Online Best Practices

Online Teaching Recommendations

There are many tools available in Blackboard and it is important that instructors use the tools appropriately when designing and delivering online courses. Here is a brief overview of the main tools and their proper uses: 

Course Content - This area should house the content for your course; content should be organized using a consistent and logical flow with the Quality Matters Online Course Design Master template 

Assignments - Use this tool to have students submit files.; It is synchronized with the grades area and rubric tools to expedite the grading and feedback process for paper submissions. 

Discussions - This tool should be used for course and group discussions. Discussions can set to be graded, if desired.  Discussions are a public forum and are the heart of course, where faculty-to-student and student-to-student communication take place. 

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Web Conferencing - This web conferencing tool is useful for synchronous class meetings, group work, and one-on-one tutorials. Students should be notified in advance of any scheduled meetings using this tool and all sessions should be recorded and archived for reviewing.  

Groups - Use the groups tool in order to have smaller group discussions or have students work together for groups projects.  You can use this tool to set-up the groups and corresponding features (discussion forums Collaborate Ultra room, journals, and file sharing). 

Tests and Surveys - Use this area to create tests and non-graded surveys. Many question types are available, including multiple choice and essay questions.  All Blackboard tests automatically connect to the Grade Center. Some types of questions can be self-grading such as multiple choice and true and false, while short answer and essay questions need to be graded by the professor. 

Grade Center - This tool should be used to track and calculate student grades as they proceed through the course. Keeping the Grade Center up-to-date will allow students to track their progress in the course.  

Rubrics - You can create rubrics that correspond with various assessment activities, such as discussion boards and assignments. Rubrics in Blackboard can be used to give consistent and efficient feedback to students. You can use rubrics to help you grade more effectively by adding them to their corresponding activities within Blackboard. 

For questions about the appropriate use of Blackboard tools, please contact to schedule a Blackboard Training workshop session. 

Review Blackboard Faculty Resources for information about how to use these features in Blackboard. 

Course Facilitation - Facilitating an online course requires the instructor to provide encouragement, guidance, and feedback to students. It is important for online instructors to model expected behavior for their students. For example, if you require your students to have substantive discussion posts, use correct grammar and spelling, practice netiquette, properly cite sources, and use appropriate language and tone, then you should do all of these in your posts. In addition, if you require your students to add substantial contributions to discussions on 4 of 7 days of the week, then you should be engaged in the course discussions at least that many days. 

A major benefit of online learning is the ability of students and instructors to participate from any location, as long as they have a computer and Internet access. Instructors who will not have regular access to an Internet connection during their contracted course period should not teach during that time. Unexpected emergencies that interrupt the course and the instructor’s ability to facilitate the course should be communicated to the Department Chair and Director of Online Learning as soon as possible to determine appropriate action. 

Course Preparation - Preparing a quality online course is time consuming. Try to create your entire course before the course even starts. Doing so will allow you to focus on interacting with and providing feedback to the students, rather than on preparing course materials while the course is in session. 

Active learning is important in the online classroom. Students should engage actively with the content in order to meet the course objectives. While some activities from your face-to-face course may translate appropriately into the online classroom, it is important to consider the relevance, appropriateness, and purpose of the activity in the online classroom. 

Activities in the online classroom should meet course and module/unit objectives and accomplish the following: 

  • Present students with essential information, materials, and resources.  Examples include lectures, articles, links to library resources or articles, textbook readings, audio files, and videos. 
  • Incorporate appropriate and accessible technology. Examples include screen captures, tutorials, PDFs, PowerPoint presentations with voiceover and specific notes, and videos with captioning or corresponding articles. 
  • Engage in collaborative techniques that encourage student-to-student and instructor-to-student interaction.  Examples include discussion, chat, group work, and debates. 
  • Apply material to real situations.  Examples include case studies, virtual field trips, experiments. 
  • Offer an opportunity for students to practice what they have learned.  Examples include homework with practice assignments and self-reflection journals. 
  • Include an assessment tool to measure the extent to which objectives were met through assigned activities.  Examples include quizzes, tests, projects, portfolios, and case studies. 

Group work in the online classroom can be an effective collaborative activity, allowing students to discuss and share ideas and solve problems in a more intimate learning environment.  When integrating group activities into a course, consider a few things: 

  • Group activities must be clearly defined in terms of expectations, deliverables, and due dates. 
  • Always consider that group members need time to get to know one another, determine work styles, and work out conflicts prior to completing tasks. These steps may take additional time to accomplish due to distance and the asynchronous nature of online courses. 
  • When deciding whether to assign students to groups, consider the length of your course. Often when students self-select groups, more time is spent on the selection than the project and this is detrimental to the success of the group project. For shorter length courses (such as interim courses), instructors should consider assigning the group members. 
  • As with group work in face-to-face courses, group projects work well for activities that require students to compare and contrast concepts, to research different topics then share with the course, and to role-play; in other words, projects that require different group members’ perspectives and contributions are those projects that work with groups. If a project can be done just as effectively individually as in a group, then the design of the group assignment should be evaluated and the approach should be reconsidered. 
  • Consider integrating group project deliverables into other areas of the course. For example, if groups present their findings to the course use the opportunity to have students synthesize another group’s findings as part of their final exam. 
  • Make sure that the course and/or the module/unit objectives address the importance and purpose of the group project or work. This will help students to understand its integration into the course and to prepare for work related to the team projects. 
  • Consider integrating some level of peer review. Instructors are urged to ask students to evaluate the performance of their teammates and group members at the end of each project. The instructor should review these student evaluations and consider them when determining grades for the group assignments. 

Online courses work better if you do not try to recreate completely the face-to-face classroom experience. For example, if you give a lecture in your face-to-face classroom, consider ways to present that information in a different format. Simply video recording your face-to-face lectures for play in your online classroom is probably not the most effective way to present the same material online. It may be appropriate for part of your face-to-face lecture material to be presented in another format, such as written narrative, charts, or PowerPoint slides. 

If you use video or audio in your online classroom, consider the purpose and ensure it aligns with your course objectives and goals. Video is often useful for role-playing activities and for demonstrations, such as how something is made or assembled, or how to solve a problem. Audio is often useful to emphasize the importance of a process, to share a story or experience, or to ensure proper pronunciation. Video and audio are great to use when incorporating a guest lecturer or expert series giving tips, advice, experience, etc. 

If there is a component of your lecture that you believe benefits from incorporating video or audio segments, here are some tips: 

  • Do not add audio and video simply for the sake of adding audio or video to your course. Always consider the purpose of the audio/video and the teaching and learning objectives they are supposed to meet. 
  • Consider how your students will access the file and then determine the most appropriate and accessible file format. For questions about this, contact to schedule a consultation. 
  • Always incorporate the highest quality audio and video:  clean audio with sufficient volume, and stable, in-focus video. 
  • Keep the length of your audio and video files to a minimum. Consider carving up any video or audio files into 5-10 minute video or audio snippets at most. Make your audio and video files only as long as they need to be. 
  • Consider using services that host files, such as Youtube, which allow your video to be directly embedded into Blackboard or provided to the student as a link for access rather than requiring downloads. 
  • Plan out and practice your audio or video prior to recording. 
  • Have objective outsiders review the value of your audio or video file prior to adding it to a course. 
  • If you embed external video or audio files, be careful to obey copyright laws. If you would like help creating audio or video files for your online classroom, please contact and you will be directed to the appropriate person for your request. 

Instructor participation is essential in online courses, and discussion forums are often a central tool used for collaboration in the online classroom. Students want to know that they are being heard in the online classroom—and instructors can ensure this by responding to posts in discussion forums. In their responses, instructors should offer their expertise, perspectives, and experiences, information about pertinent current events, probing and challenging questions, and statements of encouragement. Online courses as Mercy University are generally asynchronous, hence ongoing instructor presence in the online classroom and discussion forums is essential to keeping an engaged online environment. 

Here are things to consider when facilitating a discussion forum: 

  • Ask probing questions that require students to think more in-depth about their posts; also encourage other students to respond to thought-provoking questions posed by their peers.  
  • Have a clear policy on how discussions will be graded from the standpoint of quantity and quality. For quantity, some instructors require an original post by a certain day of the week and a certain number of substantial reply posts by a later day of the week.  For quality, define what is meant by a “substantial” post (e.g., going beyond “I agree” statements, asking thought-provoking and open-ended questions, bringing in outside resources/materials related to course content). Additionally, you can provide a required word-count to help students understand the expected length of their discussion post. 
  • Post to discussion forums at least as frequently as you require your students to post. Instructors do not need to respond to every post but should periodically offer their thoughts, questions, experiences, clarifying information, information about pertinent current events, etc. 
  • Sometimes questions or comments need to be answered or defined by the instructor immediately, so as not to perpetuate false information.  However, other students can and should answer some of their peers’ questions and comments. Monitor the forums and interject when needed so that students know you are there to assist in their learning. Use a supportive, appropriate, and professional tone in all your posts. 
  • In addition to discussion topics about course content, instructors are encouraged to provide an Introductions forum where students may introduce themselves to their classmates, to help foster community in the online course. 
  • Model desired behavior, tone, and contributions. 

NOTE: Some instructors elect to respond to the post of each student in an introductory discussion forum, to help build class community. 

Respond to questions in a timely manner (timing depends on the total length of your course; the shorter the course, the faster the appropriate response time).  State in your syllabus what students can expect from you in terms of responses and participation. 

Instructors are encouraged to use Blackboard for all communication with students.  The Course Announcements area is a great place to add announcements, current events, articles, and other information. Posting all updates in the Course Announcements area, rather than sharing them through email, keeps all of your communications in one central location. This allows students to better track information you share. 

If you do receive emails from students, respond to them in a timely manner. Timing depends on the total length of your course; the shorter the course, the faster the appropriate response time. Response times typically range between 24-48 hours.  

Do not allow students to submit assignments via Mercy University email; there is no easy way to track submission and receipt.  We encourage all instructors to keep course related work within Blackboard.  All online courses are archived for easy retrieval of all past coursework submissions and correspondence for grade grievances, verification, and compliance. 

Effective Online Student Course Participation

Substantial - Messages should relate to the subject matter and provide information, opinions, or questions about that subject matter. They may relate the subject matter to something personal but they should remain academic in their focus.

Concise - Discussion postings that are excessively long do not receive replies. Try to get the point and focus of your message across so that what you are saying is clear, while still fully answering the question.

Provocative - The discussion forum is an interactive medium; the more interaction, the better. A good message prompts others to reply, concur, or raise an objection. A focused and pointed message that produces replies from other learners in that class moves the discussion forward and has a positive impact on the learning environment.

Hermeneutical - The discussion forum is a place where ideas are interpreted and language is explored. To be hermeneutical is to interpret. A good message should explore, explain, or expand on a concept or connection. The message should not simply state something but rather expand upon an idea.

Timely - A good message appears in the context of similar messages in the message log. If you get on irregularly, your message will appear late and out of context with what is currently happening in the discussion. Get on regularly and reply to messages in a timely fashion.

Logical - A good message (that is not a question) should contain a logical argument. It should contain a clearly stated conclusion of a thesis supported by premises, reason, evidence, or grounds of belief.

Grammatical - A good, clear, concise message should be well-written and free of typos and sentence fragments.

Student Netiquette Rules for Online Discussion Boards

“Netiquette” refers to rules of etiquette that apply to online communication.

Follow these 15 rules of netiquette to make sure you sound respectful, polite, and knowledgeable when you post to your class’s online discussion boards. Rule of Thumb: If you wouldn’t do or say something in real life, don’t do it online either.

Download a copy of the infographic

Infographic created by Touro College’s Online Education Department, May 2014

  1. Before posting your question to a discussion board, check if anyone has asked it already and received a reply. Just as you wouldn’t repeat a topic of discussion right after it happened in real life, don’t do that in discussion boards either.
  2. Stay on topic. Don’t post irrelevant links, comments thoughts, or pictures.
  3. Don’t type in ALL CAPS! If you do, it will look like you’re screaming
  4. Don’t write anything that sounds angry or sarcastic, even as a joke, because without hearing your tone of voice your peers might not realize you’re joking
  5. Always remember to say “Please” and “Thank you” when soliciting help from your classmates
  6. Respect the opinions of your classmates. If you feel the need to disagree, do so respectfully and acknowledge the valid points in your classmate’s argument. Acknowledge that others are entitled to have their own perspective on the issue.
  7. If you reply to a question from a classmate, make sure your answer is accurate! If you’re not 100% sure when the paper is due, DO NOT GUESS! Otherwise, you could really mess things up for your classmates and they will not appreciate it.
  8. If you ask a question and many people respond, summarize all answers and post that summary to benefit your whole class.  
  9. Be brief. If you write a long dissertation in response to a simple question, it’s unlikely that anyone will spend the time to read through it all.
  10. Don’t badmouth others or call them stupid. You may disagree with their ideas, but don’t mock the person.
  11. If you refer to something your classmate said earlier in the discussion, quote just a few key lines from their post so that others won’t have to go back and figure out which post you’re referring to.
  12. Before asking a question, check the class FAQs or search the internet to see if the answer is obvious or easy to find.
  13. Check the most recent comments before you reply to an older comment, since the issue might have already been resolved or opinions may have changed
  14. Be forgiving. If your classmate makes a mistake don’t badger him or her for it. Just let it go – it happens to the best of us.
  15. Run a spelling and grammar check before posting anything to the discussion board. It only takes a minute, and can make the difference between sounding like a fool and sounding knowledgeable.