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Best Practices for Online Teaching

The online learning environment presents a unique set of challenges that require clear communication of responsibilities and behaviors. Below are best practices and expectations as well as detailed suggestions based on the rhythm of a semester-long course:


Summarized List of Best Practices and Expectations for Online Teaching

Expectation Example/Resources
1. Follow the established course start and end dates
  • By default, Brightspace is set to open and close via Purdue's academic calendar
  • While it is important to follow the guidelines and deadlines for all homework and assignments, you can open your course early and close it a few weeks after the official end of the semester
2. Utilize the many tools Brightspace offers to communicate due dates with students.
  • Announcements: Weekly notifications to students sent through Brightspace
  • Checklists: Helps students see what needs to be completed and when in each module
  • Calendar: Another way for students to see what's due when
3. Establish a pattern and communicate to students when you will regularly log into the course. Normally this is once per business day.
  • Establish expectations for students and help them create a routine so they’ll know when to submit assignments or ask you questions
4. Give prior notice to your students in the event that you will be unable to log into the course for several days or more (e.g., during professional travel).
   a. Consider finding coverage for your online course if you are going to be out of contact with students for more than a couple of days
   b. Notify students and Purdue Online's College of Engineering as soon as possible if you will be away from the course.
  • It's important to share this information via an established communication method whether it be a class email or announcement (for example).
5. Provide responses to student inquiries within one business day. If you cannot provide a detailed response within one business day, we suggest that you respond to the student within one business day to simply let them know when a more detailed response will be provided.
  • It's recommended that you let students know what your timeframe for responses are both during the week and the weekend.
6. Provide meaningful feedback on student work using clear and concise language.
  • There are multiple ways to provide feedback in Brightspace, whichever way you choose, make sure students know how to find it
  • When providing feedback, try to provide specific points about what they did well and what areas they can improve
7. Communicate to students when you will grade and return their assignments. If you don't tell them this information, you will definitely be asked!
  • Providing a suggested turnaround time in the directions of the assignment is a helpful way to communicate this to students.
8. Encourage your students to complete the End-of-Course Survey. At the end of each semester, Purdue Online's College of Engineering will send your students an email, addressed to their e-mail account, asking them to complete an online course evaluation. That note includes the direct URL to the survey. The distance students are not included in the University Course Evaluation system survey.
  • The link from the Purdue Online College of Engineering Website is "hidden" until it is time for students to complete the survey.
  • Please send your students a note encouraging them to complete the survey and assuring them that the information will be used to improve the course is important, too. Research has shown that the biggest influence on whether a student completes an end-of-course survey is you, the instructor!
9. Post final course grades to Banner by the Tuesday after the semester end, in accordance with University policy.
  • Click here to learn how to post grades from Brightspace into Banner.

Adapted from John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, Penn State World Campus


Preparing for Your Course

  1. Review your Brightspace course section (if you have taught your course in Brightspace previously and want to reuse the same materials for the upcoming semester).
  2. Review your course content and fix any broken hyperlinks, images, etc.
  3. Update your syllabus and any other instructor-specific course materials using the Innovative Learning Syllabus suggestions.
  4. Update your course calendar. Many faculty include that information on their syllabus or a stand-alone web page. Regardless of location, busy students appreciate having this information!
  5. Update any content open/close dates.
  6. Determine which tool you will use to keep track of student grades and set up that tool for your new class.
  7. Choose a tool to encourage interactivity like Brightspace's discussion board
  8. Send your students a welcome letter (by email) that tells them:
    • The URL/location of the course
    • The URL/location of the syllabus (or attach a copy)
    • How to login (typically using their Purdue Career Account username and password)
    • What materials they need to purchase and where they can get them
    • Who to contact if they need technical assistance (students should contact the ITaP Help Desk for Brightspace questions
    • Reinforce course pre-requisites - What are they? How necessary? Will you mandate them?

NOTE: The Purdue Online College of Engineering office sends out a confirmation e-mail to students upon registration. The e-mail contains information about accessing the lectures, the exam proctor process and other administrative details.

Preparing your students (the week before your course starts)

A standard practice for online courses is to give students an "orientation week" – access to the class one week before it officially begins. This practice enables distance learners to try out their Brightspace classes and to familiarize themselves with the class environment so that they will be comfortable and ready to learn on the first day of class.

  1. "Enable" your course
    By default, a new class section is "disabled," meaning that registered students will not be able access the course when they log in to Brightspace. As the instructor of record, you are responsible for "enabling" your class so students can access it (unless other arrangements have been made).
    • NOTES: Students are added to your class automatically through their registration in Banner.
  2. Hide selected class materials from student view
    If there are materials that you are not ready to have students see, it is possible to "hide" materials in Brightspace.
  3. Post a "welcome" announcement for your students
    Below are a few things we recommend that you mention in your welcome message:
    • Begin the class by reviewing the syllabus and working through any class orientation materials
    • Provide directions for accessing those materials
    • Remind them of the official class start date
    • EXAMPLE:

      Hello and Welcome to AAE 554!

      This class will officially begin on January 7, 2022. Meanwhile, feel free to familiarize yourself with the material in our class. The Course Content Menu Items contains modules for the syllabus, reference materials, PowerPoint slides, and more. You can always contact me with your questions and comments using the e-mail tool in Brightspace. See you soon!

      - Prof. Joe Smith, class instructor

  4. For more documentation on how to use Brightspace, click here.


First Week of Class

Most courses begin by asking students to post a self-introduction to a class discussion forum (typically in Brightspace) as a way to break the ice and begin to build a sense of community. This is also a great way for the instructor to get a feel for who the students are and what experience they bring to the class.

  1. Make your own "personal introduction" post to the class via an introduction discussion board. In your post, tell students what information you would like them to include in their own introductions.
  2. Review the personal introductions that your students post to the class discussion forum and respond to each, or to the entire class in a single note, as a way to welcome your students.
  3. Summarize the postings for your class by posting a note to the appropriate discussion forum or send an email to all students, sharing what you've learned about the class make-up and addressing their class expectations (e.g., "Several of you stated that you hoped to learn more about XYZ in this class. While we won't be covering XYZ specifically, we will address the more general issue of...")
  4. Contact students who have not yet accessed your Brightspace or course site (click here to learn how to view learner's progress in your course). In Brightspace, you can easily see who has, and has not, accessed your class. If a student hasn't accessed the class yet, there may be a problem that needs your attention.


Daily Responsibilities

How often you check the class is an individual decision, but you should let your students know how often they can expect to hear from you. Checking in at least once each business day and once over the weekend is a good way to keep in touch and to keep the e-mail and discussion forums from piling too high!

  1. Monitor the Class Discussion Forums. You can subscribe to discussion forums to get email notifications for new posts or you can set your notifications up for a daily summary report. See image below:Brightspace Notifications

    From Brightspace, click on your name and then select “Notifications.”

    This will allow you to choose the types of notifications you want to receive, including the summary of activity (2).

    NOTE: If you set up “Summary of Activity” notification, you’ll get reports for all of the courses you’re currently instructing.

  2. Monitor the class email tool for new messages (if applicable).
  3. Check for submitted assignments. Students appreciate timely feedback on their assignments and will let you know if they feel they are waiting too long!


Weekly Responsibilities

Once a week (preferably on the same day each week) we recommend that you:

  1. Post a note to the class announcements area, telling students what you will be covering in the coming week and reminding them of any due dates.
  2. Update your class schedule with any new or revised due dates and/or setup a checklist for each week so students know what is due and when.
  3. Summarize discussion forum conversations, since it can be hard to bring a close to those discussions and/or call out the important points before moving on to other discussions!
  4. Consider holding online office hours. Giving your students a chance to communicate with you in real-time can help build strong relationships and motivate students to fully engage in the class. Two popular options for conducting live office hours with geographically dispersed students are Zoom and Webex. For more information about teleconferencing options, click here. Just let your students know when and how to join your office hours!