Teaching OnlineIn the spring, I'll be teaching an online class. In Tennessee, we have a program called E4TN, which allows students in small districts who don't have access to advanced classes or...

Teaching Online

In the spring, I'll be teaching an online class. In Tennessee, we have a program called E4TN, which allows students in small districts who don't have access to advanced classes or language classes to take the course online. Credit-recovery courses are also offered through this program. I'll be teaching French 1 to students across the state. I'm not responsible for creating lesson plans but will have to do some grading and monitoring of student progress. My biggest job will be making regular contact with students and parents. Of course, all of this is outside my normal teaching day.

If anyone has experience with such a program, I'd love your comments, good or bad. Suggestions are welcome too.

Expert Answers
urzula eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Based on ten years of online teaching, here are my top 7 tips:

1.       Do it right the first time.

The most important aspect of teaching an online or hybrid course is to give yourself adequate time to plan and prepare.  Strive to make your course design “right” the first time around. Stick with the content that you know has worked in the past. This is NOT the time to try out a new book, or make major changes to your syllabus. Use a storyboard to think through your initial design.  And, keep copies of everything you use! You never know when you can recycle your materials for another class.


2.       Design flexible units.

If you teach the class in a compressed semester as well as a “full” semester, consider a design that can be easily manipulated to fit into both semesters. For example, if your fall semester is typically 14 weeks and your summer semester is 7 weeks, consider developing a class with 7 units.  This way you can have seven 2 week units in the fall, and in the summer simply make those units one week long.  Make the transition from each semester as seamless as possible.


3.       Organize your materials.

Consider a program such as Microsoft’s One Note® to organize your materials.  One Note® allows you to set up your classes similar to a paper filing system.  The beauty of this software is that you can also add tabs for each class week and further break it down by day of the week.  This way you know what you need to post on what day, and in essence you have a tickler system. A sample One Note® is included below.


4.       Safeguard your efforts.

The last thing you want to happen is to lose any of your work as a result of a hard drive or systems crash.  There are several inexpensive places to back up your data. One of the easiest ways is to keep copies on an external hard disk. A preferred option is to use an online service using Carbonite, Mozy or through your computer vendor. You can set up these programs to automatically back up each night, and if the need exists you can easily request your archived files. The cost is well worth the loss of your hard work. You will never have to worry about computer or drive failures again. [Carbonite and Mozy run approximately $50.00 per year.]


5.       Schedule your online time.

It is very easy to get immersed in your online classes and course development.  Sometimes you feel as though you can never do enough.  Have a set time to go online each day. For example, don’t begin your online time until 6:00 p.m. each evening.  Otherwise you will find yourself being tempted to go online several times a day. It is perfectly acceptable to respond to student emails within 24 hours. 

6.   Personalize comments and emails to students.

Use a student’s first name when you respond to emails or grading.  This way you are adding personalization to the message and the student does not feel so isolated in the online environment.  As an example, at the beginning of the semester, it is very common to have students introduce themselves. Personally respond to each student and ask a follow-up question to show interest. As another example, a few weeks into the class send an individualized “how are you doing message?” You will be surprised how many students appreciate the personal interest and how it builds rapport.


7.       Use instant messaging for student questions.

If you are teaching online, you know you will be online a fair amount. Sometimes students have a very quick question that you can respond to in a minute.  They will appreciate your availability, and the downside in time is next to nothing. So, consider having an ID with one or two of the major instant messaging services, such as AIM® or Windows Live™. This environment can be used in a multiple of ways. First, you can publish specific times that you will make yourself available via instant messaging. Second, you can make yourself visible whenever you are online for student questions. Third, consider scheduling times for students to meet in private chat rooms for class discussions. Finally, for those students who have a problem typing, some instant messaging services include free voice communication.



Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Never having taught an on-line class, I'm not sure my offering will be much; but I offer it nonetheless.  This is a high school class, I assume, so a few regular classroom principles should apply. 

Keep it personal: nothing's worse than a teacher not knowing students' names after the first week or so. Though it will be more difficult without having them all just a few feet in front of you every day, neither kids nor parents respond as well if you don't do this fairly quickly.

Be specific if you can:  while you'll necessarily have to generate e-mails and other communication with common content, adding a comment or two specific to each student will buy you a lot of grace as you're working your way through this for the first time.

Build community: though I'm not exactly sure how this will look for a class like this, teens love to feel they're a part of a learning community, something bigger than they are. Keep them engaged and encourage interaction.

Engage parents: I've found parents are generally willing to do their part if they can, so use them when possible. (Another strategy that will buy you grace if you need it.)

Hope that helps.  What an exciting new venture for you and for them.  Bon Chance!

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Online teaching does have its merits (I've done one such course myself), but the disadvantages, I feel, outweigh the positives. Here's why: If the student is ESE, ESOL, SLD, or is in any one of the other alphabet-soup categories, chances are they will not receive the needed amount (or type) of instruction they need from an online course. Many students cannot sustain their attention to a subject when it is presented in the online format. There is a lack of prompting and focal re-direction that is often needed for student success.

The other, more personal, reason I don't plan to do online teaching again has to do with taxes. You may think that you are helpfully supplementing your household income by conducting off-hours earning, but when the tax man cometh, extra jobs tend to bite their owner. If you can arrange for payment without having to file a 1099 or a W-9, that is always a better option. Freelance writing gigs are one way of doing this. A lot of websites and publications will pay a modest lump sum for written work, and they do not require all the technical IRS forms. Just a thought.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

#5 is a very comprehensive list of tips, and I hesitate to offer my own lessons that I have learned in similar e-learning situations. The biggest lessons that I have learned is that it is really important to try to build a sense of class spirit even though students might not actually meet in a physical classroom. This can be done through forums or chats. Secondly, it is important to try to be as personal as possible and not a distant presence. Lastly, related to the second point, you need to try to be really empathetic and a great communicator as when you communicate with students by electronic forms alone you can't pick up on body language or tone of voice.

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What a neat thing!  I am all for something like this.  My teaching load at my college consists of 3 online courses and 3 seated courses and I love my online ones!  I have been teaching online for about 8 years and the best advice I have is to keep in regular contact with both students and parents, as you stated you must do.  Being open and honest with the students and parents is an important key to success and if they know that the teacher is "on top of things," it will ease their minds.  What is nice is that you do not have to create lesson plans.  I had to develop all of my courses!   I hope it goes well for you. Keep us posted!

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems like most of the posters are hitting on a common theme. Whether it's online teaching or classroom teaching, you're still a teacher. The interaction is slightly different, but the attitude should be the same. Build a sense of community. This will be more difficult since no one will be seeing each other face to face, but could instructors can manage this. Reinforce  your students with constructive feedback about their work. Keep contacts personal and relevant, and try to make sure the positive contacts outweigh the corrective contacts. "Students won't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I've never taught in that type of class, but I worked in an online high school and university. In the high school, I made an effort to stay in contact with my students through message boards, emails and phone calls to students who were struggling.
blakmajik | Student

I think that this is a great idea.  Especially in the realm of credit recovery.  Also on-line teaching provides the assistive technology becasue traditional subjects can now be bought to life in a technical environment.  Some students may comprehend  a subject such as French I, better when it is illustrated to them, as opposed to just being taught from a book.

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