First Time Teaching Online? 13+ Resources to Help Implement Your Course

Written by: Christie Forgette

Even for experienced instructors, teaching online for the first time can be intimidating and challenging. However, designing and teaching an online course has many benefits, including a chance to reflect on teaching practices, learn new tools, and collaborate with instructional designers and other colleagues in new ways.

“Teaching online” can refer to a variety of tools and methods, including fully remote and asynchronous courses. Even many fully face-to-face courses on a residential campus will involve digital learning tools of some kind, including courseware as a textbook replacement. In between those two poles is a range of hybrid teaching modalities with synchronous and asynchronous elements.

In any sense of the term, teaching online provides faculty with an opportunity to lower barriers to equity for minoritized and low-income students for whom online learning is often the best option. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity and the need to explore teaching and learning in online modalities have never been greater. If you will be teaching online for the first time and are wondering where to start, here are 13+ resources to help you plan and execute a successful online course. 

Comprehensive Starting Points for Online Teaching

The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) has created an Effective Online Instruction webinar series that adds up to a comprehensive and useful guide for first-time online instructors. The series covers topics such as engaging students, organizing a course, facilitating discussion, and maintaining instructor presence. Particularly helpful is the Online Teaching Toolkit, which features capsule videos and recommendations for keystone elements of an online course, such as creating a welcome video.

The Online Learning Consortium, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and Every Learner Everywhere published and later updated A Playbook for Faculty on the topic of digital teaching and learning in response to the many instructors teaching online for the first time at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The playbook uses a “design, enhance, optimize” framework to help instructors build an online course while centering equity.

The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips, 3rd Edition by Judith V. Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad is a wide-ranging book that offers a practical starting point for first-time online teachers. Among the teaching practices it covers are course management techniques, social presence, community building, discussion and questioning techniques, and assessment.

Personal Reflections from First-Time Online Instructors

The Community College of Philadelphia’s Teaching Slam: How to Engage Students in Synchronous Classes features six instructors from different disciplines. Each offers a short slide presentation on one facet of online learning, such as icebreakers, student engagement, and collaborative learning.

In “Take My Advice,” Jean Dimeo asked 17 faculty from a variety of institutions and disciplines relay their best tips for online teaching. The instructors have unique perspectives on what they find to be the most useful piece of advice for first-time online instructors.  

For a more detailed reflection of online instruction from one instructor’s perspective, Andrew Vanden Heuvel’s “10 Tips for First-Time Online Faculty” offers advice for building a course and encouraging student engagement. Vanden Heuvel, who teaches astronomy online for several community colleges, includes strategies for time management to keep faculty members from becoming overwhelmed. 

“Thinking on Your Feet: Reflections of a First-Time Online Instructor,” by Ashley Albrand, adjunct law instructor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, describes and reflects on the experience of a faculty team designing and implementing an online course for the first time. Albrand discusses the challenges the team members faced as they planned and delivered the course and includes an example syllabus. 

Teaching Online Resources from Centers for Teaching and Learning

The University of Central Florida’s Center for Distributed Learning shares Teach Online, an extensive online teaching resource for instructors of all disciplines. It includes a series of short videos called “Tips from Faculty to Faculty,” a teaching online pedagogical repository, a guide to creating course videos, and information on both open education resources and adaptive learning. The University of Central Florida also hosts a monthly podcast on online teaching pedagogy and practices.

The University of Notre Dame Learning provides a broad resource page for effective online teaching. It includes an application of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework for online courses, as well as advice for developing an online teaching persona and discussions of effectively using Zoom. 

The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching put together a comprehensive list of resources, guides, and podcasts for instructors who were navigating the shift to online teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the list remains relevant.

Purdue University Innovative Learning maintains a wide-ranging repository of downloadable online teaching and learning documents. Each document includes an overview of an online teaching topic, evidence-based practices, and advice for implementation of the topic ideas.

Sheryl Burgstahler, at the University of Washington Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology Center, posted a useful resource for ensuring accessibility in an online course. Burgstahler began teaching online in 1995 and has developed a set of practical tips for accessible course materials and inclusive pedagogy in synchronous and asynchronous courses.

Check Your Online Syllabus

Finally, first-time instructors of online courses may be concerned with how the unfamiliar context will influence the workload they design into their courses. Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence shares a Course Workload Estimator to help answer that question. Instructors can input estimates for variables, including pages of reading and writing and number of exams and other assessment or practice activities.

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