Friday, August 13, 2010

Online teaching

I am teaching an online intro course for the first time and am wondering if anyone has some references on how to set up a successful online course. This course is for a community college. Any suggestions on how to do a good job would be appreciated. The text they use is A Journey Through the Landscape of Philosophy by Jack Bowen.


  1. Hi,

    I haven't done a 100% on-line course, but I've thought a lot about it.. and haven't really figured out how to handle the lack of face to face discussion.

    I teach hybrid classes right now -- and have learned a few things..

    1) Give reading quizzes AND content quizzes... reading before the unit starts and content afterward... makes them pay attention.

    2) A couple of longer essay tests are better than the alternatives.

    3) If your CMS has a function that will let you make smaller discussion groups, do it. Having a full-class discussion of most topics is pretty much a failure -- I'm working with groups of 6-8, which seems to be about right given our drop rates.

  2. I've only observed online classes, never taught or participated.

    The impression I get is that attrition can be a problem because online classes take place online - the most distracting and procrastination-inducing environment ever devised.

    So as 'Inside' says, regular (small) feedback/testing/discussion is a must.

  3. I've taught online classes for years. Chapter quizzes are fine, but my classes are intensive writing, so students must write at least 4 essays in my classes. I use the same assignments that I do for face to face classes.

    The discussion threads are important. Each week students are asked to respond to a specific question and are required to follow up with their peers. Encourage an open discussion if possible. Most students will post only what they have to.

    Remember that your online students are often online because a) they have time constraints - they have limited time to do class work b) they are too far from a campus to take the class c) they are taking advanced Physics that will swallow their real time so they are squeezing in this class.

    Communication is key - email the students often. Keep them focused on their tasks. Be courteous - it's easy to fall into bad habits online. Give them something new and interesting to think about. Keep your information well organized and easy to follow.

    Finally, check with your publisher. There may be a test bank and similar online content that will help.

    Good Luck!

  4. In my experience the only way to make up for the lack of face time, is lots more work. Students will not learn as much if they do not attend classes.

    I have taught 6 different online classes, and in my experience in the ones based on in room classes, with the same assignments, and exam, the students did noticeably worse than the on campus students.

    You can replace the classroom, but only by more graded work on which there is a large amount of feedback.

    I do both individual feedback on papers/problem sets and also write up a general letter on the assignment and general problems student encountered.

    My online intro to philosophy class has 5 essay assignments, versus 3 for my on campus version.
    The reason for this is that I can more easily give my on campus student feedback and have active discussions in the classroom that the online students miss.

    Also note that a large amount of the work should be due and evaluated before the drop date, and the drop date should be advertised well to the students.

  5. I'm doing an online course right now, not in philosophy, but in another discursive subject. My biggest tip is: whatever online resources you have, use them. My university has a snazzy "online learning environment", but it's absolutely dead. No discussion, certainly no instructor participation, no links or reminders, no nothing. As a result, I have zero motivation to keep on schedule.
    Even if some of the features of whatever system you've got don't seem useful, stick some content on there - regularly - so that the students don't feel abandoned.

  6. Thank you all for your suggestions - they are very helpful. I am looking forward to this experience.
    'chinaphil': I will make sure that I do not make my students feel abandoned.

  7. I just taught an online ethics course this summer for the first time. One of my main concerns has to do with academic integrity. I decided to make the tests open note and open book, and focus more on application of ideas. So the essay questions were in essence extended case studies. I do this in my face-to-face classes as well, but will emphasize it more in the future. I agree with what one commenter said above--you have to give lots more work to make up for the lack of classroom discussion time. Good luck on your course!

  8. I have taught a TON of philosophy classes, online, for over two years now. The best advice I have, in terms of making discussion board submissions effective, for everyone, are the following requirements. My students have responded incredibly well to these prompts / requirements:

    1. For initial posts, they are required to follow a 'three paragraphs" model, which basically has them:

    First, set the stage by clarifying / defining concepts; second, outline the basic argument (explain what this means, of course), then in the final paragraph, discuss whether or not they think this is a good idea, why or why not, and discuss how this does, or could be, applied in their own life.

    Granted, it's an ethics course...yet the "three paragraphs model" can be modified to suit any subject.

    The point: give them a framework, give them an example or two, and then REQUIRE it.

    Not only will they get used to it, they will begin recognizing that same basic framework in a lot of their readings...especially when you point this out to them. :)

    2. I require they pose at least one Socratic prompt per each for-credit response post. This has had a truly amazing effect on the discussions, students report really liking this feature, they say that it elevates their understanding of classmates' posts, and that it is more fun and educational opening those response posts up. Plus, it progresses their open-ended question-asking skills quickly.

    I provide the following link:

    Good luck!


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