Tag Archives: #20DayTIOC

Day 20: Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Keep on Learning

Congratulations! With today’s tip, you have now completed the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses. Let’s review, reflect, and look to the future of your online teaching.


  • We spent the first several days setting up your course, your online teaching space, and getting your students started.
  • Then we spent a week on grading, assessment, and feedback methods.
  • We also examined several ways to manage your teaching presence within your online course, ways to respond to student feedback, and verifying student identity.


As you look back on your first four weeks of teaching online, think about these questions:

  • What did you learn in the past 20 days?
  • What is one tip that you want to work on during the rest of this online course?
  • What do you want to learn next?

If you have time, I would appreciate you completing this short survey to help me improve this training sequence in the future.

Photo by airdiogo

Looking Down the Yellow Brick Road

Where else can you keep on learning? Here are some tips to continue the learning journey:

Your Turn

Respond. Take the survey to provide feedback on this 20 Day Challenge. If you have ideas or suggestions for future 20 Day Challenges, please comment!

This post is Day 20 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.

Day 19: Frustrations with Teaching Online

Photo by Microsoft
Photo by Microsoft

Now that you are almost 4 weeks into your online course, there may be some things about online teaching that are frustrating you. In today’s tips, we’ll look at some common frustrations and some potential solutions.

  • Students don’t follow instructions. Include instructions in the syllabus, in your weekly email, and in the pace where students are submitting an assignment. Don’t just post it one place. Think of how you remind students in face-to-face classes. Think of this as digital reminders! More tips here.
  • Students are complaining about working in groups. Coordination is difficult for online students. Careful group work design, as well as instructor intervention can help. Research study with suggested strategies here.
  • Challenges in communicating with international students. Time zones, poor email communication, and assumptions can cause frustration and communication problems. Be sure you know where your students are from and what their learning challenges may be. Be patient and compassionate; model good communication. More tips and scenarios here.
  • Technology problems. Don’t try to use too many new tech tools at the same time in a class. Use the phone when needed; use your institution’s tech support to help you support students.
  • Busyness. An online class can take over your life if you aren’t careful. Establish limits. Maintain and guard your online teaching space and time.

More perils and frustrations along with suggestions chronicled here.

Your Turn

Reflect. What is frustrating you about teaching online? What can you do about it? What resources can you utilize (Google searches, your online course support team, etc.) to address any challenges?

This post is Day 19 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.

Day 18: Are Your Online Students Who They Say They Are?

Photo by Identity Theft Protection

A growing challenge for online courses is verifying the identity of online students. One issue is verifying that the student who registered is the one doing the work – which is a challenge in both face-to-face and online courses. Another issue is whether the student who is logging into the class is actually the student who registered for the course. Identity authentication is also important in preventing financial aid fraud. You can read more about these issues here.

At Andrews University, we use four main methods of verifying student identity:

  • Secure login and password
  • Exam proctoring
  • TurnItIn for plagiarism checking.
  • Live presentations or live course sessions or live Skype video conversations with the instructor
  • Individual classes may use other methods as well.

Secure Login and Password

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 regulations currently require a minimum of a secure login and password. This is cared for by students logging into your course in Moodle with their Andrews ID and password. If you are using a textbook publisher’s content and homework site, students are logging in securely there too, but you should include at least a few assignments where students login to the Andrews Moodle.

Exam Proctoring

If your course has an exam, we strongly recommend that you have the exam proctored, and that it has appropriate weight in the class requirements. We provide proctoring services for online courses, so email dlit@andrews.edu to arrange for this if you haven’t already. Other tips for exams include:

  • Randomizing questions from a test bank (but note the loopholes with this)
  • Randomize the order of answers for multiple choice questions
  • Set a short window for completing the test
  • Use Respondus Lock Down browser to reduce students’ ability to use other windows while in the exam (email dlit@andrews.edu to arrange for this)
  • Don’t allow students to see the answers on the test until everyone has taken the test.

Plagiarism Checking

Andrews University uses TurnItIn to check essays and other written assignments for plagiarism. This tool helps to address the issue of academic integrity, but it’s important to know that students can buy custom essays which plagiarism checkers will not catch.

You can also help prevent plagiarism by designing assignments that require thinking beyond comprehension, and teaching students how to use and evaluate Internet sources.

Live Interaction

Skype, Adobe Connect, Google Hangout, when used with a webcam, are potential ways to SEE your students to verify their identity. Instructional ideas include:

  • Live course sessions. Be sure to engage students in responding back to test their knowledge “live” as compared to assignments and other online interactions.
  • Live Skype sessions one-on-one with the instructor. For students who need further assistance or need a consultation.
  • Live student presentations. If you have a very project-based course, exam proctoring may not be an appealing assessment option. Live student presentations are another method to verify identity.

Compare the student you see on the webcam with their admissions photo. In the admissions process, students’ photos are added to their profile in Banner. You can see them by logging into Vault, go to iVue, the view the class roster. These photos are also used in Moodle. You can do this easily by just having a window open with the Banner class roster while you are taking attendance in your live session.

For Further Study

Your Turn

Reflect. How do you know students are who they say they are in your face-to-face classes? How do you know they are doing their own work? What tips or concerns would you add to the list from today’s tips?

This post is Day 18 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.

Day 17: Staying in Tune with Your Students

2013-01adultstudentAs you and your students settle into the routine of your online course, you will find yourself learning more about your students and their situations and needs. Through your interaction with your students, you should be learning:

  • Their background and interest in the course
  • What prior knowledge they have about the content
  • If they are an adult learner, what experience they have with the content and/or skills covered in the course
  • Where they are located and what time(s) of the week they tend to participate in the course
  • If they are an adult learner, how their work schedule impacts their participation in the course

As you get to know your students and their needs, you can adjust schedules, timing of live sessions, discussion questions, and even options for assignments based on their needs and what they bring to the course.

Time Zones

One area that is challenging to online teachers is dealing with the various time zones represented by the students in the class. Keeping track of time zones can help you with scheduling live sessions, knowing better times to call the student on the phone, and knowing when you might hear back from them. Here are some tips to help you with time zones:

  • Once you know the timezones of your students, make yourself a little chart similar to the one below:
    • 9:00 Eastern / 7:00 Mountain / 6:00 Pacific
    • 11:00 Eastern / 9:00 Mountain / 8:00 Pacific
  • Time and Date.com is a great site for assistance with time zones.
  • Use Qlock to put a time zone widget on your desktop (don’t be fooled by the paid versions – there’s a link to the free one below the prices.)
  • Put a time zone widget in one of the HTML blocks in Moodle.
    • Find a timezone widget that you like, and add the time zones of your students
    • Copy the embed code (it’s HTML code)
    • Add an HTML block in Moodle
      • Click the pencil to edit the block
      • Click the HTML button to switch to HTML mode
      • Paste in the HTML code
      • Don’t forget to add a block title
      • SAVE!

Your Turn

Reflect. How do you keep tabs on the needs of your students in a face to face class? Do you feel that you have a good sense of where your students are in your online class? What else can you do to stay connected to their needs and experiences with the course?

This post is Day 17 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.

Day 16: Responding to Student Feedback

By now in your online course, you should be starting to receive feedback from students – both informally as they share in the discussion forums and as they interact with you, and formally through your online survey (if you set it up).

How to View Survey Results in Moodle

If you set up a survey for your course (or we set one up for you) to collect early student feedback, here is how to review the results:

  • Click on the name of the survey in Moodle
  • If your survey has responses, it will have a tab for the responses as shown. Click All responses to view.

Review the responses from students. How are they doing? Are there any areas of concern? What can you do to adjust? Let’s consider some common potential challenges:

Organization of Course Materials

If students are having a hard time finding materials or understanding what to do in the course, you may need to:

Instructor with Students in Computer Lab
Image by Microsoft

Instructor Presence

If students don’t feel they are receiving enough feedback and don’t feel that you are “present”, you may need to add additional strategies for establishing your faculty presence:

Learning Community

If students don’t yet feel connected to each other, you may need to work on your learning community.

  • If the course is larger than 12-15 students, you may need to split the students into groups for the discussion forum.
  • Review what opportunities the students have so far to communicate with each other – on content or not. What else could you add to facilitate? (a water cooler forum, an online chapel, etc.)
  • Offer a live session if you haven’t already.


Review the comments from students. Are there any issues that should be addressed with the whole class? Include your comments in the News Forum or in your Weekly Email.

Your Turn:

Reflect. How do you adjust to student feedback in a face-to-face course? How do you decide what is a valid complaint that needs addressing and what is just a complaint? What ways can you help distance students feel less “distant” as you respond to their feedback?

This post is Day 16 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.

Day 15: Ideas for an Online Chapel

Andrews University is a Christian school; and therefore faith integration in online learning is an important value and task. Among other statements, the Andrews University Mission Statement includes this: Andrews University students will seek knowledge as they understand life, learning, and civic responsibility from a Christian point of view. How this is done makes for interesting discussion and research. There are certainly many viewpoints on the best way to integrate faith and learning; as well as different views on what it really means.

In my view, though, the core is how an instructor’s whole being as a person of faith is evidenced in the teaching and learning process. The evidence may come in instructor-student interaction, in discussion on how the Christian worldview intersects with the content knowledge, in how students are viewed and treated as whole persons made in the image of God, in the instructor’s teaching presence.

Photo by Microsoft and iStockPhoto
Photo by Microsoft and iStockPhoto

That being said, some instructors prefer to have a devotional thought or prayer time at the beginning of class in a face to face environment. The question, then, is how to do this in an online classroom. I share these tips with the hope that “tacking on a online chapel” to your regular course content is not the only way that faith is integrated in your online teaching. However, this is one option among many, and I have found that my online students appreciate the opportunity to share and participate in an online chapel.

Set the Tone

The first thing you need in an online chapel is invitational language that sets the tone. Words are powerful and can invoke an emotional and spiritual response. An online chapel can feel “weird” to the first-time online student, so connect it to something they know and have experienced. For example:

Come in quietly…. Take a deep breath. Imagine you’re in a forest chapel. Come into our online chapel and feel the Spirit take your load away. Rest a moment. Share a prayer request, or pray “aloud” by typing a prayer for a classmate. Have a comment or reflection on one of the Bible verses or quotes in the course content pages? Share that here too if you wish….

Think of your favorite place to worship. Share a word picture or digital picture. These connections to real-life help students feel connected to each other, to you, to God.

Write Out Prayers

In your face to face classes, and with students one-on-one, you pray aloud with them. Do it online too! But in an asynchronous format, that means writing out the prayers. This can feel uncomfortable at first, but it definitely means a lot to students to hear you pray for them (or to read your prayers). Model this for your students, and soon you will notice that they will write prayers for each other as well. This is an important part of building your learning community (or social presence). For example:

Dear Father in Heaven,

As I finish my Thanksgiving weekend celebrations, I thank You for each teacher who is taking this class right now. Thank You for their service and sacrifices for Your kids; for their prayers for Your children and their parents; for all the seen and unseen work they do in supporting the learning of their students.

I thank You for blessing them with time and energy as they take this class – and I pray that You will continue that blessing as they finish up. Give them clear thinking, efficiency, and thoughtfulness as they work towards the finish and things get busy and crazy at school. Give them Your peace at the core of their hearts – a certain knowledge that You will sustain them through each task, and that Your presence is there in their classrooms, their homes, and their place of study for this class.

We love You. We thank You for Your sacrifice for us. We give You ourselves as we serve You. Bless us this week!

We ask all this in Jesus’ name.


Share Devotional Thoughts

What do you usually share with students in your face-to-face classes? Some instructors have devotional thoughts with a tight connection to the content. Others find hymns, quotes, and Scripture to encourage best effort, hard work, and strength for the journey. Share, and encourage students to share as well.

Finally, find a balance. Encourage students to participate. Try not to dominate the online chapel area. Be invitational and encouraging and true to your own personality and faith journey!

Your Turn

Reflect. What ways is your faith journey and Christian viewpoint evident in your face-to-face classes? How do you encourage students to consider content in the perspective of their faith? What other ideas do you have for an online chapel or for integrating faith online?

This post is Day 15 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.

Day 14: Timesaver Tips for Teaching Online

Photo by Microsoft
Photo by Microsoft

Teaching online takes up your time in different ways, which can make it feel like it is taking more time. Van de Vord and Pogue (2012) found that “overall, face-to-face teaching required more time per student, but certain aspects of online teaching take considerably more time per student than in the face-to-face classroom.” So today, let’s look at some ways to save you time!

Organize Student Communication

  • We’ve already discussed ways to organize student communication via email.
  • Using online forums can save time if you answer most student questions “publicly” instead of individually via email. Some forums you may wish to include are:
    • News
    • Tech Help
    • Process Questions
    • Chit-Chat or Watercooler
  • Respond to student issues to the whole class instead of individually to each student.

Reuse Language for Weekly Emails

We’ve talked about the importance of weekly emails. But you can save time creating these as well. My weekly emails follow this pattern:

  • An overview of the upcoming content. I copy & paste my intro text from the course content into the email.
  • Issues, notes about grading, holiday information, etc. This part changes each week based on what is going on in the class.
  • A suggested schedule for the week. I use the same language throughout my class, so this is an easy copy & paste.
  • How to get help. This is the same language throughout the course as well.

I also save my emails from one session of the class to the next. This way I can easily reuse the text. But it’s important to read it over to ensure that all the text still applies!

Software Tips

At USDLA 2012, I listened to online teacher, Darcy Christianson, share several of her tips for busy online teachers. My full notes are online here.

  • Use a shortcut text replacer software to reuse text in writing feedback to students. For example, Shortkeys.com.
  • Set up rubrics in Excel so that you can select the score and the comments are automatically filled in.
  • Use software like Jing to scroll through student work and respond verbally (with audio).

Your Turn

Reflect. How do you save time in teaching face-to-face? What ideas do you have for saving time online? What areas do you wish you had more ideas for saving time in teaching online?

This post is Day 14 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.

Day 13: Dealing with Challenging Students

Occasionally online students will present special problems. Some challenges you may experience include:

  • Discussion domination
  • Student may seem to be completely unprepared f
    Photo by Microsoft and iStockphoto
    Photo by Microsoft and iStockphoto

    or the level of work required

  • Academic dishonesty
  • Disappearing group members
  • Belligerent and opinionated students
  • Additional scenarios of difficult online students


  • Be clear and explicit in your expectations in the syllabus.
  • Model expected online behavior.
  • Be clear and concise on how students are graded (rubrics, final grade, etc.).


  • Address issues individually with the student. Document conversations and explanations via email; use the phone when appropriate.
  • Set a tolerant tone in the class: explain that all opinions will be respected in the forums.
  • Withdraw the student from the discussion forum and do individual journals if necessary
  • Intervene quickly and supportively


Several options are in place to assist you with serving challenging students.

  • Your department chair and dean
  • The School of Distance Education Director of Student Services
  • The Student Success department
  • The associate dean for online higher education
  • University instructional designer

Additional resources and strategies can be found at these two websites:

Your Turn

Reflect. How do you deal with difficult students in your face-to-face teaching? What principles and strategies can guide you in your work in online teaching?

This post is Day 13 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.

Day 12: Nurturing a Lively, Vibrant Online Discussion

Your online discussion forums and any live sessions you conduct are a critical component of your “faculty presence” and “learning community” in your online courses (Swan, 2002; Gosmire, Morrison & Van Osdel, 2009). In classes where there is no interaction, students frequently complain that they feel like they did not “get anything” for their money. They feel like they could have just read all of this on their own and why did they need the instructor? To address this challenge, today we examine tips for vibrant online discussions.

Asking Good Questions

  • Ask questions that lead to critical thinking and higher level thinking.
  • Invite students to share opinions, take sides on an issue, to analyze options.
  • Invite students to share their experiences as they relate to the content (Freed and Lim, 2001).
  • Spark students’ interest with current news (Rochester Institute of Technology 2008)


  • Use student moderators. Have them take turns asking quality questions based on the content. If needed, teach them how to ask good questions.
  • Split students into groups of 3-7 for online discussion. This makes the conversation easier to follow  (Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 2010).

Your Presence

With practice and over time, you will find the strategies and online teaching behaviors that fit your style and beliefs about learning, as well as meet the unique needs of online students.

Weekly Routine Reminder

Just a reminder of this recommended weekly routine:

  • Review and grade all new work.
  • Send your weekly email.
  • Ensure all student emails from the previous week have been addressed and answered.

Your Turn

Reflect. How are your online discussions going so far? Are students active, engaged, and wrestling with application and synthesis of the content? If not, what can you do to nudge them to further interaction? What ideas from this list do you want to try next?

This post is Day 12 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.

Day 11: Collecting Student Feedback

During the past several tips, we’ve been examining grading and providing feedback to students. However, it is also helpful to collect feedback from students to see how they are interacting with the online course and what can be improved.

When To Ask for Feedback

Magna 20 Minute Mentors suggests asking for student feedback at these key times:

  • The first day of class
  • Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
    Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

    After pivotal classes

  • At the time of the first exam or paper
  • When the first exam or paper is returned with a grade
  • At midterms

Ways to Collect Feedback

  • Use a Google Form (video tutorial) (then you can aggregate data across sections/sessions of courses for research and analysis)
  • Use the Moodle Survey (overview – it comes with preset research-based surveys only)
  • Use the Moodle Feedback tool (overview)
  • Create a discussion forum – call it “process issues” or something similar. Invite students to share issues or challenges they have with the process of the course.

Sample Questions

My favorite questions are open-ended:

  • How are you doing in the course so far? Sometimes this is all I ask in a weekly or bi-weekly survey.

For new courses, I like more detail:

  • Are the course materials organized in a way that is easy to follow? Do you find it easy to understand what to do?
  • Are you receiving sufficient feedback and comments from your instructor? Do you feel your instructor is “present” in the course?
  • How is the pace of the class?
  • How many hours per week on average are you spending on this class? This is useful if you’re unsure of the load of the course.
  • Any other comments? Places where you’re stuck?

More tips from Faculty Focus: Using Multiple Course Evaluations to Engage and Empower Your Students and Yourself.

20% Online Course Evaluations

At Andrews University, (starting January 2013), we automatically add early course evaluations to all online courses. These are added to the course when about 20% of the course time has past (For a semester course after the 3rd week; for an 8 week course, after 1.5 weeks; for a 4 week course, at the end of the 1st week). We use the aggregate data to see how we are doing as a university in our online courses; and if needed the instructional design team will work with faculty members to provide additional training or resources.

The questions on this survey are:

  • Likert Scale:
    • The course materials are organized in a way that is easy to follow.
    • So far in the class, I have found it easy to understand what to do.
    • I am receiving sufficient feedback and comments from my instructor.
    • I feel that my instructor is “present” in the course.
    • I am starting to get to know the other students in the class.
  • Open ended:
    • How many hours per week on average are you spending on this class (include online and offline time working on the class)?
    • Any other comments? Places where you’re stuck?

Your Turn

Reflect. How comfortable are you in collecting feedback from students? What principles do you use in interpreting the feedback? What other ideas do you have for collecting and using feedback for improving online courses?

This post is Day 11 of the 20 Day Challenge to Teaching Interactive Online Courses.