Online Teaching Tips

By Ruai Gregory, M.A.

Converting a face to face class to the online teaching environment can be a simple and satisfying experience. I have been very surprised by the ease for me as a teacher and the enthusiastic responses from my students. Beginning 15 years ago, when my college department went online, I truly felt it would be extremely difficult and an inferior way to impart knowledge. Of course there are drawbacks, but read on for my hard won tips and preventive strategies!

Organizing Class Material

Most online class platforms (such as Blackboard, Canvas or Moodle) provide lots of options in their templates to create various types of assignments and discussion threads. I have found the easiest way to approach a unit of instruction is to provide three different assignments: discussion, application assignment (practical and theoretical) and journal (self-reflective) question. This ensures student engagement and interest. There are also quiz options that can be used. For example, in a recent class on Creativity, the assigned reading of the week (which also might include a TED Talk and/or YouTube video) looked at “ways to nurture creativity across all subjects in the classroom”. I listed a few learning objectives, then selected a discussion topic: “How have you organized your class environment to best allow children to use materials creatively?” Students must respond at least three times during the week to the discussion.

The application assignment for this unit involved the student providing before and after photos of their environmental changes, along with philosophical justifications and the children’s responses. The journal question asked them to relate the information to their own personal creative goal they’ve set as part of the class experience.

Engaging Students

To have a successful online classroom environment, the students must feel they are a part of it – in much the same way we teachers include and relate to them in a face to face class. There are many great tips for getting them on board, then keeping them engaged. Here are my favorites:

  • Send introductory emails.
  • Record yourself giving a course introduction and PowerPoint lecture.
  • Chime in during the weekly class discussions, with lots of feedback and encouragement, with the aim of student camaraderie. The strong feeling of community that develops is remarkable, especially when the topic is of intense interest!
  • Use Zoom or other “Super-Skype” programs to hold live class meetings, for large or small groups. These can be recorded for later viewing, but live is always best.
  • Write new course updates on your class home page, with a question, so students must respond. For example, “which date works best for you for our next Zoom session?”
  • Give detailed individualized comments on assignments. This is important in any class, but I find it’s especially necessary online. Rubrics are very valuable too.
  • Post lots of photos and other visuals.
  • Encourage student sharing by having them post their final projects in a discussion, with the task of “peer review”. Training teachers is all about sharing great resources and ideas, so the perfect culminating assignment in any class I teach is the final discussion in which they get to look at each other’s projects.

Of course, there’s more, so this is only an introduction.

Online teaching is not perfect, and doesn’t reach everyone. Yet, one of the surprises for me has been how well the introverted personalities have responded, often pulling much more weight in discussion topics than they ever would in a face to face environment. Providing ongoing support and building lasting relationships is always key in our roles as teacher and mentor.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I’m happy to review your class ideas!

Ruai Rekha Gregory, M.A
Early Childhood Education Instructor, Blue Mountain Community College, Pendleton, Oregon USA

Bio notes: I have specialized in training teachers, primarily at the college level, but also in workshops and seminars, for most of my career. For Gurukula, I assisted in writing and editing the initial NHE certificate diploma program, and have presented workshops at two NHE Conferences. I also presented my Nature Education workshop in Romania for Didi Ananda Devapriya’s programs and in Portland, Oregon at New Day School.