Dr. Fred Mayo suggests distance learning teaching tips such as establishing deadlines, setting communication boundaries and maintaining a positive attitude.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
Online teaching can be fun and an adventure that brings new insights about the subject and opens up new ways to communicate with students. However, it can also be very frustrating and confining since so much needs to be typed and many of us do not live at our desks. I am going to offer a few tips for creating online classes based on having taught completely online, having taught hybrid courses (some online and some onsite) and having coordinated an online program.
Bring a positive approach to converting to an online situation. Think of it as a chance to learn a new way to teach and stimulate your creativity. You already know what works well and this opportunity will expand your horizons and provide new ideas about what else to do in the future. Spend the time you need to learn the online details and idiocrasies of your campus classroom management system. Your investment will save a lot of pain later!
Remember in this situation, your students did not sign up for an online experience; it has been forced on them. For some, it may be easier, while harder for others. Since you have been teaching them onsite, you know them as persons and can respond accordingly. Knowing you did not sign up for this experience may help everyone approach it as pioneers. Be patient, positive, and responsive and they will be fine.
One of the most critical aspects of any online situation – especially when everything is online – is the establishment of deadlines and reminders about due dates. When students attend a class on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, everything in their life is organized around the class schedules and completing class assignments. However, it is easy to let the reading slide, postpone writing an assignment, or delay taking a test in an online situation. A clear list of deadlines can help students stay on track. You only have a part of the semester to teach in this format and they already know your assignments and deadlines.
One thing I did was establish a policy about late assignments and papers. Students could get a week extension by sending me an email note before the assignment was due and there was no grade penalty. If the assignment was not handed in at the hard deadline (a week from the announced due date) the grade was zero. They appreciated the flexibility since many of them would get into the assignment late and a day or two could make the difference between just handing in anything and preparing something of which they were proud. Of course, I wrote that policy and placed it on the classroom management system for the course. (Another tip – you will need to write the information you are used to announcing in class.)
Establish boundaries for communication. One of the first things I learned was when students are online, they expect you to respond to them immediately as if you were in the classroom or your office. However, they may be responding to questions or doing an assignment at 10 pm and you are not at your computer.
As a result, in written materials I indicated I would get back to the students within 24 hours – except for weekends – or as soon as I could. If they were posting comments or questions and wanted an immediate response, I encouraged them to send me an email indicating their desire for a prompt response. Otherwise, I would respond to the discussion questions and comments on a regular basis, but I did not check them twice a day. Once I was clear that I was not available online 25 hours a day, 8 days a week, they were fine.
Since most of us cannot read student faces or body language in an online situation (and it is even difficult in synchronous teaching), we must explain assignments in detail and mention them in several locations on the course management system. I also found I created a lot more written explanations of things than I needed when teaching onsite since there was no chance to explain in person. There is a reason we lecture and demonstrate – we can explain things to everyone at once and answer questions immediately. Online teaching makes that hard.
I hope these suggestions will assist you as you shift to online teaching. The next Mayo’s Clinic will discuss challenges such as preparing video lectures, finding other resources, and evaluating student work.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.