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Tips for Teaching Online Courses

Best Practices

Follow best practices for teaching online courses, including but definitely not limited to the following:

  • Monitor the discussion board daily. 
  • Respond to student emails in a timely manner.
  • Provide feedback on assignments in a timely manner; for example within 1 week for essay exams, papers and other lengthy assignments, and within 2-3 days for discussion forum participation.

Student Perceptions Survey / Course Evaluation

Student perceptions surveys are designed to help evaluate course effectiveness the first time a course is taught.

We strongly recommend that you administer a student perceptions survey each semester and use the results to inform your teaching. Many departments also ask online students to complete departmental surveys. We encourage using both surveys, since a student perceptions survey is typically more in depth than the departmental survey and includes online course issues. Awarding a small number of points for completing the survey will encourage participation by your students.

Get more information about accessing survey data.

Student View of Course

Select Enter Access View at the top of the left navigation to see how your site appears to students. An Exit Access View button will then appear in the same position for when you wish to return to your view.

To ensure that your Overview page is the first thing students see when they enter your course, position it as the first tool in Site Info: Tool Order.

As the course progresses, consider updating the Overview page on a regular basis with interesting images and information that are relevant to what students are learning.

Email Versus Announcements

It is important to send regular announcements that help guide students through the course. In addition to weekly housekeeping and assignment reminders, directing students to departmental and campus resources may be appropriate, depending on the issues you observe as you monitor emails and forum discussions.

You can post reminders and clarifications to Announcements and set your announcements to be sent as emails to your students. Sending emails to your students using Announcements has two advantages:

  1. The content of your email is available to students whenever they log into your course site (i.e., students don’t have to search for the information in their email inbox).
  2. New announcements appear on the Overview page of your course site and remind students that you are actively engaged in your course.


Consider adding a hard deadline for forum posts to the late policy in your syllabus. Allowing late forum entries becomes confusing for students and is time-consuming to track.

Also consider adding two due dates for each forum, one for an initial response to the prompt and the second one for a response to another student. This approach ensures that students will have sufficient material to consider when formulating a response.

  • Statistics and Sorting: Click Statistics & Grading at the top of the Forums page to see how many messages each student authored. This is one piece of information to consider when determining a participation grade. You can also click a student’s name when viewing a list of posts to view all the posts made by a student.
  • Group Forums: There are two different types of group forums: public and private. Any student in your course can access and post comments to public forums. Only students assigned to a group can read and post comments to that group’s private forum.

Find out how to create private group forums. Look under Create Forum/Topic or Group Forums and Topics.

A simpler approach to designating a group forum is to create topics with the titles of the groups (e.g., Group 1, Group 2, etc.) and assign students to those topics by listing them as part of the title (e.g., Group 1: Mary, John, Maurice) or via an announcement. 

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