find and links not working.
See Managing your unit for more information.
Provide meaningful content
Motivate your students by providing authentic and appealing content that links to industry and the real world. Help students to focus on what they need to learn by making the critical content clear.
- Ensure alignment of content with learning outcomes and assessment tasks.
- Link content to what students need to know for industry (where applicable).
- Contextualise and highlight key concepts/important understandings.
- Connect the content – make sure it flows logically.
- Ensure content is up to date.
- Be adaptive, as needed, to support students’ understanding.
- If it is not immediately relevant to the topic, take it out.
- Anything extra can be put in a folder called ‘Useful extra resources'.
See Engaging students for more information.
Create a teaching presence
Creating a teaching presence is key to making the online learning experience meaningful and engaging. An active teaching presence helps build partnership and trust between student and teacher. It works both ways as the learning experience becomes richer and more rewarding for everybody. People want to feel heard and that they matter in the learning experience. Teaching presence is a major factor in creating a community for the students and can improve student engagement and satisfaction.
- Provide online office hours and let students know when you will be available for online chat.
- Engage/interact with students via live chats, discussion boards or emails.
- Respond in a timely manner.
- Check the discussion board daily (more as needed) and monitor and respond to the conversations.
- Refer to students by name.
- If children, animals, bird calls and the like are in the online chat briefly and by accident, don’t worry, it shows your humanity and encourages a feeling of connection.
See Community of Inquiry for more information.
Avoid cognitive overload
Distil the content into small, targeted pieces of information that supports the learning outcomes and assessments. Remember attention is a finite resource. You want to keep student cognitive capacity focused squarely on the topic at hand.
- Keep your lectures and presentations short.
- Chunk content into digestible pieces.
- Present the information in a way that flows and engages your students.
- Use short sentences and active verbs.
- Remove extraneous information.
See Understanding Cognitive Load Theory for more information.
Use a variety of instructional methods
There are a variety of delivery styles that provide students with content - a lecture is only one of them. Be creative. For example, you could create a story that links ideas together using short videos and text. You can use scenarios or case studies. Mix it up.
- Design engaging and interactive learning activities, where students actively participate in their learning.
- Provide opportunities for students to practise what they are learning.
Guide student learning
Facilitate student learning by providing focused guidance for what they need to learn; create opportunities for their success.
- Provide clear instructions around activities and learnings.
- Set clear expectations around what students should do to engage.
- Have opportunities for feedback so students know how they are going.
- Scaffold difficult tasks and assessments, including models, exemplars and templates.
- Identify the academic skills required for assessments and provide just-in-time learning opportunities, embedded in the curriculum.
- Direct students to technical and learning support, particularly at the point where they may be needed (Learning Zone, Technology Services).
See Focus on learning for more information.
Foster interaction and communication among students and teachers (social presence)
Establishing teaching, social, and cognitive presence in an online environment helps to create a community of inquiry. Building a community of inquiry helps to create a sense of belonging. The value of learning together improves connections and collaborations and makes for a meaningful learning experience.
- Give students a voice – empower them to be able to contribute and share their ideas.
- Ask questions of students to check their understanding and adapt/review content as needed:
- provide synchronous sessions so students can just ask questions and get clarification when they are confused
- have asynchronous information that they can access anytime so students can study when it’s convenient for them.
- Provide opportunities for students to actively engage with the content and each other:
- use discussion boards effectively
- provide live discussion opportunities
- set up online study groups.
Provide clear expectations for assessments
Assessment requirements need to be communicated with sufficient clarity to enable students to understand and complete their assessment tasks to the standards required. In addition, providing students with a discipline-specific context will help them to understand the relevance and function of their assessment task, beyond a university assignment.
- Provide a rationale for the task – let students understand the logic of your assessment.
- Give clear instructions on what needs to be completed and explain your expectations (this will include a clear rubric).
- Helpful hints, including templates and exemplars, are useful.
- Terminology needs to be clear and consistent. Give students explanations of assessment terms they might misunderstand (e.g. ‘critically analyse’, ‘reflect’, ‘evaluate’).
- Make explicit connections between unit content and assessments.
- Inexperienced students need assistance in how to approach the task. It may help to have an online pre-assessment class or a discussion board forum for Q & A around the task.
See Assessment for more information
Provide meaningful feedback
Feedback supports students to identify gaps in their learning, what needs to be done and how to improve their performance. Ideally, feedback should be quick, positive and constructive.
- Provide opportunities for formative feedback. This can include:
- informal – ask students a question to check understandings
- formative assessments.
- Link feedback to examples and resources.
- Feedback on summative assessments should be personalised and encouraging, easily understood, identify students’ strengths and areas for improvement, and provide learning opportunities.
- Build in learning activities for students to review and reflect on summative feedback.
Use strategies for continuous improvement with your teaching
Seek feedback from students and peers. Take time to critically evaluate feedback and self-reflect. Think about ways you can improve the online learning and teaching experience.
- Seek peer review before and during delivery.
- Seek informal and formal student feedback, during and after delivery.
- Reflect on feedback and make changes.
- Seek support from experienced colleagues to improve your online teaching practice.
See Evaluate your teaching for more information