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While I have never taught completely online courses, I have been teaching hybrid courses and using online course management programmes for many years. This article provides a few tips and guidelines for maximizing a positive online experience for students.

Set limits on your availability

Many educators who teach online courses for the first time express feeling overwhelmed by the initial work involved in setting up a course, and the need to be available to students at all hours of the day. While it is important to accommodate different learning schedules, you should set limits for yourself and your students. Clearly articulate and post your availability online at the beginning of the semester and more importantly, stick to these limits and be available when you say you will be available.

Find creative ways to interact

In my opinion, the best educators are those who find creative ways to connect with their students. below are simple ways to maximize the online learning environment.

  1. Send a postcard – Teaching an online class can mean that you have students from all over the country. Get to know them by having them send an introductory postcard from their Emirate/City/Country.
  2. Online icebreakers – My students probably thought I was crazy because I would spend the first class taking their photos and doing icebreakers. It is just as important in an online environment to take the time to encourage student interactions. Have students create online profiles with photos and find creative ways to encourage the class to network with each other.
  3. Create regular online group meetings – A colleague of mine would split his class into groups and require them to meet using video group chat technologies to discuss assignment issues or specific course topics. This allows students to interact with each other and the educator on a regular basis.
  4. Start discussions and require additional responses – remember when teaching online to start discussions that require interaction and not just summaries of course content. Require students to interact with other students’ comments.
  5. Multi-media assignments – Encourage students to learn and use a variety of multi-media tools (Press release, Word Press, Prezi, PowerPoint). With smart phone video technologies and social media platforms, there are a variety of creative assignments you can require. To avoid major stress, never use an application or platform that you are not familiar with.
  6. Group projects: Should you or shouldn’t you? – Students are often very frustrated with group assignments. This can be amplified in an online setting if you did not take the time to encourage student interactions from the very beginning. Group projects are still an important learning tool, but you have to be willing to manage and interact with students and deal with problems as soon as they arise.
  7. Sometimes a discussion is better than an email – use video conferencing, live chat or phone discussions to deal with tough issues. In my experience, emails or written conversations can be misinterpreted and ultimately create more problems.

Creating an interactive online environment can be a huge undertaking. As with anything you will perfect your course over time. Most importantly, set up relationships early and manage the environment on a regular basis.

By Dr Jan L. Jones

Dr Jones (Ph.D.) has 10 years of full time teaching and advising experience in leisure, sustainable tourism and global education. Her research has taken her to Cuba, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Jordan, Jamaica, Cyprus, and Crete.

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