Faculty Share Ideas and Advice for Online Teaching

Miami University sundial at sunset

We surveyed faculty to find out their plans for the Fall semester in an effort to share insights with the wider Miami community. Last week, we shared how instructors plan to adjust their courses to be remote for one month. 

Now, we’re sharing ideas or advice that faculty would give to their colleagues who may be new or uncomfortable with online teaching.

Communication is key

As one of Miami Online’s learning designers once wrote: “Communication, communication, communication – much like location, location, location – is a vital part of the online learning environment for students.”

In an asynchronous, online setting, communication is key. Undoubtedly, faculty agree, as it came up again and again in response to this question. Many instructors send emails or Canvas Announcements to their students almost daily or ahead of every class “to keep students abreast of new information posted, due dates, and reminders to complete their work.”

“Try to put your instructions for all assignments in as many places as possible,” suggested Shelly Jarret Bromberg, Director of Liberal Education and Associate Professor in Spanish & Portuguese. “You cannot be too clear.”

It isn’t just announcements or reminders, either: “Grade and offer feedback often,” one instructor wrote. Create instructor presence by participating in discussions and offering meaningful feedback beyond numeric grades.

Other suggestions for open communication and community-building include: encouraging students to engage with you and classmates, rewarding students for seeking help or support, suggesting that students build their bio/profile in Canvas, and getting to know students overall.

“You don’t need to have it all together, but you need to let students know what is ready and what you’re working on,” said one professor. “Honest communication needs to happen even just to say ‘I don’t have answers yet, but here’s what I do know.’”

Keep it short and sweet

Many faculty respondents had student engagement on their minds. To be mindful of students’ online viewing habits, they’re keeping videos between 5 and 12 minutes long. Research suggests that chunking can ease the cognitive load and enhance retention. 

“I have found that keeping them relatively short can really help students focus,” shared one instructor. “That may mean you have more videos overall, but the length often makes these more bearable.  Five eight-minute videos are easier to watch than one 40-minute video.”

If you tend to work out problems in class, short videos can be implemented in an intentional manner. One instructor wrote that they will use videos to show demos and work through more complex problems, so they could easily explain. A tablet or other device can be used as a virtual whiteboard. 

Similarly, that instructor is targeting just two or three concepts per set of slides and posting example problems separately. Another instructor suggests breaking up long blocks of text that are easy for students to skip.

Also, remember that a Canvas course has limited storage space, and shorter content can be easier to upload and process: “Some of my colleagues have done voice overs for PowerPoints.  Just be careful what software you use as this can make your file very large.”

Patience is a virtue

Pivoting to online instruction is a learning curve for both faculty and students, especially during a time of great uncertainty. “Allow yourself permission to fail,” wrote one instructor. 

“Trust your ideas, but keep open to your students’ complaints and stress,” another faculty member shared. “You can easily change your delivery strategy or how an assignment is accessed, but trust that the students know what they’re talking about.”

Be flexible with due dates and times. As recommended by the Provost’s Office, instructors should, without prejudice, provide students with reasonable opportunities for completing missed work.

Julie Alexander, a Visiting Assistant Professor in Farmer School of Business’s First-Year Integrated Core (FYIC), gently reminds us to “show patience and grace with your students and with yourself.”

Ask for help

There are “so many resources available,” noted Shelli Minton, an instructor in Emerging Technology in Business + Design. Take advantage of Miami’s many faculty resources. 

These support services have “excellent trainings, tutorials, and consultants,” wrote Chip Hahn, Speech Pathology and Audiology. “Make an appointment for a consultation—you will not regret it.” To see some of the available resources, explore some opportunities and technology tools on our website.

Help doesn’t start and end with these support services. In your department and division, there is a wealth of experience, expertise, and knowledge to be mined.

“Do not hesitate to reach out and ask for help from colleagues who are more tech-savvy or have more online teaching experience,” Hahn continued.

Together, we can all ensure that the remote start provides a solid foundation for the rest of the semester.