Teaching an Online Class

7 May

I took a class a while ago and it’s really been bothering me. Let’s just say, it did not go smoothly. Or well. Nor do I think anyone learned anything. And so, in this world where online classes pop up everywhere, I have a few things to say. (I know, you’re shocked.)

First off:  There is more to teaching than dumb luck.

Just because you were successful at something, doesn’t mean you can teach it. I’m begging you. Please. Don’t.

That said, let’s look at some of the things that make a successful Online Class:

  1. Clear Description — The description of the class before students register should be clear enough that they know what they’re paying for… And what they’re not.
  2. Class Syllabus —  Cut down on worry and questions by having an outline of what’s covered when. Often people are anxious to get to their own questions. If they know the section they signed up for is coming, they can relax and wait…and not get the class off topic.
  3. Introduction— Introductions need to go both ways.
    1. Be clear during introductions who you are, what you bring to the table, and how you work
    2. If you’re doing group introductions (and I really think you should), be clear what you want them to tell you
  4. Schedule — Classes should happen on assigned days by a certain (pre-stated) time. Remember, if you’re on the west coast, east coast people are up waiting to get the class. Please be considerate. Also, when you miss the deadline, part of your credibility disappears.
  5. Ground Rules — You are the moderator as well as the teacher. In your first post (with the Syllabus and Introductions) set up ground rules of how the class will function, how/when input can be given, privacy rules and treatment –as well as consequences. Yes, most of these shouldn’t even need to be said, but say them.
  6. Posting the Classes –Most online classes are still being done on loops. There are a couple ways to make this work:
    1. Send the class in an email and post it in the files section
    2. Send a notice that the class is posted in the files section
    3. Yes, always post the class in the files section – You don’t know what it’s going to do in email AND the participants paid for the class. They should be able to download them.
  7. Numbering — Make sure the class & homework numbers match up. So, Class #1 and Homework #1 go together. If there’s not going to be homework for every class, think about coming up with titles instead of numbers.
  8. Number of Students — Limit this. Know how many people you can juggle, how much homework you can read, how many people giving input you can handle…and what’s best for the class. Be ready to say no. This class had over 60 people in it. The teacher regularly responded to 6. Others were out-and-out ignored. Questions went unanswered. When one person asked something, the teacher actually said, “I answered a similar question for (one of the blessed 6) yesterday. Please go find it and review”… The person’s question was actually a follow-up to that. Needless to say, participation plummeted after that.
  9. You’re available — For goodness sake, do not agree to do a class while you are on deadline, vacation, moving, changing jobs, or any other pre-calendared thing. Telling the class does not make it okay for you to be unavailable. These people paid money to learn from you.
  10. Listen to the Question — Don’t just give the answer to the question you want them to ask. Answer the question they actually asked. Yes, there might be follow-up. But you’re there to teach. Not to humor people…which brings us to #11
  11. Leveling — Understand people are at different levels, be prepared to talk about different levels of your topic.

Almost all of this can be planned and taken care of before the class even begins. If you’re writing the classes as you go (I don’t mean tweaking them for clarity. I mean writing them.) you’re already behind. Go in planning for success.

Remember, not only is your name on the class, but whichever group you’re giving it through. I know I’ll never take another class through this chapter — I don’t believe they have the discernment to pick good teachers. So, don’t be that teacher.



2 Responses to “Teaching an Online Class”

  1. Tamara Girardi May 7, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Bria – this is good advice. I teach college writing courses, both online and face-to-face, and many instructors believe transitioning to an online environment is the same as teaching in the traditional classroom. It’s not. There are many other challenges and structure must be implemented so everyone benefits from the experience as they should.

    Also, I’m the president of the Pittsburgh Sisters in Crime chapter, and we do online workshops. This is helpful to consider what guidelines we should have as a chapter when we invite instructors to lead a workshop. What should the chapter expect of the instructor?

    Great tips here! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Bria Quinlan May 7, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    That’s a great point about having chapter guidelines. It’s true, the chapter didn’t teach the class I referred to… but they also lost my trust.

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