10 Best Practices for Online Teaching

Class text book:

Boettcher, J.V. & Conrad, R.M., 2010. The Online Teaching Survival Guide – Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips

Best Practice 1: Be present at the course site

There are many ways that I do this with the course I am currently teaching. First, I have posted a personal video introduction to the course and to each unit within the course. Secondly, I have created mini-tutorials for key concepts that I know students often struggle with. Thirdly, I make an effort to comment on forum posts. Lastly, I frequently post announcements with information that I think will be useful or interesting for the students.

Best Practice 2: Create a supportive online course community

Right now, one of the ways I do this is to have everyone post an introduction of themselves to the entire group, telling the group what some of their interests are and what brought them to nursing. I also have them e-mail me directly and I respond personally to each of them. The course includes a Q&A forum that I encourage students to use to ask questions and also to answer each others questions. I keep an eye on this forum in case something needs further clarification. I was also considering doing some kind of team building activity but as I just read today (can’t remember where exactly) that some adults may feel that they don’t have time for that kind of thing and want to get right to the course content. At the moment, my students see each other in every other course they take so maybe they don’t need that kind of activity to establish a sense of community online. One time that I ran my pharmacology course, I actually divided them online into groups of 8 for the discussion forum. This really seemed to help establish that sense of community and most of the groups took themselves quite seriously as groups, even studying together outside of class time. The one drawback I found was that if a student posted something really valuable or asked a question in the discussion forum or if I added something to the discussion, I felt that the entire class should be privileged to that same information. I found that I spent a lot of time cutting and pasting and worrying that I’d forgotten to include one of the groups. Right now my pharm class is divided into two groups of 22 and one group of 10. I’m hoping that this will be manageable.

Best Practice 3: Develop a set of explicit expectations for your learners and for yourself as to how you will communicate and how much time students should be working on the course each week

My pharmacology course has a section right at the top of the main page called “communication” that outlines how instructors and students can communicate with each other. My course includes an announcements forum and a Q&A forum. Generally, I use the announcements forum to communicate important course information and the students use the Q&A forum to ask and answer each others’ course related questions. The communication section of my course tells my students that I am available by e-mail at almost anytime up until about 8:30 at night.

I think I need to be more explicit about the time committment that the students can expect in this course. The problem is, that I’m not entirely sure what the time committment is. This course is heavy on memorization and students really vary in how long it takes them to memorize material.

Best Practice 4: Use a variety of large group, small group and individual work experiences

This is something that I have struggled with so far. Pharmacology doesn’t lend itself well to group work as there are no assignments. It is just exams. In the Health Promotion course that I’m working on, I have included one assignment that the students do in pairs and I’m trying to think of something that they could do in a small group. One idea I have is to restructure one of their case study assignments. I have to give some more thought to how I will do this.

Best Practice 5: Use synchronous and asynchronous activities

So far, the online courses that I have taught and developed include only asynchronous activities, however, I am considering doing a synchronous tutorial for my group of students that are out in Agassiz. They actually meet in their classroom to work on pharmacology online. I have asked them to identify concepts that they find difficult and would like a tutorial on. I may try to create a tutorial that I can post online, but I was also thinking of skyping with them in their class to explain the concept they need help with.

Best Practice 6: Ask for informal feed back early

In my current pharmacology course, I had each student e-mail me and then I e-mailed them back. Part of my e-mail to them was telling them that I am always trying to improve this course and would appreciate their feedback. In addition, I have included a formative evaluation survey in class 5 to get more official feedback. I was planning to add a weekly survey in my Health Promotion class to get a feel for how valuable and realistic assignments were for the students, time committment, etc…

Best Practice 7: Prepare discussion posts that invite responses, questions, discussions and reflections

In my pharmacology course, there is a weekly discussion forum but I would have to say, that the questions are really more just knowledge types of questions with the occasional question that asks the student to reflect. In some weekly forums, I post a number of questions and asks the students to choose one until all questions have been answered. The students can then use this as a resource to help them study.

In my Health Promotion course, I have also included a weekly discussion forum where I try to elicit more discussion and reflection. I want to include a discussion on Harm Reduction. An example of harm reduction is handing out clean needles to injection drug users. This is a controversial topic as some people feel that by handing out clean needles, we are promoting drug abuse. Others feel that these people are going to abuse drugs anyway so we may as well try to keep them from getting and transmitting HIV, Hep B, etc… which will create more problems in the end. I definitely need to encourage critical thinking in this course.

Best Practice 8: Search out and use content resources that are available in digital format if possible

In my pharmacology course, the two main resources are text books. Having said that, the students can also load them onto their computers, ipads, etc… What I hear students saying, is that they still like to have the hard copy text to flip through and highlight at home but they really like having their texts on their laptop or ipad to carry around with them, to use at school, the library, the coffee shop, on the bus, etc… I have included links to online resources in this class – journal articles which I have accessed and linked to through our library, online videos, a youtube song video that some other nursing students created to memorize drug classifications, a website that pronounces drug names, etc…

In Health Promotion, I have linked to a number of Government of Canada health promotion documents, information on immunizations, nutrition information, videos on prenatal development, etc… There nursing text books are also resources for this course, though I haven’t used a specific Health Promotion text. I want to continue to add online resources. In part, because they are easy to access and also because as a part of being a nurse, we need to know where to find and how to access these resources that are out there.

Best Practice 9: Combine core concept learning with customized and personal learning

Pharmacology only includes core concept learning. There is no opportunity at this point for personal learning. I’m not sure if this is relevant to this type of course. Health Promotion, on the other hand is more flexible in that regard and there is some choice within assignments. One of the assignments asks student to attend a support group in their community. They can choose any support group they are interested in. Other assignments ask them to choose a community to look at to determine what health promotion activities are available for certian populations.

Best Practice 10: Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course

This is something that I haven’t really done for pharmacology though their final forum in one of my pharm courses is to share three things that they have learned throughout the course and in my other pharm course, I ask the students to create 3 study questions to help themselves and the other students study for the final exam.  I have to give this some more thought though.

In Health Promotion, I ask the students to do two end of term assignments. One has them summarizes their contribution to the discussion forums and the other asks them to reflect on the most important learning that occurred for them during the course.

Lin, H., Dyer, K. & Guo, Y. (n.d.). Exploring online Teaching: A three-year composite journal of concerns and strategies from online instructors. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2013 from

Poe, M. & Stassen M.L.A. (Eds.). (n.d.). Teaching and Learning Online: Communication, community and assessment. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2013 from


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