How to be a better online teacher

Online course addressing online teaching techniques is College of Education & Human Development’s newest addition

A new online course in the College of Education & Human Development will prepare teachers in higher education for the virtual classroom. Stock image.

As the Graduate Director for the College Teaching Certificate, in the College of Education & Human Development, one of Kathy Smart’s goals is to keep courses fresh.

Now that the University of North Dakota is delivering all of its summer offerings remotely, Smart’s new course, developed over the past year, is about as fresh as they come.

TL 552: Online Teaching Practice & Innovation – an elective in the 12-credit College Teaching Certificate – applies learning science to the online classroom and provides students experiences with web-based tools to enhanced engagement, including some offered by UND, supported by the Teaching Transformation and Development Academy.

Its intent is to provide educators with more ways to engage students online than reading assignments and discussion boards, according to Smart, an associate professor.

“The timing is certainly excellent, there’s no doubt about that,” said Smart.

Different way to engage

Cheryl Hunter, associate professor and chair of the department of teaching, leadership & professional practice, said the impetus for creating the course was the recognition that when teachers move from a traditional classroom to one that’s virtual, they need to think differently.

Cheryl Hunter

Cheryl Hunter

“It’s a different way of teaching and delivering content,” said Hunter of moving online. “It’s not about just videotaping your lecture – it really takes a different way to deliver content, engage students and assess them.”

By opening this course to anyone with a baccalaureate degree and 3.0 grade point average, even outside of the certificate program, Hunter said anyone interested in learning about teaching online can benefit.

The College Teaching Certificate program targets full-time faculty, adjunct professors and graduate students who are interested in professorships and college teaching positions.

But, Smart said, “We get a wide variety of people enrolled, and it’s been a really valuable addition that provides a background of effective teaching skills for students and content area professionals who haven’t had experience in pedagogy.”

As this online teaching course is implemented into the program, Hunter said most areas of the College are looking at additional curriculum content that deals specifically with online teaching.

“We also have to recognize that our K-12 classrooms are going to be looking a lot different,” Hunter said. “Everyone across the board needs to have experience, skills and tools that they can use to transition, should the need arise.”

Web screenshot.

Finding the right tools

For Smart, many of her roles in her education-based career have involved integrating technology into teaching, whether in faculty development, instructional design or instructing online.

“I have been teaching online at the master’s and doctoral level for several years, and I really enjoy it,” she said.

Online Teaching Practice & Innovation is going to involve two different texts about technology and learning, but Smart also wants to create a safe environment for instructors-in-training (or experienced professors, for that matter) to understand the strategies and tools at their disposal in an online classroom.

“With applications such as Yuja or VoiceThread, available at UND, sometimes a person just hasn’t used them yet,” Smart said. “This provides the opportunity to become comfortable with what they can use to deliver and interact with content in synchronous and asynchronous learning environments.

“Once they experience them, then they can probably find ways to apply them in their own courses.”

But first, to start the syllabus, the plan is to provide a brief history of distance education and online learning, including UND’s own rich history.

“Our distance engineering program has been highly successful and admired since the days they sent videotapes back and forth,” Smart said. Last June, UND Today wrote about the 30th anniversary of that program.

Place to grow

Overall, the associate professor sees UND ahead of many in its collective faculty knowledge, as well as the supports in place for instructors to succeed online.

When asked about the biggest challenges for instructors, Smart said there are a variety of factors, though it mostly depends on prior experience. Newer faculty most likely went through their graduate programs using more recently developed tools, but that may not be the case for their seasoned colleagues.

What Smart emphasized, though, is that faculty grow in the medium. Every time they teach a course, employing student feedback, they gain confidence.

“And they’re willing to take some risks and employ some other tools that we have both available at UND and outside,” she said.  “I think there’s just a vast array of possibilities, but it takes time and commitment.”

The baseline approach of Online Teaching Practice & Innovation to online education is that the format can provide similar outcomes to those from a variety of disciplines. It’s a place to start and grow.

“This course is an important addition to the certificate program to keep it current and best serve the students and professionals enrolled in it,” Smart said.

Those interested in the course can learn more by visiting the College of Education & Human Development website.