Teaching your unit online

This document provides key strategies that can help you to teach successfully online. Links to resources for further information are also provided. 

1. 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.


Go through the entire BB site well before the session starts.

  • Make sure:
    • it is easy to navigate
    • uncluttered
    • you understand it, including any learning technologies you need to use
    • all the links to work, including quizzes and links to upload assessments
    • the organisation of assessment information is logical; separate folders for each assessment and all relevant information in that folder.
  • Get a colleague to check the site and ensure the navigation is simple and clear.
  • It is worthwhile checking the site on a mobile device as well.

Further information

Unit site checklist

2. 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, put in a folder called ‘Useful Extra Resources’.

Further information

How to make learning relevant to your students

Helping students find relevance

3. Create a teacher presence

Creating a teacher 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. Teacher 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, 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.

Further information

Facilitating your online discussion

Teaching presence in online courses

4. 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.

Further information

Memory and attention: Building effective and engaging learning environments

Chunking your class – lessons we learnt from observing other lecturers

How Much Should We Assign? Estimating out of class workload

5. Use a variety of instructional methods

There are a variety of delivery styles that provides 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.

Further information

[SCU version] ABC design cards (Coming soon)

Adding some TEC-VARIETY: 100+ Activities for motivating and retaining learners online

Memory and attention: Building effective and engaging learning environments

6. 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 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, Technical Services).

Further information

How can I set clear expectations in active learning classes, so students see the value of engaging?

7. Foster interaction and communication among students and teachers

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.
    • Also 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.

Further information

Community of inquiry framework

Five stage model for online learning

8. 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 be 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.

Further information

Rubric checklist

9. 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 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.

Further information

Feedback to students

Feedback tool kit: 10 feedback case studies or ideas

Importance of feedback in assessment (online space)

The value and effectiveness of feedback in improving students’ learning and professionalizing teaching in higher education

10. 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.

Further information

Obtaining feedback from students

Gaining and responding to feedback on your teaching

Other resources

National guidelines for improving student outcomes in online learning

MOOC for online teaching

If you need help with any aspect of your online teaching practice please contact the Centre for Teaching and Learning at ctl@scu.edu.au, and with technological aspects of your teaching contact Digital Resources at drhelp@scu.edu.au

(Please note - it's better to refer to the Online version rather than export, as it's always up to date)