Online Teaching Best Practices

—Instructor Presence

NOTE: This guide is adapted from the book Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success by Tina Stavredes and the QM Teaching Online Certificate required course Creating Presence in Your Online Course.

Regular and substantive interaction (RSI) through online instructor presence

There are five types of interactions that can create instructor presence in your online classroom. Consider what strategies you would implement for each opportunity:

  • Encourage learner participation
  • Monitor learner progress
  • Communicate feedback on learner performance
  • Encourage learner knowledge construction and critical thinking
  • Encourage learner self-directness

1 - Encourage Learner Participation

  • Welcome your learners at the beginning of the course (i.e. when their feelings of isolation and transactional distance are at their greatest)
  • Work to develop a rapport with your learners through individual, personalized communications
  • Call your learners by name at every opportunity
  • Encourage your learners to participate and interact with you
  • Post a personal introduction (i.e. express your personality, teaching style, and passion for your subject area) and encourage your learners to do the same
  • Share information on both a professional and personal level so your learners identify you as an expert and as an individual

2 - Monitor Learner Progress

  • Monitor your learners’ progress and performance on a weekly basis with built-in Moodle features (i.e. Completion Tracking and Reports)
  • Intervene with just-in-time communications to help learners overcome any issues
  • Provide proactive guidance and opportunities for learners to improve their performance
  • Interact on a regular basis with learners who are inactive or fall behind
  • Motivate your learners with a phone call or one-on-one Zoom meeting to discuss their progress and troubleshoot any issues
  • Follow-up with an email that details the issue(s) discussed and the specific plan/timeline your learners need to action to overcome those challenges
  • Ask your learners to confirm that they agree with the plan/timeline and the actions they need to take

3 - Communicate Feedback

  • Deliver formative feedback that specifically discusses how your learners can improve their performance (i.e. exactly where to invest additional time and effort)
  • Interact with your learners on a weekly basis at the beginning of the course to assess performance and clarify expectations
  • Be clear, specific, and positive in your recommendations for improvement to keep your learners motivated and on track with meeting expectations
  • Stress strategic and well-placed effort over ability (i.e. growth mindset)
  • Encourage learners to assess their own work through Moodle Rubrics and Checklists
  • Grade assignments promptly to reduce learners’ anxiety
  • Post grades in the Moodle Gradebook so learners can monitor their progress over time

4 - Encourage Knowledge Construction

Use the following strategies to encourage knowledge construction and critical thinking in your online discussion forums:

    • I have been monitoring the forum and have not seen any posts, so I wanted to give you a little more information to get you started. Consider the following elements as you compose your discussion response this week [list elements]. For example …
    • Consider the following scenario [to put the discussion in context] …
    • Let me give you a concrete example …
    • From my experience, an example to help you understand the concept is …
    • You have a great start on the discussion this week. Can you elaborate on your thoughts and ideas and consider the following in your response [list areas where the learner has not responded fully to the discussion question]?
    • I appreciate your comments about …
    • Can you clarify your response, so we can clearly understand your thoughts and ideas?
    • Can you provide an illustration or example?
    • Can you state this in a different way?
    • I appreciate your comment; however, I am unclear how this relates to the discussion question. Can you provide more information to help us see the connection to the topic we are discussing this week?
    • I really appreciate the multiple perspectives on the issue we are discussing this week. John, Sue, and Nancy believe … while Paul, Jerry, and Carrie believe …
    • How do you reconcile the different views? • Is there compelling evidence to support one view over the other?
    • Are there other ways of viewing this issue that have not been considered?
    • For example, in my experience …
    • One aspect of the readings that has not been discussed is … What impact does this have?
Off-Topic Weaving
    • I really appreciate the points that have been on the issue including … it appears that some of the points do not relate specifically to this topic such as …, so please be sure that you consider … as you discuss the topic to ensure that all of your comments help us develop a deeper understanding of the topic or issue.
    • Consider the following alternative scenario … How would this influence your view of the issue?
    • According to … there is another side to this issue. They cite … as evidence for their perspective. How does this information fit with your perspective on the issue? • Is there another way of looking at this perspective from a different lens? What if you were faced with …? What would you do if … occurred? How would you feel if …? From my experience, I have found …
Inferences and Assumptions
    • Can you discuss the specific inferences and assumptions you are making from this perspective?
    • For this to be true, then … would also have to be true. Have you considered this?
    • For this to be true, then you must also believe that …
    • What evidence do you have to support the inferences and assumptions you are making?
    • What inferences and assumptions does the author make to lead to his/her conclusions?
    • Can you discuss the implications of your line of reasoning on this issue?
    • If this is true, how will this influence the present conditions? What will that mean for the future?
    • If this is true, what actions must be taken today? In the future?
    • What groups will this line of reasoning affect?

5 - Encourage Self-Directedness

Use the appropriate strategies to encourage self-directedness in your learners:

Stage 1: Dependent Learner
  • Learners require more frequent feedback to let them know how they are doing and if they are meeting your expectations.
  • Feedback should include prompts to help dependent learners become more independent.
  • Include processes for overcoming roadblocks as they engage in learning activities, including road maps, checklists, due date documents, outlines, rubrics, and any other resources available to support a dependent learner.
Stage 2: Lack of Confidence and Motivation
  • Be encouraging and acknowledge that the learners’ willingness and enthusiasm for learning will help them be successful.
  • Help learners build their confidence so that they can accomplish the objectives of the course.
  • Help learners expand on explanations and encourage learners to review their work prior to submitting it for grading.
  • Encourage learners to ask questions early on instead of struggling with activities and assignments; this can help alleviate frustration and stress from not being sure of the requirements or the activities.
Stage 3: Confident and Motivated
  • Help learners expand their thinking by having them explore higher levels of thinking on the subject.
  • Help learners apply their understanding in novel ways.
Stage 4: Self-Directed
  • • Provide specific feedback on learners’ assignments that points out excellence and why it is excellent.
  • • Help learners self-evaluate their performance to enhance critical thinking skills and determine any gaps in learning. From the self-evaluation, they can develop a plan to fill any gaps to continue to build their knowledge and skills.