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Academics
Online Teaching Recommendations

See below for various online teaching recommendations.

Click on the name of each topic to learn more.

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

Group work in the online classroom can be an effective collaborative activity because it allows 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.

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

Links — you can add external links in this area; however, external links can also be added in the content area which is a more central location for many links

Assignment Dropbox — use this area to exchange files with students; it also can be synchronized with the grades area and rubric tools to expedite the grading and feedback process for paper submissions

Discussions — this area should be used for course and group discussion forums; this area should not be used for the presentation of materials, submission/retrieval of assignments/files, or posting of grades.

Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing — this is 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 archived for reviewing; this tool has a lot of options so learn the tool and give students resources to learn the tool also before requiring its use.

Groups — when you use groups for course activities, you can use this area to set-up the groups and corresponding features (discussion forums, and dropboxes)

Quizzes — use this area to create quizzes and exams; many question types are available and you can use them as appropriate; the question library can assist in building pools of questions

Gradebook— this area should be used to calculate student grades; make sure you keep it up-to-date and sync as many other Blackboard areas to grades to be more efficient when giving scores and feedback

Survey — you can create non-graded surveys in this area

Rubrics—you can create rubrics that correspond with various assessment activities; rubrics in Blackboard can be used to give consistent and efficient feedback to students  

For questions about the appropriate use of Blackboard  tools, please contact mercyonline@mercy.edu  to schedule a Blackboard Training workshop session.
Review the "Blackboard on Demand" website 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 the Director of Online Learning as soon as possible to determine appropriate action.

General Course Preparation Tips

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.

Designing courses to encourage academic honesty and deter cheating should be something important to all courses. One way to deter cheating in your online course is through using Safe Assign:

https://help.blackboard.com/Learn/Instructor/Assignments/SafeAssign

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 material online. It may be appropriate for part of your face-to-face lecture material to be presented in another format (e.g., written narrative, chart, PowerPoint).

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 really needs to be demonstrated via video or audio, 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 objectives being met.

  • Consider how your students will access the file and then determine the most appropriate and accessible file format. For questions about this, contact mercyonline@mercy.edu schedule a consultation.

  • Always incorporate the highest quality (clean audio with enough volume, and stable, in-focus video) into your audio and video.

  • Keep the length of your audio and video files to a minimum. Consider using video files from 5-8 minutes and audio files from 10-12 minutes. While these are guidelines, make your audio and video files only as long as they need to be.

  • Compress the file to keep downloading times to a realistic limit. Always consider bandwidth when adding audio or video and consider testing with your audience to determine appropriate and tolerable file sizes. In addition, consider using services that host files thus giving students 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 mercyonline@mercy.edu 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 current events, probing and challenging questions, and statements of encouragement. Online courses at Mercy College are not self-paced; on-going instructor presence in the online classroom is essential.

Here are some 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. Encourage questions in posts and reward, via discussion expectations and points, those who ask intelligent questions.

  • Have a clear policy on how discussions will be graded from the standpoint of both 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).

    Post to discussion forums at least as frequently as you require your students to post. 
    Model desired behavior, tone, and contributions. 


NOTE: Some instructors elect to respond to the post of each student in an introductory discussion forum to outreach to every student to help build a 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 necessary response time); instructors do not need to respond to every post but should periodically interject their thoughts, questions, experiences, clarifying information, information about current events, etc. State in your syllabus what students can expect from you in terms of responses and participation.

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 two additional discussion forums in every course: (1) a Virtual Café, Icebreaker or Lounge forum where students are encouraged to introduce themselves to their classmates to help foster community in the online course, and (2) a General Questions forum that allows students to ask questions about the course structure, course content, syllabus expectations, assignments, give feedback, and post anything else related to the course. Having this second forum will help the instructor answer questions “publicly”; the instructor can then refer other students back to the posts (even in an email reply) and ensure all students are getting the same answers to questions.

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, information, etc. Posting all updates in the Course Announcements area, rather than sharing them through email, keeps all of your communications in one central location. This will allow students to better track information you share regarding the course.

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 necessary response time. Response times typically range between 24-48 hours. 

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

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, information, etc. Posting all updates in the Course Announcements area, rather than sharing them through email, keeps all of your communications in one central location. This will allow students to better track information you share regarding the course.

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 necessary response time. Response times typically range between 24-48 hours.

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