EDTECH 523: Principles of Online Teaching Paper

Principles for Effective Online Teaching

Melissa Getz

Boise State University

February 21, 2012

1. Teacher expectations for students are clearly stated. 

One of the most frustrating things students face is not understanding what they are expected to do. I intentionally gave ambiguous assignments in the face to face classroom because I wanted students to be creative with their final products. I often hesitated to give examples because I feared I would get clones of the example and often when I did give an example that is exactly what happened. One advantage to me giving ambiguous assignments in a face to face classroom, though, is that my students knew they would see me in person at least three times a week. I made myself available at lunch and after school to help them figure out how to do the project. There were many afternoons that I would be in the library with them, sitting next to them, to help them figure out how to complete the assignment that involved technology.  In the online environment, I can have office hours, but physically stalking down a student and inviting him to collaborate with me is not realistic.  Another advantage to the face to face setting is that I can personally hand a student a piece of paper. In the online environment, unless we are in a synchronous setting where I push the document to the student or have created a recorded session that allows for documents to spontaneously show up in students’ faces, there is no guarantee a student will even find the syllabus or other structural document.

There are several publications that support the need for online courses and online instruction to be highly organized and to have clear expectations readily available. Southern Regional Education Board (SREB)’s document, Standards for Quality Online Teaching (2006) (abbreviated here as SQOT) states, “Teacher expectations are also a significant factor in how much and how well students learn.”  In my principle, not only do teachers have to have high expectations, they need to communicate them. SQOT (2006) goes on to mention how important it is for a syllabus to be available online that not only includes the teacher’s expectations, but grading criteria and any other pertinent course organization (p.5). Palloff and Pratt (2007) describe their beginning documents which include “a syllabus, guidelines, and the accepted rules of ‘netiquette’” (p. 115). In addition, since they use discussion forums in their online courses, they state at the beginning of the course how they expect “a minimum of two substantive posts per week per participant” (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, p. 115). The National Education Association (NEA) Guide to Online High School Courses (n.d) also recommends a pre-class orientation or a specific introduction to help ease students into the mechanics of taking a course online. It also stresses the need for all necessary materials for the courses to be easily available to students (p. 21). Finally, SREB’s Standards for Quality Online Courses (2006) (abbreviated here as SQOC) wants course requirements to be consistent with course goals, “representative of the scope of the course, and are clearly stated” (p. 4).

2. Multiple modes are used to transmit information such that they overlap and there is some redundancy. 

To cater to different learning styles, teachers need to use a variety of activities and ways of communicating information so that students can take ownership of it. In the online classroom, this means that in some situations, an audio file needs to accompany a text file. In other situations, it is not enough to assign students to do a scripted lab; demonstration video needs to accompany the lab so students can at least see how to do the lab safely. If information is very important, there should be at least two ways it is communicated to students. Even a Voki to communicate an afterthought can be effective because it is eye-catching and will let students know that something has changed or has been updated. If students are not catching all of the assignments and how to complete them, then the teacher needs to find a different, perhaps redundant, way to communicate what the assignments are and how students can be successful.
Publications supporting the use of multiple modes of transmitting information include SREB’s documents: Standards for Quality Online Teaching (SQOT) (2006) and Standards for Quality Online Courses (SQOC) (2006). In SQOT (2006), they say, “The teacher differentiates instruction based on students’ learning styles and needs and assists students in assimilating information to gain understanding and knowledge” (p. 4). The differentiation can use synchronous and asynchronous tools including multimedia and visual resources (p.3) that let the instructor “adapt and adjust instruction to create multiple paths to learning objectives” (SQOT, 2006, p.6). To support the idea that a variety of modes are used to communicate information, the SQOC document (2006) elaborates on how the online course provides “opportunities for interaction and communication student to student, student to instructor, and instructor to student” (p.4). “Courses must utilize technology that enables the teacher to customize each student’s learning experience through tools and formats such as video, interactive features, resources and links to related information” (SQOC, 2006, p.1). If these features restate course objectives or instructions on how to complete assignments, as long as the information does not contradict itself, the more modes of communication, the better. For students who can easily acquire and process information, the instructor can advise them through a path in the course that has fewer redundant resources. It should not be a scavenger hunt where a student needs to access all of the communication methods to get a complete picture; instead it should be a complete picture that has various points emphasized in alternative ways.  SQOC (2006) also points out the need for courses to meet “universal design principles, Section 508 standards and W3C guidelines to ensure access for all students” (p.7). This means the teacher may have to “adjust the scope and sequence of instruction to meet students’ academic and learning needs” (SQOC, 2006, p.2).  In addition, “the design reflects a clear understanding of student needs and incorporates varied ways to learn and multiple levels of mastery of the curriculum” (SQOC, 2006, p.4). To communicate expectations, “each lesson includes a lesson overview, content and activities, assignments and assessments to provide multiple learning opportunities for students to master the content” (SQOC, 2006, p.4). To further differentiate instruction, “the course makes maximum use of the capabilities of the online medium and makes resources available by alternative means; e.g., video, CDs and podcasts” (SQOC, 2006, p.7).

3. The learning process is dynamic.  Students interact with information, ideas, and each other in addition to receiving static methods like taped lectures or videos. 

In the face to face classroom, there are multiple ways to have students interact with information, although in many classes the lecture is used as the primary conduit of content. Lectures are pretty static- they often do not involve any student interaction or participation. In contrast, inquiry based assignments in the classroom engage the students to ask questions or to take control of some aspect of the learning environment. Online inquiry can look like the discussions in forums if students are asking questions that other students are answering. Having students create “new” ideas because of their interaction with online discussions, creating wikis with others, taping a Jing presentation to demonstrate what they have learned, or creating an animation to explain a concept are far more interactive than listening to the teacher talk. Rice (2012) suggests activities like “question generation, hypothesis development, and defense of ideas” in collaborative environments (p. 31). The online learning environment needs to be more student-centered than the one in a typical face to face classroom. Online, something other than the teacher is the source of information.  According to Palloff and Pratt (2007), “the responsibility for learning falls to the learners in a learner-centered approach and the focus is on learning, not on grades” (p.106).

Other publications reinforce the idea that online learning needs to be student-centered and active (Rice, pp. 74-78; SQOT, pp. 4 and 6). The teacher serves as a “guide on the side, an instructor, a group process facilitator, and an advisor.” The guide gently encourages students to participate in what may seem like new educational circumstances, the instructor ensures what happens in the classroom runs smoothly, the group process facilitator monitors student interactions online, and the advisor is not only a stable adult for the children, but also serves as a resource parents can rely upon for direction on how to maneuver the online school setting (Rice, 2012, pp. 74-78).

The SQOC (2006) document emphasizes:

The course uses learning activities that engage students in active learning; provides students with multiple learning paths to master the content based on student needs; reflects multicultural education and is accurate, current, and free of bias. (p.4)

It continues:

The teacher engages students in learning activities that address a variety of learning styles and preferences… The course provides opportunities for students to engage in higher-order thinking, critical reasoning activities and thinking in increasingly complex ways. (p.5)

By providing such opportunities, “information literacy and communication skills are incorporated and taught as an integral part of the curriculum”(SQOC, 2006, p. 2). On page 14, the NEA Guide to Online High School Courses (n.d) outlines similar expectations for online classrooms.

The course makes maximum use of the online medium by incorporating primary source materials, media, outside experts, and resources beyond the geography and culture of the students’ brick-and-mortar classroom experience.

They give examples of how to make courses interactive. Students utilize “a variety of media and resources” as they “learn from multiple viewpoints.” Their lessons may include online discussions, lab experiments, designing projects, writing critiques of what they read, writing lab reports, using multimedia to create a product, or having online group activities to teach collaboration skills (NEA, n.d., pp. 14-15).

Palloff and Pratt (2007) elaborate on why a variety of teaching techniques and student-centered activities are necessary. They urge instructors to be facilitators who use “a variety of learning activities and demonstrate instructional methods other than lecturing. Draw out creativity, innovativeness, and ideas in a collaborative manner” (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, pp. 109-110).  The facilitator allows “students to explore the course material… without restriction” (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, p110). Students may make comments about the reading material in discussion forums where the content is further explained or clarified.  They go on to elaborate on other researchers’ ideas of how online learning is facilitated such that the students are actively involved with the process of creating curricular material. This perspective is called a “teaching presence” and it often involves students facilitating discussion forums (p.111) or providing ideas on surveys administered during the course.

4. Safe, sociable, and legal practices are demonstrated and are taught to students. 

Safe practices include what information to disclose or not disclose in an online environment. Sociable practices include using academic language and informing students of typical netiquette expectations. The online course can contain a social forum where students can be more casual with their language. This reinforces the idea that in the content forums, more appropriate word choices are necessary (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, pp.112-115). Legal practices include teaching students about how to appropriately use information they find online including copyright laws, what constitutes plagiarism, and how to evaluate information found online to ensure it is accurate and reliable (SQOC, 2006, pp.3-4; SQOT, 2006, p.5). If needed, the instructor can create a set of Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) if the school does not already have students signing one upon registration (Rice, 2012, p.242; SQOT, 2006, p.5). The NEA Guide to Online High School Courses (n.d.) refers to this type of knowledge as “Information Literacy,” whereas Rice (2012) calls it “Digital Literacy” (p.241-242). NEA’s publication (n.d.) encourages instructors to have students complete lessons that teach them how to evaluate appropriate online resources, how to judge the credibility of what is published online, and how to maintain respect for copyright or other intellectual property they would like to use for their own projects (p. 15).

5. The teacher has been an online student in at least two different settings. 

In order for teachers to understand the frustrations that online students can have, they need to walk the walk themselves. Future online teachers need to experience the different ways that instructors can organize discussion forums, due dates, documents, expectations, or other mechanical qualities of the online setting so that they can be aware of some of the circumstances that can cause student frustration. The more exposure, the better; however, if I’m going to write a principle that leads to a standard, I want to quantify that there needs to be at least two experiences with different instructors. Rice (2012) recommends online teachers have “online course experience as a learner” (p.41). Both SREB (2006) and NEA (n.d.) want online instructors to have had at least one experience with being an online student and/or some training on how to be an online teacher (SQOT, 2006, p.6; SQOC, 2006, p.8; NEA, n.d., p17).

6. Assessment includes more analysis than determining the students’ ability for taking multiple choice tests. 

Assessment could include contributions to a discussion forum, a video they make individually or in teams to demonstrate content in the class, an animation showing how something works, writing in a journal or blog, doing a vlog, creating a wiki by oneself or as a group, or photographing a physical project made at home. Not only does the instructor evaluate student work, but the students will often do self-assessments. Rice (2012) emphasizes that online learning environments should promote a process and not just an end product.  These “online instructional strategies should encourage the use of a variety of metacognitive activities for assessment including feedback, self-reflection, and self-explanation” (Rice, 2012, p. 33). SQOC (2006) and SQOT (2006) want to see instructors create and utilize assessment that justifies the content, how it is administered to the students, shows what the students do with the information, and reports how they perceive their intellectual gain (SQOC, 2006, pp. 2 and 6; SQOT, 2006,pp. 5 – 8). NEA (n.d) on p. 19 suggests online high school courses’ assessments include:

  • Contributions and responses to online discussions
  • Completion of online assignments
  • Portfolio submissions
  • Special projects and/or presentations
  • Creation of authentic products
  • Tests and quizzes

For more advanced courses like those for college or other adult levels, small group collaboration or case study analysis that yields a collaboratively written paper or project can serve as an alternative assessment to a fact-based test (Palloff & Pratt, pp.115-116 ).

7. Curriculum is modified on a regular basis by the person teaching the course. The class is not merely static lessons developed with the idea students will have to adapt themselves to the curriculum.  The content and its delivery needs flexibility that allows for individualized instruction and assessment when needed. The teacher is given the power to change the curriculum, activities, and assessments based on the information s/he gets from students and their progress. Resources supporting these ideas include Standards for Quality Online Teaching, 2006, p. 7; Standards for Quality Online Courses, 2006, p.8; NEA, n.d., p. 22; and Palloff and Pratt, 2007, p.115.



National Educational Association. (n.d.). Guide to Online High School Courses. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/onlinecourses.pdf

Paloff, Rena M. & Pratt, Keith. (2007). Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rice, Kerry. (2012). Making the Move to K-12 Online Teaching: Research Based Strategies and Practices. Boston: Pearson.

Southern Regional Education Board. (2006). Standards for Quality Online Teaching.  Retrieved from http://publications.sreb.org/2006/06T02_Standards_Online_Teaching.pdf

Southern Regional Education Board. (2006). Standards for Quality Online Courses. Retrieved from http://publications.sreb.org/2006/06T05_Standards_quality_online_courses.pdf


About Melissa

I am a former high school science teacher and recently completed a MET degree at Boise State

Posted on February 9, 2014, in 4.3 Delivery System Management, 5.3 Formative and Summative Evaluation, EDTECH 523 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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