For both seasoned professionals and absolute beginners, developing and delivering an online course can sometimes be a daunting task. For some people, the amount of preparation and front-loading required can become overwhelming, and they are easily frustrated if their students, course content, activities, and objectives do not interact as they expected. Taking a mindful approach to developing and delivering a course can ease some of the anxieties and doubts that may arise. The following strategies are ways in which thoughtful and calculated design and delivery can be achieved.
Take Time to Reflect
Establishing a time to think quietly and reflect upon your course is beneficial for a number of reasons. According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the benefits of meditation is gaining a new perspective on stressful situations. Taking time for introspection can also help release creative ideas, recharge and refocus your energy, and increase your understanding of yourself and others. If you are feeling a creative block or are overwhelmed with developing your course, try some of the following strategies for reflection: find a quiet, comfortable working environment, reduce outside stimuli (like phone calls and email), keep a journal, and practice deep breathing exercises. The positive aspects of quiet thinking and reflection are especially helpful when developing online courses that are student-centered, engaging, and challenging.
Proper preparation will help you feel confident in developing and delivering your course. Your level of preparation will be reflected in the course and will affect student perceptions of your expertise on the subject, in addition to affecting how students will value the course. Approach your course with a strategic plan for development. This includes: gathering all of the course content and organizing it before populating the online version; reaching out to the appropriate campus resources and departments to learn more about instructional methods and activities that can be used in your course; thinking of alternative scenarios that may occur so that you are prepared for the unexpected; and performing a test run of your course and its functionality before it goes live. Adequate preparation is critical to your, your course, and ultimately your students’ success.
Focus on Communication
Focusing on communication with your students in your online course will enable you to provide support, encourage learning, and resolve conflicts. In a traditional class, office hours are typically held in the instructor’s office or department. Maintain your commitment to meeting face to face with students who need support in your online class by becoming proficient in the technologies that will enable you meet virtually like Blackboard Collaborate, Skype, and Google Hangouts. Take advantage of providing video feedback to student assignments to encourage and inspire their learning; this is a feature built into Blackboard in the “Record from Webcam” feature. When resolving conflicts in your online class, be authentic and flexible. Listen to and acknowledge student concerns and wait to speak. If appropriate, incorporate first-person stories and experiences to relate to and diffuse the situation. Focused communication will result in having a high level of influence on the students in your course.
Connect Through Writing
Writing is probably the most common medium through which instructors interact with their students in an online course; however, the written word can sometimes be confusing, redundant, and impersonal. Making instructor-student, student-student, and student-content connections in your online course is essential for a successful learning environment. You can facilitate making these types of connections through writing by paying attention to your tone, highlighting the most important details, focusing on quality over quantity, and being succinct. Writing with these intentions will help prepare students for the course, deliver the essential content, and clarify any ambiguities.
Acting upon course feedback is an excellent way to not only fine-tune your course, but also your effectiveness as an online instructor. Feedback includes student opinions, peer and professional reviews, and data reflecting student achievement. Examining feedback can help you increase your understanding of student performance, gain credibility among your students and department, build engagement in future iterations of the course, and establish favorable learning conditions. Encourage feedback by preparing open-ended questions for students to answer throughout the course. Submit your course for peer and professional reviews, such as the Quality Matters review process, which provides a national benchmark for online course design. Look for relationships between student grades, attitudes, and participation in your course activities and assessments. Embracing feedback and making appropriate changes in your course will help establish you as an authority in your field and in online learning.
Developing and delivering online courses is an ongoing process. Taking a systematic, mindful approach to the development and delivery can help you become more confident in your abilities as an online instructor, and will result in streamlined, student-focused courses.
Kahnweiler, J. (2013). Quiet influence: The introvert’s guide to making a difference. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, July 19). Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858