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5 Ways to Make Online Teaching and Distance Learning Work for You


Have you suddenly been asked to teach all of your courses online? Need to become an expert in distance learning…like, yesterday?

COVID-19 has thrust thousands of instructors into the uncomfortable position of not only having to teach online classes for the first time but doing it without any notice. The result? Very little time for instructors, like yourself, to prepare or set up your courses for an online learning format. While things might not be perfect, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a couple of easy best practices you can implement to help make your online teaching and distance learning programs a success.

  1. Prepare Your Students (As Best You Can) to Learn Online

  • Never assume:
    • That all students are digital natives and experts. For many students, this may be their first online class.
    • Learning how to navigate through the LMS (learning management system) and possibly multiple homework platforms can be overwhelming. Try simplifying your student’s experience by offering videos and tutorials on the programs you are using within your course.
    • If you don’t have any pre-made tutorials or online teaching guides available, check with your school LMS administrator or see if a publisher, like McGraw-Hill, already has some pre-made options available.  
  • Let students learn from one another:  
    • Good news, you don’t have to be the sole person helping your students out. Often the strongest impressions students take away from the course come from their peers.
    • Establish a precedent where students can become the teacher. For example, rather than lecturing to students about McGraw Hill’s Connect program and online class best practices, create a discussion board post and ask your students if they have taken an online class before and/or used Connect. If so, have them share their suggestions and best practices with their peers. Simple, yet so impactful, and helps take the burden off your shoulders a little.
  1. Don’t Forget LMS Integration

If you are using McGraw-Hill’s Connect or ALEKS platforms alongside a school LMS, check with your LMS administrator to see if your institution has the McGraw-Hill Education integration tool available. Pairing the two together creates a seamless single sign-on and for many LMS, offers a grade book synchronization. It can also save your students a ton of time and confusion by connecting your assignments and grades into one place.

  1. Vary Your Assignments

Doing the same thing over and over again, just like in a face-to-face classroom, gets boring. COVID-19 and the quick move to all online courses have put everyone under pressure to get up and running, but many LMS and homework platforms, like McGraw-Hill’s Connect or ALEKS platforms, offer a wide variety of different types of assignable questions and exercises.

  • Look for opportunities to try something different:
    • Activities like drag & drops, highlighting, lab simulations, polling questions, and discussion boards can help make your course that much more engaging and the material interesting to learn.
    • Try and see if any (or all) of these assignments can be auto-graded. Adding variety doesn’t mean you have to add extra work to your plate.
  • Try peer-review, online discussions, or group activities:
    • If you haven’t already done so in your class before, letting students peer-edit each other’s work or complete assignments as a group is a great way to provide new learning opportunities. Online engagement, in things like discussion boards, also has the added bonus of letting students feel more connected to their (virtual) peers in the classroom.
  1. Create Consistent Due Dates

While assignment variety is a good thing, mixing up due dates is not.

  • Create a schedule:
    • To reduce confusion and eliminate surprises, create a consistent schedule, with recurring due dates for all assignments.
    • In doing so, students will become familiar with the routine of when your class’ assignments must be submitted and the volume will seem less overwhelming or confusing.  
  • Set clear expectations with students:
    • Be vocal about when things are due. You can’t overshare this information – shout it from the figurative rooftops.
    • Prominently post the schedule, nearing due dates, and any warning about late work in your online course.
    • Establish your policies about online submissions clearly. If you don’t accept late work or do with reducing point value for late submissions, have that information prominently displayed in your online course shell.
  1. Try Lecture Capture or Virtual Meeting Software

Online learning is great, but sometimes it’s just not a good enough replacement for face-to-face classroom explanations. That’s why lecture capture or online meeting software can be an amazing way to connect with your students.

  • Pre-Record Your Lectures:
    • You might be more comfortable pre-recording some key lesson material that you would normally deliver in a face-to-face class. You can try software like McGraw Hill’s Tegrity or even something simple like voice narration over PowerPoint slides. Record what you would normally cover, post it in your LMS course shell, and then set up a discussion board assignment to review with your students.
  • Online Office Hours or Virtual Meetings
    • Another great option is to host virtual meetings with your students as a group or 1:1. Zoom is an awesome free online meeting software service that can let you speak to your students directly and answer questions or give more in-depth explanations of previous lessons.
    • Consider also hosting online office hours, where you’re available either by phone, chat, or video conference. This might help students feel more connected but also prevent them from trying to call you at all hours of the day for help.

For additional information regarding LMS integration, click here

For additional information regarding Tegrity, click here

About the Author

My name is Melissa Wagner and I have been teaching exclusively online at Triton College for 3 years. It is clear that today’s students are overachievers; they have families, work full time and still find time to go back to school. Teaching at a school that embraces and encourages online learning is wonderful, because it opens the door of opportunity for more students. My favorite part of teaching is getting students to see and make connections between what they are learning and how that relates to the real world. These students are the nation's future and my goal is to prepare them for that!

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