Transitioning Teaching Online – Teaching Tips


MAR, 2020
Digital Learning
Teaching & Learning

Learning Innovations
Getting Started

At Deakin, most of our units have at least some online component, even if it’s just hosting some of your learning materials in the LMS. However, to keep our community safe and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, we need to move more of our teaching online. We understand that this can seem overwhelming if you haven’t done much (or any) online teaching before, but we are here to help.

The most important thing to remember is that the same basic principles apply to teaching online as teaching face-to-face – being clear about expectations, standards and outcomes; scaffolding learning; providing feedback on learning; supporting and building connections with your students, and helping them connect with each other. But we need to adapt how we do these things to fit the online learning environment.

Here are our top tips for moving your teaching online.

  1. Think about what you actually need

Start by thinking about what learning activities you currently provide – do you have classes, seminars, practicals? Do students need to participate in these types of synchronous activity to achieve the learning outcomes? What aspects of the learning are essential, what aspects might be offered in a different form, and what can be scaled back for now or deferred? We’ve created a set of scenarios to guide you through some of these decisions, suggest alternatives and link you to relevant technologies and resources.

  1. Keep it simple

Make things as easy as possible for yourself and your students. Although we need to change some aspects of our teaching to suit the online environment, let’s not overcomplicate matters. Think about whether there are existing resources you can use instead of creating new ones e.g. can you share a previous trimester’s class recording? If your class is scheduled on campus with lecture capture, can you deliver it in that (empty) classroom anyway so the class recording is captured and uploaded as usual? If you are recording new videos, try to keep them short – are there parts that can be presented as text? And don’t worry about making your videos look fancy – using desktop capture to show your slides and talking directly to your webcam can be just as engaging.  Check out our tips for using videos in teaching and making class recordings as engaging as possible.

  1. Set expectations

As you’ll know, it’s important to discuss expectations at the beginning of any learning experience – what does the unit look like, what are your students expecting, what do you expect of your students and what can they expect from you? This conversation is even more important in the current climate. Just as you are operating on shifting ground and likely feeling a bit overwhelmed, so are your students – they may have little or no experience of online study. Be open with them about the fact that things are changing quickly, and that this is a very different situation to normal, but that we as a university are here to support them. You can help your students navigate online learning by:

  • Helping them understand the technology you will be using, including talking about minimum operating requirements. All students will have access to UniStart, the orientation module in CloudDeakin, so you can direct them to its ‘Digital Tools’ module. You can also direct them to Deakin’s COVID-19 FAQs for students.
  • Setting clear guidelines for what they need to do each week – you may like to use the Checklist function in CloudDeakin for this
  • Being explicit about how different learning activities promote learning and about where students are receiving feedback. For example, ‘Participating in the discussion forums helps you articulate your knowledge and ideas, see different perspectives, and get feedback from me and from other students.’
  1. Start the conversation

Building connections with your students is a huge part of teaching and it’s even more important in an online environment. Online students can’t just ‘bump into’ you at the end of class if they have questions – it takes more effort for them to reach out and it can feel scarier but creating a connection early can help ensure that they do reach out when they need your help. Make sure you leave time to get to know one another at the beginning of your online seminar or in the unit site discussion forums.  

  • Introduce yourself (and bring yourself to the intro) – don’t just leave it at your role and expertise, tell students what interests you about the subject, what you’re excited about learning with them, and maybe even a little about what you do outside of work. Invite students to do the same using the ‘chat’ function or discussion forum.
  • Ask students about themselves. Start with something easy and non-controversial to get the conversation flowing – What are they looking forward to about moving to online learning? What’s the most interesting thing they’ve learnt this week (can be related to the unit or not!)
  1. Keep the conversation going

The discussion forums are more important than ever when teaching online – these are key opportunities for students to connect with you and your peers – so it’s useful to think about how you’ll keep the conversation going. Students are more likely to post in forums if they know you’re paying attention so let them know that you’ll be monitoring the posts even if you’re not responding. Be more active in the forums early on – respond to or ‘like’ posts, and prompt other students to get involved in the conversations – once students are active in the forums, it’s easier to sustain that. Check out some more tips for facilitating discussion forums here.

  1. Try it out

Make sure you practice using any new software before using it for your classes. This is also a good idea for your students – if you’re using BbCollaborate for the first time, can you schedule a trial session before the first seminar so your students can log in, familiarise themselves with the platform and identify any connection issues? For help, check out the CloudDeakin guides – and your students can get help from the IT Help page.  Keep an eye out for “How to use BbCollaborate” sessions which will be available from later this week.

  1. Allow extra time

If you are providing online seminars, be aware that activities take longer online than in person. You’ll need to allow extra time for students to type and share their responses. If you’re using breakout groups in BbCollaborate for group discussions, let students know how long they’ll have in the breakout group and give them a reminder when the time is nearly up.

  1. Check in regularly

It can be tricky sometimes to gauge students’ understanding of the content when you are not in the same room with them so make sure you take plenty of opportunities to clarify their understanding. Post questions in discussion forums, or use quizzes or online polling tools, to check and clarify students’ progress. This is particularly important in the lead-up to assessments.

  1. Take your office hours online

If you have regularly scheduled office hours in which students can come and see you, think about how you’ll offer these online. You might like to schedule drop-in sessions via BbCollaborate or use the chat function in MS Teams. You might let students know that you’ll use that time to respond to their email queries – or suggest that they book a phone consult with you instead.

If you need more assistance please email and we will do our best to help!

For more information and updates please refer to the Transitioning Teaching Online homepage here.

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