Online Teaching

So you have been asked to teach an online course (or move your course online).  Just remember 5 simple rules.

1) Don’t Panic

2) Rethink Accessibility

3) Enhance Communication

4) Create Presence

5) Choose the technologies that work best for you, your students, and your course (simple is often best).

1) Don’t Panic.  Courses are like icebergs, much of the work does not show.  You have already selected meaningful content, developed thoughtful assignments, and created an intellectual framework for your course.

For most history courses, students spend most of the course time outside of class, doing readings, research, assignments, and writings.

This is all to say, when moving online, you really only need to worry about the 3 or 4 hours (depending on number of credits) of normal face2face class time with students (we will worry about doing assignments and office hours later).  So really — moving online can be easy — you have already done the hard work.

The important thing to remember is that moving a course that is already started as a face2face course (synchronous schedules) is easy to move online since one only needs to use Zoom in place of going to the class —

a) Zoom can share  your powerpoint (hit the “Share” button at the bottom of screen) for you to give a lecture (talking over the powerpoint);

b) Zoom can let students participate and ask questions (and even give their own presentations);

c) Zoom can allow students to do group work in “Breakout Rooms” or ask questions of you that don’t go to the whole class in “Chat.”

d) You can actually use Zoom to record yourself and your presentation to be shared with students later (more on this below and at

e) If you do in class quizzes and exams, you will need to rethink these using D2L or do take homes (but these can be easy conversions).

f) Of course, be prepared for Zoom failure (see

In short, don’t panic if you have to move an existing course online for a few weeks or the rest of the semester.  In History, you do have support and help as well.

2) Rethink Accessibility: The best thing about moving a course online is that it gives me a chance to rethink what it is I really do during a course and if what I do is well-designed for all students to be maximally accessible.

There is no magical difference for online courses — what makes for a great online course is the same thing that makes for a great face2face course:  meaningful content, thoughtful assignments, purposeful engagement, and considerate mentoring.

Indeed, the barriers between the online and the brick&mortar are continually breaking down— the syllabus and course content (PDFs, Ebooks) often are delivered online; research is done and managed online (Library eResources, digital archives, Jstor, Google docs, DropBox, Zotero); assignments are turned in and graded in an LMS (Learning Management System like D2L); and we are using more and more media delivered online (audio, video, documentaries, images, maps, YouTube).

Many also already do blended and flipped courses that include lecture videos or have some lectures on videos ready for use when away at conferences.

So it is a good idea for both online courses and face2face courses to make sure that all we make available to students is accessible and follows principles of Universal Design (see ).

It is also a good idea to rethink how we are doing assignments — can we add more student interaction, more scaffolding of assignments, more sharing of research, more peer review (if it makes sense for the course and your teaching).  Good scaffolding can help one avoid plagiarism better than plagiarism checkers.

3) Enhance Communication: The weird thing is that the two things that researchers find really makes for a successful online course are good communication and establishing a positive presence (particularly in the first 2 weeks of a course).  I say this is weird because I would argue that these things also make for good face2face courses.  The problem is often, in the online world, it is easy to allow communication to lapse and your presence to be absent from the course.  In short, you do need to think more about both as you move online.

The great thing is that the strongest aspect of D2L is communication — it has a rich suite of tools including chat, email, discussion forums, and announcements as well groups for collaboration ( and these features can be easy to learn (of course, this is a place where students can be the experts).

4) Create Presence: As noted above, presence is an important part of a successful course.  If this is a midcourse emergency move online, then you don’t need to worry as much since students will have a good sense of who you are.  Yet it is still important the first two weeks online to be a bit overly intrusive with emails and announcements to keep alive a sense that the show is and will go on.

If you are creating an online course, then it is a good idea to have an image of yourself on the course as well as an introductory video that gives an overview of the course as well as introduces who you are (this can be used for advertising your online course).

The nice thing about doing online videos is that you can move away from the sage on the stage to the sage at her/his/their desk or arm chair talking directly one on one.  Students often prefer the direct engagement over a slick educational video or a professor being filmed at the lectern (see the following for doing videos with captions

Also the great part of doing online lectures is that you can break the stranglehold of the “class period” as if history breaks into 50 minute segments.  It is often best to do a series of shorter 20 to 30 minute videos. It is also a good idea to do videos about the assignments and your expectations.  Once you get used to using MediaSpace and Kultura Capture, you can also make occasional videos to address problems and issues and questions that have come up during the course.

5) Choose the technologies that work best for you, your students, and your course (simple is often best): (see

What does this all mean when an emergency demands that you move your course online

1) If you use D2L (Google Docs, OneNote) both to deliver content beyond the purchased texts and to collect and grade assignments, then don’t panic, keep it simple, you can use Zoom ( ) to replace your face2face meetings.

a) It may be good to record your Zoom classes for students who miss and use MSU MediaSpace to do captions (see ).

b) It may be good for the first two weeks you go online to be extra thoughtful about communicating with students about schedules, times and room numbers for Zoom, assignments, as well as interesting thoughts about class, readings, assignments.

c) Also establish your protocol for online office hours.  It can be as simple as a time for answering email or you can use the chat or discussion capabilities of D2L (I often create a Twitter handle for individual courses).

2) If you don’t use any technologies now or are unsure about the technologies you could use, come talk to us at Matrix.  Similarly if you want to create an online course, talk to us about ideas and possibilities, but as noted above, you are most likely already well underway and have completed the difficult parts of doing a course.

3) It can also be a good idea to check out the many resources about going online ( but don’t get overwhelmed — it can be pretty simple to move synchronous courses online (students already know and have the schedule for your course).

New asynchronous online courses (for summer) can be more of a challenge requiring video lectures and more use of online communication tools to build student interactions, communication, and collaboration (but as noted, D2L does have a nice suite of communications tools, including email ).  And the shorter format does require cutting back.