Preparing to Teach Online

So, you’re interested in teaching online. The first thing most faculty think about is what technology they need to replicate the in-class experience for an online class. While technology is an important consideration, there are other aspects to think about when offering an online course.

Course Vision

Identifying what you want students to learn and the purpose behind it will help guide your course development. Understanding this vision provides you with a guideline to create your learning objectives for the course.

If your course’s learning objectives are provided by your department, thinking through the vision and purpose can help you understand how those learning objectives fit into the big picture of the students’ degree path.

While this is true for any course, no matter the modality, online courses in particular need an evident structure to help students navigate their learning. Your course vision and learning objectives will help guide the rest of the development for your course.


Once you determine the learning objectives, consider how the rest of the course will align to those objectives. Think about how you will assess the learning objectives in an online environment. What learning activities would connect the objectives and the assessments? What instructional materials could tie in with the objectives and help students succeed in the learning activities?

To help keep the course manageable for your students, chunk your content into smaller units or modules. Often the easiest structure for the flow of the course is to use weekly increments, which allow students to get into a rhythm with the course.

Developing objectives for these modules or units will also help keep you and your students focused on the learning activities that align with the overall course objectives.

When you have the course developed and the modules laid out, restructure the course in reverse order and hide the modules until the current week. That way, the most current module will be at the top of the course site so students can access it easily.

Instructor Presence

There are many reasons why a course might be moved online. One of the worst perceptions is that an online course runs itself or can be set on auto-pilot.

Your active presence within the course is what can make the course a high-touch, well-supported experience for the student and provide an equivalent experience to a face-to-face course.

There are many ways you can be visible and present to students within the course. Consider weekly video announcements that introduce the current module.

In addition, be there to help guide discussion (but not dominate it) within the discussion boards. Also, provide robust and timely feedback, a crucial instructional element in online courses.

A Closing Thought …

Technology certainly (and obviously) is a vital part of an online course, but it doesn’t need to be your first consideration. Once you have the vision and objectives for your course and have started thinking through your assessments and learning activities, you can think about how your technology options can support these other elements.

This is not a purely linear approach; often the available technology will help guide the choices you make within your course. However, we can also break out of the box of just replicating a face-to-face course and think about the uniqueness of the online environment to help create enriching learning experiences for our students.

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