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Teaching tasks that are different with online instruction

Some describe the transition from traditional to online delivery as moving from the role of the "sage on stage" for lecture format to the "guide on the side."  In online instruction, the course materials ideally are exist before the course begins.  The instructor then guides students through the materials and is available to clarify as needed.

Time Investment

Typically one hour of instruction requires ten hours of preparation.  Whether online courses are delivered asynchronously using web resources or synchronously through collaboration software, the preparation time needed tends to be greater than traditional delivery.  Preparing web resources for lesson delivery takes more time than simply preparing a Powerpoint presentation and lecture notes.  The materials must be prepared for web delivery rather than just compatibility with the instructor's laptop.  Even in synchronous delivery via collaboration software, the instructor must learn the platform and test it before each session.


In some ways an online course is less flexible.  Best practices suggest that all content be ready in advance of class.  This makes it more difficult to rearrange lessons and modules if the course is running behind or if students need additional help on a particular topic.  Conversely, online teaching can be more flexible than traditional delivery.  It is much easier to build in learning methods that work for different learning modes.  For example, whereas a traditional lecture might favor aural learners, an online course can include audio files, transcripts of audio, links to virtual simulations and visualize representations.  This would allow an instructor to reach aural, read/write, kinesthetic and visual learners.  Students benefit from multiple learning paths and can self select the way they learn best.

Communication Moderation

Traditional/Face-to-face (F2F) and online courses can share common challenges.  However, when the same issues crop up in online courses, the potential impact to the learning community is greater.  (Also see Tips for Success).  Unlike the scheduled lecture session, an online course is available 24/7.  A student intent on monopolizing discussion has a greater ability to do so. Online courses as a medium can embolden students to speak up more or even challenge the instructors and TAs.  This is all the more reason to be sure the communication channels are monitored frequently.  Strategies for keeping discussions effective based on communication mode:

  • Discussion forums: It is imperative that discussion forums be monitored.  If the instructor is not available to monitor and/or it the volume is such that not all posts can be read by one person, it is recommended to delegate to a teaching assistant (TA). <link to pitfalls>
  • Email: Course email must be checked regularly. 

Administrative duties

In a traditional course, students might turn in paper assignments and retrieve them from a departmental office.  In an online course, the course website needs some attention before it can be reused.  With proper planning, the process of resetting course tools can be minimal.

Resetting tools

Once a course website is reused for a new term, specific tools need to be reset including:

  • Announcements - repost and verify key introductory notices.  Shift display dates for announcements to display during term.
  • Assessments/Assignments/TurnItIn - due dates
  • Calendar - course start/end dates, assignment dates
  • Syllabus - due dates, verify links to assignments (if applicable)

Websites change often and without warning.  Prior to the start of each term, instructors should verify all links to external websites are still valid.

One of the advantages of using the campus learning management system (LMS), Ted, is that several tools are reset for you when your new course shell is created.  These include:

  • Discussion board, Messages - To see previous communications, an instructor can look in the previous term's course website.
  • Roster - rebuilt and updated automatically to match with the Tritonlink roster of classes

Additional Information

Teaching College Courses Online vs Face-to-Face, Transforming Technology Through Education Journal, 1 April 2001. Click here to visit this resource.