Online instructor shares best practices for teaching online

books-on-comp.jpegTeaching a hybrid or online course requires different teaching strategies, in part because instructional methods can feel limited to the technology tools available. Using the tools commonly available in a course management system, like discussion, glossary and wikis to engage students and achieve positive learning results can feel like a major challenge. Choosing the appropriate activities and relevant tools to meet specific learning objectives is especially important in learning environments where face-to-face contact is limited or non-existent.

To provide an example of an instructor's success in creating meaningful learning activities using the tools in Moodle, Digital Campus spoke to Tani Bialek, an online instructor of 6 years. Bialek teaches both online and hybrid courses and has experienced firsthand the benefits of using technology to increase engagement and participation. She shares some of her best practices as well as useful advice to instructors considering teaching online.

Beyond traditional discussion forums

Discussion forums have often been used as a popular tool by many instructors to assess students' knowledge of content, increase participation and promote engagement. To Bialek, however, it is one of the tools that she struggled with the most, and for very good reasons. "How can we create a good discussion question so that students go beyond simply responding to it and then making their two additional obligatory posts to meet the minimum requirements?" Bialek asked.

To Bialek, the traditional discussions, where students simply respond to questions posed by the instructor, do not create a robust discussion or sense of community. Instead of having a traditional discussion forum, Bialek assigned her students to small groups where they had to solve a problem together or participate in an activity. In Bialek's attempt to increase engagement, the groups work on different projects and activities every unit, and the students rotate to new activities in each unit.

"One of the projects students complete within a Training and Development course I teach utilizes VideoAnt (a tool for annotating video). Students find a video on Youtube where workplace training is being conducted and then use VideoAnt to critique it based on topics we are currently discussing in class," Bialek explained. "Each group member suggests at least one video, then as a group they agree on which video to discuss, critique, and ultimately annotate. The annotated videos are then posted on the Moodle site for all students in the course to view."

Another group project that Bialek assigned to her students involved using the wiki feature in Moodle. "The goal of the project is for students to take an active role in what they are learning about. They are expected to take the core concepts of each module and conduct a web search to find out what additional information exists to help them understand course concepts at a deeper level. Students work in groups to find and discuss websites, blogs, or other electronic files and use that content to develop the wiki." Bialek also assigned a mini case study where she presented a training and development dilemma to students. "I provide groups with a paragraph or two of information such as organization data, background, strategy, business needs, etc. I then ask them to work as a team of training professionals to provide a recommendation/solution for the dilemma including a rationale to justify their recommendation."

With Bialek's assignments, the discussion board in Moodle moves beyond a simple call-and-response, minimally engaged process to a richer learning environment that requires students to think deeply and problem solve with their peers.

Engaging students with technology

In addition to the application-based projects that go beyond traditional discussion postings, Bialek uses technology to increase online collaboration and engagement. To that end, Bialek said the use of technology did foster more collaboration among her students. "The two hybrid courses I taught last semester were between 30 to 40 students per class. It is challenging within a class of that size for everyone to speak in class-wide discussions each time we meet face-to-face, nor does every student want to in front of a large class. So, I hoped that the inclusion of technology could provide more opportunities to foster collaboration, and I think it did."

Interactive tools such as the Adobe Presenter modules that captured about 20-30 minute lectures were always well received by students, Bialek said. "I always received positive feedback from students when I included asynchronous, interactive eLessons. Students appreciated the opportunity to complete them at any time and being able to review them as often as they like. They enjoyed the voice-over and text option--it enabled me to still have a teaching presence without the need to be face-to-face. "


Bialek's successful teaching strategies have been the result of many years of trial and error, and she continues to find new ways to improve her courses through her involvement in the Quality Matters program (QM). QM is a nationally recognized, faculty-centered, peer review process designed to certify the quality of online courses and online components. Being a QM peer reviewer has exposed Bialek to new and improved teaching methods and instructional designs, some of which she has already implemented in her own courses.

Tani Bialek discusses the benefits of the QM training as well as invaluable ideas and insights gained from being a QM peer reviewer. Read here for full article.

About the author
Tani Bialek has taught face-to-face, hybrid, and 100% online courses within the OLPD department for 6 years, and is currently pursuing a PhD in adult education. She has more than 15 years of experience within workplace and academic education settings, and has held several roles including trainer, instructional designer, and training/learning manager. She would be happy to provide outlines of the interactive course projects she utilizes and can be reached at

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michelle C published on July 18, 2011 8:51 AM.

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