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Student-Centered Online Teaching: Ten Best Practices Dr. Susan Ko, Executive Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Maryland, University College FSI 2005 Keynote, May 17, 2005 Where are we now?

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student centered online teaching ten best practices

Student-Centered Online Teaching:Ten Best Practices

Dr. Susan Ko,

Executive Director,

Center for Teaching and Learning,

University of Maryland, University College

FSI 2005 Keynote, May 17, 2005

where are we now
Where are we now?

Online learning no longer a novelty. There is a body of experience and standards we can build on

consensus on basic standards
Consensus on Basic Standards
  • Commission on Institutions of Higher Education--Best Practices for Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs (1999)
  • The Sloan Consortium Report—Five Pillars of Quality Online Education (2002)
  • Institute for Higher Education Policy—Quality on the Line—Benchmarks for Success in Internet Based Distance Education (2002)
we have come far
We have come far…

But misconceptions and fears about online education still abound

common misconceptions and fears
Common Misconceptions and Fears
  • It’s an either-or world—online in competition with face-to-face
  • Faculty are helpless technophobes and technoboobs
  • The quality of learning online is superficial
  • Nuance of expression and personality are lost online
more misconceptions and fears
… more misconceptions and fears
  • Online instructors have to be online 24 hours a day
  • You need to be a computer-nerd. People-oriented people don’t do well online
and even more fears
…and even more…fears

Online students are big cheaters!

the specter of alienation
The Specter of Alienation

Unlike face-to-face classes, online classes are cold and alienating.

This is the teacher

instructor as social director
Instructor as Social Director?

Online teaching reduces my role to “mere facilitator”

Shuffleboard, anyone?

student centered teaching what is it
Student-centered teaching—what is it?
  • Focused on outcomes, assignments aligned with learning objectives
  • Attuned to student audience needs
  • Promotes active learning and engagement
  • Offers multiple modes of feedback and interaction
  • Provides paths for practice, reinforcement, and growth
  • Enthusiasm for subject and concern for students are evident
but it s not
But it’s not…
  • Too much or not enough content from instructor
  • Assignments and readings without any guidelines or connection to objectives
  • Posting a question on Monday and coming back to see what happened on Friday
  • The “surprise” class—keeping students guessing about what, when, and how
some challenges for online instructors
Some Challenges for Online Instructors
  • Communication, communication, etc.
  • Coherent and logical organization of classroom, materials, etc.
  • Planning and time-management
  • Establishing presence and conveying personality, transforming “virtual” students into real ones
  • Focus on teaching, but learn the technology
  • Building classroom community
research on best practices
Research on Best Practices

University of Maryland, University College

Office of Evaluation, Research and Grants—

Best Online Instructional Practices Study

Three-phase research study (2002-2005) on online classrooms, based on student evaluations,instructor survey instrument on teaching practices, retention data, and outcomes.


The study uses a mixed-methods approach:

  • 1) A survey of participating instructors’ experience as teachers using Instructional Practices Inventory
  • 2) Peer-review of archived courses
  • 3) Interviews with selected instructors and use of focus groups among them
  • 4) Student class evaluations and institutional data and their association with teaching practices
  • 5) Detailed assessment of learning outcomes
sample used in study
Sample Used in Study
  • Piloted with small sample of highly achieving faculty (8 faculty)
  • Extended study to a representative sample (114 facultymembers)
  • Identified best practitioners and learned how practices are implemented via interviews (38 exemplary faculty)
  • Implemented a detailed assessment plan measuring learning outcomes (15 selected courses)
expectations for online teaching
Expectations for Online Teaching

Expectations for Classroom Setup and Online Teaching

  • Consensus document on base-line set of expectations for faculty teaching online
  • Posted on our Website
  • Widely distributed through training, faculty handbooks, orientations, etc.
best practice 1 design your course
Best Practice #1—Design your Course

Put some thought into your course design


  • Identify and reinforce course goals and objectives throughout the course
  • Make sure your assignments are aligned with your learning objectives
  • Build in safeguards against cheating and plagiarism through assignment design
  • Pay attention to the pace and sequence
  • Be consistent in organization, nomenclature
best practice 2 use variety of learning approaches
Best Practice #2—Use Variety of Learning Approaches

Different approaches stimulate interest, appeal and provide challenges to different learners


  • Use case studies, peer-to-peer activities, project-based assignments, debates, guest speakers
  • Integrate multimedia, library and Web-resources so that they are intrinsically valuable
  • Provide guidelines for all group activities
best practice 3 be prepared
Best Practice #3—Be Prepared

Online courses require an initial large investment of time and preparation, and updating thereafter


  • Build out as much of your course as possible before it launches
  • Update each time before it runs, and refresh from time to time
best practice 4 start out strong
Best Practice #4—Start Out Strong

Start out on a good footing from 1st day:


  • “Be there” to welcome the class—warm greeting with instructions on getting started
  • Introductions forum—icebreakers (you, too)
  • A detailed syllabus and schedule with contact info, dates for each unit of course, directions, criteria, due dates for assignments, participation, grading
best practice 5 provide for interaction
Best Practice #5—Provide for Interaction

Provide opportunities for interaction between instructor and students, students with students, and student with content


  • Interact with students in classroom on a regular and frequent basis—through announcements, discussion board, emails to whole class
  • Encourage students to talk with one other, not only to you
more on interaction
More onInteraction
  • Design assignments that involve sharing of ideas, or team-work
  • Build an assignment around a primary source, multimedia, or Web resource
  • Facilitate but don’t dominate discussion
  • Start initial discussion threads to get things moving
  • Define participation and give credit for it
  • Send a personal email as friendly reminder to students who are not participating
best practice 6 promote active learning and critical thinking
Best Practice #6—Promote Active Learning and Critical Thinking

Build in critical thinking and active learning strategies

  • Ask students to research and defend a position
  • Routinely ask follow-up questions while facilitating discussion, encourage students to do the same
  • Design assignments that require students to substantiate their ideas, verify and document their information
best practice 7 connect to real life experience
Best Practice #7—Connect to Real-life Experience

Encourage students to apply real-world experience to course content

  • Encourage students to draw on personal examples and observations that are relevant to the course
  • Tie contemporary events or issues to course content
  • Whenever possible, encourage students to incorporate their own goals into study
best practice 8 give feedback
Best Practice #8—Give Feedback

Give regular, timely, and varied forms of feedback


  • Clearly describe grading and assignment criteria
  • Use rubrics to help guide students as well as to simplify feedback and grading process
  • Respond to students as promptly as possible
more on feedback
More on Feedback


  • Provide individualized feedback on key assignments, and special attention to first major assignment
  • Let students know how they can improve
  • Refer students to resources for assistance whenever appropriate and available
  • Carefully structured peer review can provide a valuable element
best practice 9 clearly define grading criteria and processes
Best Practice #9—Clearly Define Grading Criteria and Processes

Clearly defined, systematic grading criteria to guide student work, manage expectations

  • Provide rubrics or clearly defined criteria up front
  • Let students know your “turn-around” time
  • Let students check progress through online gradebook
  • Provide individual incentive on group projects
best practice 10 maintain enthusiasm
Best Practice #10—Maintain Enthusiasm

Maintain your own enthusiasm about the subject matter and communicate that enthusiasm to students


  • Stay organized
  • Be an active presence in the class
and more enthusiasm
and more enthusiasm


Make sure assignment load is reasonable

For the sake of your students, but for you, too!

No fois gras, please!!!

and even more enthusiasm
and even more enthusiasm


  • Review and assess your own skills, teaching methods and style on a regular basis
  • Analyze student evaluations to learn areas of strength and areas for improvement
  • Keep current in your field
  • Set an example for your students of life-long learning—participate in faculty development activities like those offered by ION
thank you
Thank you!
  • Bring your questions to the “Online Teaching Clinic”
  • Feel free to contact me in the future at