Now that we find ourselves amid the summer months, it is important to address ways in which instructors can better prepare themselves for upcoming online courses. We highlight ways in which one can effectively engage students while remaining cognizant of key features unique to summer online courses.
Authors: Morgan Franklin, Chris Kleva, Skye Mendes, and Jackson Pelzner
Morgan: I have primarily taught online over the summer. While I’ve taught online over the fall and spring semesters as well, there are several factors I like to keep in mind when structuring and teaching my summer courses. One of these is simply the condensed time in which courses are taught; It’s incredibly important to be mindful of the mental, physical, and emotional workload that objectives and assignments will place on both you as the instructor, as well as students. It is also important to consider outside factors for students. Summer is usually a time for students to recuperate, visit family, re-energize and recenter. I think it is important to do our best to foster balance for students to buffer against burnout in the fall semester for students and instructors alike.
Chris: Teaching an online course during the summer can be an extremely difficult feat. How do I condense a 10- or 12-week course into 4-6 weeks? How can I balance trying to engage my students with the material while also trying not to overwhelm them? There are two important features needed for a successful online course: communication and a distinctive structure that allows lecture materials to be delivered in a multitude of ways. Due to the condensed nature of an online course, I send multiple announcements throughout the week to ensure we’re all on the same page. During asynchronous courses, I’ve started to host a live lecture each week, so students can attend and ask questions. The live lecture is recorded and uploaded for other students to watch and hear student questions. Lastly, I incorporate podcast episodes and TED Talk videos to complement the lecture and textbook material.
Skye: My biggest advice for cultivating skills and discovering technical tools for teaching online is to check out the available training and faculty development resources that may be available at your institution. If many courses (or entire degree programs) are offered in an online modality at your university, chances are good that there are experts on campus who know the ins and outs of what has worked well for others, and particularly how to integrate those techniques and tools with your institution’s learning management system (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, etc.). Best of all, these training resources are generally available for free to those affiliated with the university, as opposed to paying for outside workshops. If your own institution does not have robust offerings, others will have some of their guides and resources freely accessible online. Don’t be afraid to poke around to see what peer institutions are up to in online learning!
Jackson: As an exclusively online instructor now, I can attest to the notion that distance learning provides challenges that otherwise would not be experienced in an in-person setting. Without diving into many examples of what has or has not worked in my approach, my best advice for other instructors is to treat your course as though you were an enrolled student. Ask yourself, “Would this be worth my time if I were enrolled in this online course?” For this reason, I tend to stray away from discussion boards or posts. While I can see the benefit of including a place for open dialogue and discussion for an instructor, many students will not treat it as such. I place the most effort into the lectures and slides. If the information is structured in such a way that it is relatable to their everyday experiences, that is the starting point for any meaningful online engagement.