In fact, when it comes to interaction, collaboration and overall quality, I would even argue that there are advantages to using this design over attempting to create new packaged content to post online or use real time tools to deliver webinars.
If your school uses a learning management system and help is available from your technology department, ask them to create a virtual classroom template with a blank webpage and a discussion forum for each week of the course.
The menu might look something like this:
Course Content (Blank Webpage)
Discussion Forum (Discussion Forum)
Log into your course shell and go to the first week’s blank webpage, find the edit button and add text and/or links to material you want your students to study during this week. For example, you can include reading assignments in print materials, lecture notes you may have previously planned to deliver on the ground, links to open access literature and media that address the topics for the week, and instructions to help students research topics and learning resources on their own. The page does not have to look fancy or be entertaining for good learning to occur. Also, it is an advantage to be able edit, update and customize this content page for your specific group of learners as you go.
Next, set up the first week’s discussion forum for substantive interaction and collaboration. At the top, post open-ended discussion questions or assign projects that you want your students to submit during the week. Provide specific instructions for using the forum. For example you can have each student add a personal thread to post their discussion messages or projects and to receive feedback from others during the week. I ask students to post their initial discussion comments or project by mid-week, after completing their readings. After that, they will read their classmates’ contributions and offer feedback in their threads. Discussion and collaboration will build throughout the week asynchronously. Inquiry will deepen and projects can be shared, critiqued, revised and improved with input and participation by peers and moderation by you within the threads of the discussion forum.
The discussion board menu may start to look like this as the week progresses:
If you will be grading online discussion, you can develop a grading rubric to clarify expectations for your students much as you would for other assignments. For example:
- 15 Points: Student posted 3 or more discussion messages during the week. Comments contained insight and supported argument with reference to readings. Replies stimulated discussion or answered questions raised by others. Disagreement was expressed respectfully; writing conventions were appropriate for an academic environment.
- 10 Points: Student contributed at least twice during the week. Comments partially addressed topics with supported argument. Replies partially supported discussion. Writing conventions, appropriateness or respect for others could be improved.
- 5 Points: Minimal participation. Contributions require substantial improvement in clarity, adherence to topic, writing conventions, appropriateness or respect.
All in all, remember that teaching online does not require you to produce new digital multi-media about your subject for students to consume. Your essential goal is the same as for teaching on the ground: to facilitate an active learning experience in which students can access expert knowledge from a variety of sources and have opportunities to get feedback, solve problems and collaborate with others. This is something teachers already know how to do.