Ask Dr. Diane: Tips for How to Successfully Teach an Online Class

Today’s Question: I know you teach a lot online and finally I will be teaching my first class (utilizing eCollege) soon.  I just wanted to know if you could provide me with some feedback so I might eliminate some typical rookie mistakes.

Answer:  That is a good question.  Each online college has a software they use to deliver the class.  Not all colleges use the same software.  It is interesting to see all of the differences that each of the software platforms provide.  I currently teach for 6 universities and use eCollege, Blackboard, OLS, Angel and sometimes even Outlook Express to access my classes.  I think you will find that eCollege is pretty simple.  Most of the course will be set up for you.  Usually you will have to add your own information such as your bio, updated due dates for assignments, any lectures or guidance, etc. 

As far as mistakes you might want to avoid, here are a few things to think about:

  • If you include lectures/guidance that have links to material on the web, be sure you go to each of them to see that they are still working.  Be sure you have a well-written lecture/guidance page that gives helpful advice about what they will be discussing that week.  I try to include links to areas that will help them write their papers that are required. 
  • Be sure you welcome each student in the introductory area.
  • In eCollege, it will probably default to showing you what has been posted since the last time you entered the class.  If you go into class, get out again, and haven’t accessed those areas to see what was posted, the next time you sign on, it will assume you went there and not show you any new activity.  The activity is still there . . . just not the reminder on the main page.
  • If you are curious to see how much time you or any students are spending in a class, you can go to the gradebook, pick user activity, click on the name and it will show you. 
  • Sometimes I like to post fun things in the chatroom . . . cute links to funny things like this Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQHX-SjgQvQ  . . . it helps to show that I have a sense of humor.
  • I like to respond to as many of the initial discussion question (DQ) postings as possible.  The best style is to acknowledge what the student said, add a few things about that and then develop the discussion by asking another question. 
  • If students are not meeting the requirements of class, do not post it in the main discussions.  Contact them individually. 
  • I always respond to DQs and grade homework within 24 hours of it being posted.  I know the schools do not have this requirement.  Many schools give you a week or more to grade homework.  It drove me crazy when professors took a long time to grade my work so I don’t do that.  I think students really appreciate getting feedback quickly, especially in short 5 or 6 week courses where the feedback is necessary sooner in order to write the next paper. 

eCollege has some interesting ways of changing information. You must access this through the author tab on the left.  This is where you will go to change your dates, and add information.  If you have any more questions about the specifics of how to do this, you can contact me through my website at http://www.drdianehamilton.com.  You can also find out more information about my book, The Online Student’s User Manual there or by clicking here.

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