A Beginner’s Guide to Online Teaching and Learning

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Florence Martin is a professor of Learning, Design and Technology at UNC Charlotte. She teaches fully online, has received Quality Matters Certification for six of her courses and won the Crystal Award from the Association of Educational Communications and Technology for outstanding multimedia-based distance education course. Here’s what she has to say about online teaching and learning as the current environment has prompted a sudden transition to online classes as a sole option for teachers and students at all education levels.

Getting Started

There’s work to be done! When you teach face-to-face, you can provide instructions and work with the responses from your students in a real-time dialogue that’s quite different from an online environment. Instructors will have to adjust.

Activities designed for the classroom may not transfer well to an online course. Collaborative choices that work well in a face-to-face setting may look different online. As online instructors, we have to maintain our connection to students. This could take the form of things like periodic announcements, moderating discussions and grading online assignments promptly. Find ways to interact!

Online Resources

Learning Management Systems (LMS) are the backbone of online learning. Most universities today have one. At UNC Charlotte, we use Canvas as our LMS to help faculty create instructional modules to include visually appealing pages, instructional content, assignments and quizzes, and online discussions and gradebooks.

This way, students can asynchronously access content at any time and from anywhere.

We also currently use Webex, a synchronous online platform, to connect instructors with students in real-time. Through Webex, students and instructors can communicate synchronously using audio, video, text chat and interactive whiteboards. The goal is to enable quick feedback and help students feel connected.

For Students

Online learning requires a different skill set compared with being a face-to-face learner. Learning attributes like setting goals with deadlines, being self-disciplined and being ready to learn from a variety of formats will be a huge benefit. Time management is really important.

While there are challenges to online learning, we’ve also made significant advancement in recent years in the technology that supports it.

Quick Tips

For students new to online learning:

  • Pick a place where you can stay focused with limited distraction when you work on your online course activities

  • Set aside more time than you think you might need to complete the activities compared with face-to-face courses

  • Your course may have both asynchronous and synchronous components built in. Asynchronous activities are those that you can complete from anywhere and at any time; whereas for synchronous activities, you will have to participate in real-time.

  • UNC Charlotte offers a variety of resources that may assist you with further questions here.

For instructors new to online teaching:

  • Be simple in your design

  • Design your content into small modules

  • Align your instructional content to objectives, activities and assessments

  • Create a clear grading scale

  • Include a forum for students to ask questions

  • Be present in your online course with virtual office hours, responding to discussions, and using instructor created Powerpoints or videos

  • Provide timely feedback and respond to questions promptly

  • Ask students what is working and how you can make it better