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Principles for the Fall Semester

Good Pedagogy

If you are a good instructor who, among other things, writes measurable learning outcomes, identifies and communicates expectations, and regularly interacts with students, shifting to an online or hybrid environment will not render you a bad instructor (and vice versa). It will move you to rethink how you communicate with students, how students interact with one another and with the course content, and to recognize there are certain approaches to teaching in these modalities that can make the experience more effective and engaging. Learn more about these approaches below:

In the framework of Backward Design, learning activities include any type of activity that students undertake to work with the concepts and skills that lead to reaching the desired learning outcomes. In an online or hybrid class, the focus is on providing opportunities for students to interact with each other, with the instructor and with the course content. Read more about how interaction supports active learning in online and hybrid courses.

Good Resources

Actively Engaging Students in Asynchronous Online Classes (Riggs and Linder, 2016)
This excellent IDEA paper provides details on creating “a three-pronged approach for conceptualizing active learning in the online asynchronous class:

  • the creation of an architecture of engagement in the online classroom,
  • the use of web-based tools in addition to the learning management system, and a
  • re-imagining of discussion boards as interactive spaces.”

If you are looking for ways to infuse active learning pedagogies into an online asynchronous course, including innovative approaches to student reflection, this is a must read.

From Passive Viewing to Active Learning: Simple Techniques for Applying Active Learning Strategies to Online Course Videos (Moore, 2013)
Discover active learning methods that can help increase the educational effectiveness of an online course video. Faculty can implement these methods using Canvas Studio.

Synchronous Online Classes: 10 Tips for Engaging Students (Norman, 2017)
From Faculty Focus, learn “concrete steps you can take to run class sessions that are energetic, interactive, and productive.”

For years, universities have been mixing face to face and online delivery modalities as a way to harness the benefits of instructional technology, maximize the use of campus resources, and maintain high levels of student-instructor and student-student engagement. If you are teaching a hybrid course using a daily flip-flop model, these teaching strategies can help you and your students have a productive and successful class.

New Article from Educause: Engaging Students Through Asynchronous Video Based Discussions in Online Courses. Learn ways to promote interaction with tools such as VoiceThread and Flipgrid. Using the comments feature in Canvas Studio is also a great option for asynchronous engagement.

The strategies below can help you design and manage engaging asynchronous discussions that promote student learning in your online course. Note: students do not respond well to discussion boards they perceive as busy work or “fillers” and this will be reflected in the quality (or lack thereof) of students’ posts. Focus on having a few engaging and worthwhile asynchronous discussions, rather than numerous forums that are of limited value.


Develop an interesting question or prompt. With the right question, online discussions can be “ideal for exploring complex ideas and entertaining multiple perspectives” (Stavredes, p.138). Remember to avoid questions with one or few answers and little room for interpretation. Questions can be written at various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (p. 134):

Level of Knowledge Stems for Discussion Questions
Application Plan, design, utilize, implement, apply
Analysis Compare, contrast, differentiate, outline, distinguish, classify
Synthesis Dispute, support, justify, integrate, verify
Evaluative Solve, predict, improve, judge

Use a grading rubric. Rubrics can be used for various types of assignments in Canvas and are a great way to communicate your expectations to students regarding their participation in discussions. Create a rubric in Canvas, add the rubric to a graded discussion and use the rubric to grade submissions in Speed Grader. Need a rubric example? Check out UCF’s discussion rubrics page.

Make adjustments for large classes. Considerations should be made for large enrollment courses, specifically around the total number of discussions in the course, the number of posts required from students, and the level of instructor engagement each week. The use of group discussions can make things more manageable in a large online class and instructors can easily create a graded discussion for a group.

Participate in the discussion when you believe it’s necessary and important. It may not be feasible to reply to each individual student’s post, but it is important that you or a GTA monitor or regularly spot check the discussion boards for posts that are inappropriate, move the conversation too far off topic, or present incorrect information as fact. As the instructor, posting replies on the discussion board is also an excellent way to establish online teaching presence. Learn more about providing feedback strategically in online discussions from the Association of College and University Educators.

Create a forum for students where they can ask each other questions and post responses. While you should still spot check this forum, it should be primarily for students to engage, share relevant information, seek advice on technology, and learn from one another. These types of forums go a long way in promoting social presence and a sense of community in an online class. If you are teaching a large enrollment course, having students post answers to classmates’ questions can also be helpful in terms of course management.

Reference: Stavredes, T. (2011) Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success. Josey-Bass.

Online synchronous teaching using tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams can feel more like a regular in-person class since you’re communicating with learners in real-time, and have the ability to hear and even see your students. Review these tips to help ensure a successful synchronous session.

Tips for Online Exams: This downloadable document outlines ten tips for creating and delivering online exams.

Best Practices for Online Assessments: OIT’s comprehensive “one stop shop for online asynchronous training related to many different aspects of designing and delivering an effective online assessment strategy.”

Online Instructor Toolkit
UTK’s Office of Information Technology (OIT)) has developed the Online Instructor Toolkit to assist instructors in preparing and teaching their online courses. Topics covered include course design, teaching tools and campus resources.

Visual Design for Instruction
“Improve the visual design of your course and give students a boost in learning key concepts” by visiting OIT’s online, self-paced module, Visual Design for Instruction.

University Libraries Research Guide: Open Education Portal
Learn how to find, adopt, and modify open educational resources, including open textbooks using this research guide.

ACUE’s Online Teaching Toolkit
From the Association of College and University Educators, this well designed resource provides six key topic areas for teaching remotely.

Crisis Informed Pedagogy
From the Chronicle of Higher Ed, learn 12 principles that will help instructors support students as they navigate the upcoming semester.

Webinars from the Online Learning Consortium
UTK is a member of the Online Learning Consortium (OLC). The OLC offers a variety of webinars hosted by “online experts covering industry hot topics, best practices and special interests.” Recently they’ve been offering webinars focused on a temporary transition to teaching online. Be sure to select the tab, On Demand Webinars, to access previously recorded sessions.

‘Do No Harm’
In this 2 minute video from the Chronicle of Higher Education, faculty members from around the country offer their responses to the question: What’s the best piece of advice or perspective you’ve gotten?

A Pedagogy of Kindness
Embracing kindness as a pedagogical practice, from the Open Access Journal, Hybrid Pedagogy.

Moving Online Now
From the Chronicle of Higher Ed, a collection of articles about moving into the online teaching environment quickly and effectively.

Practical Advise for Temporarily Teaching Online
From Inside Higher Ed, this article provides an instructional planning guide that individual faculty can use.

How to Be a Better Online Teacher
This advice guide from the Chronicle of Higher Education includes 10 essential practices and principles for success in the online classroom.

Pedagogical Practices to Improve Your Online Course
From Faculty Focus, Five Pedagogical Practices to Improve Your Online Course, provides practical tips for delivering a successful online class.

10 Ways to Overcome Barriers to Student Engagement Online (Briggs, 2015)
From Academic Technology at the College of William and Mary, this blog post details strategies that can help students overcome social, adminstrative and motivation barriers in online courses.

Fostering an Inclusive Environment when Developing Online Courses
From ASU TeachOnline. Does your online course respect and encourage diversity? This article presents “facts and questions to consider in order to maximize your course inclusivity.”

Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or Controversial Topics
Whether you are teaching online synchronously or asynchronously, these guidelines from UM’s CRTL can assist you when designing and facilitating class discussions on controversial topics.

Access and Accessibility in Online Learning
This white paper from the Online Learning Consortium provides an overview of critical terms, legal precedents, and other considerations to improve the educational experiences of learners with disabilities.
https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/read/access-and-accessibility-in-online-learning/

openstax
This nonprofit based at Rice University, openstax™ features open textbooks, resources, and technologies.

Open Textbook Library
Supported by the Open Textbook Network and based at the University of Minnesota, the open textbook library provides a collection of free, peer-reviewed, and openly-licensed textbooks.