Reflecting on 2017 and Challenging Your Online Teaching Strategies

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey

As a new year (and term!) begins, now is a good time to reflect on how last year went with your online course(s).

Think about your last online course and answer the following questions: Did it go as planned? What went well? What went wrong? What would you try again? What is something new you’ve been wanting to try, but never found the right moment?

As educators, the ability to continually shape and refine our educational strategies is something we value. Tweaking our approaches is part of the teaching game, no matter what modality we use. But sometimes, in online courses, we instructors have reservations about making changes to our courses—specially if things are going well. Students don’t seem to have many questions, so…if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

While that’s true, we also run the risk of our online courses running stagnant. In this article, we present a few changes to consider, some minor, some major. This will hopefully spark your course development and help move your online teaching forward!

Rethink ‘Introduce Yourself’ Discussion Boards

While “Introduce Yourself” discussion boards are a good way to get students engaged from day one, some students could be bored by answering the same questions they are asked in every other online course. I know of some students who have their introduction text saved, ready to be copied and pasted into the next online course. That’s boring! Try switching up your “Introduce Yourself” questions. Here are some ideas adapted from a D2L blog post:

  • Students post family member responses to questions asked about themselves
  • Ask students to choose 5 objects they would bring with them if they were going to spend a year on a deserted island
  • Three favorites: students post three of their favorite things in different categories (movies, books, animals, etc.)

These questions will set the tone for your course and will get students thinking beyond answering basic questions about their major and what they hope to learn from the course.

That New Ed Tech Tool Your ID Keeps Talking About

From time to time, new educational technology tools enter the market that show real potential. Surely, your instructional designer has emailed you with recommendations about incorporating a new tool. Here are a few to check out:

  • (recently acquired by Instructure) – allows students to upload video responses to challenges and peer review other’s responses before unlocking the “expert” response
  • Piazza – wiki-style Q&A tool that allows students to ask and answer questions as a community
  • – a webpage annotation tool that can be used to host discussions, organize research or to take personal notes
  • Voicethread – allows both student and instructors to upload rich media and respond to discussion prompts via text, voice or video

Have you found any others? Share below in the comments.

Getting Rid of Quizzes

Traditional quizzes and tests, while comfortable to use and very familiar to all, come with their own sets of problems. Academic integrity issues can start to creep up if using questions from a publisher test bank that is widely used.

Substituting quizzes for more project-based learning strategies serves two purposes. For one, it will largely minimize cheating and secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it will make your course much more engaging.

Need some ideas for assessing students outside of quizzes? Here are a few:

  • Have students upload videos answering a question that measures their understanding
  • Audio-based reflections
  • Reflective papers
  • Electronic portfolios

Rethink the Textbook

As affordability concerns continue to be at the forefront of higher education news, it’s nice to see how faculty have responded accordingly. The number of faculty adopting OER’s (open educational resources) over traditional publisher texts has nearly doubled in the last year.

If you are currently using a standard textbook, could you find similar openly licensed or free resources? Could you write your own book or certain chapters of a book? If you teach an undergraduate course, spend some time exploring Affordable Learning Georgia’s Top 100 Undergraduate Course OER Materials.

Separating your course from the confines of a publisher’s text could pave the way to your course being more dynamic and effective. Your instructional designer and distance learning librarians are the best place to start.

Now, more than ever, there are tons of freely available or open materials that can be used.

To 2018 and Beyond!

In this new year, what new strategies or tools will you try? Make this the year you take your online course to the next level.

Honors College Faculty and former FIU Online Educational Technology Manager.