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Suddenly Remote: Tips & Tricks for Better Online Teaching 

 September 17, 2022

By  James Brauer

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A Guide for Better Online Teaching

Educators have been forced to shift rapidly to online teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several institutions had already developed full-time virtual education programs before the global pandemic. However, many institutions are now implementing a permanent strategy to transition to an online educational environment. Avila University is an example of a university launching several full-time online degree programs.

Here are some tips and tricks you can use to deliver better online instruction if you are new to online teaching or simply looking for ways to improve.

Establish clear expectations with your students.

Any successful relationship must establish clear expectations, which is no different for student-instructor relationships. For all participants involved in an online learning environment, it is imperative to establish clear expectations from the beginning to ensure a positive and productive learning environment. This section will discuss why it is necessary to set clear expectations with your students, how to do so, and what to do if a student does not meet those expectations.

Why it’s essential to set clear expectations with your students.

Establishing clear expectations with your students lays the foundation for a successful and enjoyable online learning experience. You are setting yourself up for fewer surprises down the road if you take the time to establish your expectations of your students upfront and ensure that everyone is on the same page from the beginning. In addition, students who are aware of what is expected of them have a higher probability of meeting or exceeding those expectations. 

How to set clear expectations for better online teaching.

You should take a few key steps to establish clear expectations with your students. 

You should first specify precisely what you expect. Instead of saying something vague like “Make sure you check the discussion board regularly,” try saying something more specific like “I expect you to check the discussion board at least once a day.” This will provide a concrete goal for your students. 

In addition, be consistent in your messaging with your students, whether they are reading your syllabus, participating in a class discussion, or working on an assignment. Although you should communicate any changes as early and as clearly as possible, this does not mean that you cannot adjust your expectations as necessary (for example, in the case of a struggling student or a class that does not meet your expectations). 

What to do if a student doesn’t meet your expectations

Several steps can be taken if a student does not meet your expectations. First, have a one-on-one conversation with the student (either in person or virtually) to determine what might be stopping them from succeeding. Secondly, provide resources and support where necessary—for example, if a student is struggling with reading assignments, consider giving them additional time or sending them helpful links. As a last resort, if all else fails, you may wish to discuss the next steps with the student’s academic advisor. 

The benefits of having clear expectations for students.

A substantial body of research supports the claim that expectations play a significant role in student motivation, learning, and behavior. Unfortunately, expectations can be implicit and unclear. From the student’s perspective, this can result in feeling lost, anxious, and frustrated. It can also lead to disengagement and apathy. From the instructor’s perspective, it can result in frustration, helplessness, and irritation. This can lead to resentment between students and faculty, so it is best to make expectations explicit at the beginning of the semester and throughout.

Build a rapport with your students.  

Building a rapport with your students can be challenging when teaching online. While you do not have the opportunity to interact with your students face-to-face, as you would in a traditional classroom setting, you can still develop relationships with them by getting to know them. A few techniques include:

  • Responding to students by name.
  • Interacting with them frequently in discussions.
  • Providing feedback on their work. 

Establish a connection with your students right from the beginning.

Establishing a rapport with your online students from the beginning is one of the best ways to build rapport with them. Engaging in class introductions and getting to know your students by name will allow you to do this effectively. Alternatively, you may set up weekly office hours so they may drop by and talk to you about their interests. 

Interaction with your students in discussions is another excellent way to connect with them. In addition to showing your interest in what they have to say, this also provides you with an opportunity to understand them better. Finally, please provide feedback on their assignments so that they feel you care about their progress and are invested in their success. 

Get to know their backgrounds and interests.

Knowing your students’ backgrounds and interests is another great way to build rapport with them. You can achieve this by asking them about themselves during office hours or class introductions. Also, ask them about their hobbies or what they enjoy doing to relax. Doing so will allow you to understand better who they are as individuals and provide you with topics to discuss when interacting with them or giving feedback on their assignments. 

Show genuine interest in their well-being.

Showing genuine interest in the well-being of your students is one of the most effective ways to build rapport with them. Take the time to get to know them as individuals and check in on them regularly, both inside and outside of class. If you see that someone is experiencing difficulties, consider reaching out to them and offering support. This shows that you care about them as individuals rather than simply students. 

Cultural differences should be respected.

Creating a safe and welcoming environment where students feel they can be themselves without judgment or discrimination is another important way to build rapport with your students. This means respecting their cultural differences. In addition, it is essential to be open-minded and understand that not everyone has the same background or experience as you. Your respect for your students’ cultures will demonstrate your interest in learning more about them and their backgrounds. 

Encourage them to ask questions and participate in class discussions.

Lastly, the best way to build rapport with your online students is to encourage them to participate in class discussions and ask questions. Doing so shows your students that you value their input and are open to hearing what they say about the topics discussed in class. It also allows them to share their thoughts and ideas with the rest of the group, which can help foster a sense of community among your students. 

Use technology to help you stay connected with your class. 

Staying connected with your students can be challenging when teaching an asynchronous online program. If you cannot meet with your class members in person and cannot coordinate a time when everyone can meet online, there are several tools you can use to remain connected. 

Here are a few of our favorites:

Use online tools to communicate with your students.

To stay connected with your students and parents, you can use online tools to communicate with them. Several online tools can be used for this purpose, including email, discussion boards, chat rooms, and social media. Email to send announcements and reminders to your students and parents effectively communicates with them. Discussion boards can be helpful for students and you to converse about course material. Social media is an excellent way for educators to share resources and connect. Chat rooms are a perfect way for students and teachers to communicate in real-time.

It is possible to communicate with parents using platforms such as Blackboard and Canvas, which offer discussion boards, chat features, and private messaging features. These tools are also excellent for communicating with parents. Many platforms offer parent portals that allow parents to view their child’s grades, assignments, and announcements. As a result, everyone is on the same page and has access to the appropriate information.

Utilize video conferencing to connect with students around the world

Video conferencing can be a great way to connect with students worldwide when teaching a class. Using platforms such as Skype and Zoom allows you to meet face-to-face with your students, regardless of where they are located. Building relationships with your students and getting to know them personally is a great way to accomplish this.

Provide your students with supplemental resources through learning platforms

Various learning platforms are also available, in addition to communication tools that provide supplemental resources for your students. Khan Academy and edX are two of the most popular options. These platforms offer a variety of courses and resources for your students to supplement their learning. They are also great for students who require additional assistance outside of the classroom.

Collaborate and learn from other educators online

Lastly, you can collaborate and learn from other educators online. You can do this in various ways, including joining an online professional learning community or participating in an online conference. Online professional learning communities allow you to connect with other educators with similar interests. Online discussions allow you to learn about new technology and pedagogical approaches. 

Establish a routine and stick to it 

Online teaching poses several challenges, including the lack of a set schedule. Classes are asynchronous, meaning students and instructors do not need to be online simultaneously. This can benefit students, but instructors must also be more proactive in time management. 

Here, we discuss the importance of routines for online instructors and provide tips for creating and maintaining a routine. 

The Importance of Routines 

The importance of routines for online instructors cannot be overstated:

  1. Routines can help you be more productive by providing structure for your day.
  2. Routines can help you reduce stress by giving you a sense of control over your time.
  3. Routines can assist you in staying organized so that you will find the materials you need readily. 

Creating a Routine 

Establishing regular office hours, even if they are only virtual, is one way to develop a routine. Additionally, you may wish to set aside specific times of the day for checking email and social media. For example, you may review your email first thing in the morning, after lunch, and before the end of your workday. To maximize productivity, you should avoid checking email or social media outside these designated times. 

In addition to blocking off specific time on your calendar for particular tasks, you can also create a routine. For example, you might block off an hour each day for grading or an hour each week for developing new course material. You will be less likely to put off these activities if you set aside specific times for these activities. Lastly, taking breaks and getting up from your desk from time to time is important. By taking a quick break or walking around, you can refresh your mind and improve your focus when you return to work. 

Sticking to Your Routine 

When you have established a routine, you must follow it as much as possible. Of course, there will be days when you may face unexpected circumstances or do not feel like following them. That is perfectly normal! You must adhere to it most days to become second nature to you. Set reminders on your calendar or phone to keep you from forgetting what you need to do next. It may also be a good idea to tell a colleague or friend about your new routine so that they can hold you accountable. 

Put yourself first – get enough sleep, exercise, and set aside time to relax. 

The role of an online teacher can be rewarding, but it can also be challenging, especially when trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

An Online Teacher’s Guide to Self-Care

An online teacher plays a vital role in your students’ lives. You serve as a mentor and guide for them and play an integral part in helping them succeed academically. To be the best online teacher you can be, you must take care of yourself first and foremost. Even though this is an important responsibility, it is also important to remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup.

Here are a few reasons why online instructors should take care of themselves:

You are setting an excellent example for your students by taking care of yourself.

When you model healthy behavior for your students, they will be more likely to adopt the same habits. They look up to you and learn from your actions and words.

A healthy lifestyle will help you avoid burnout.

It is easy for teachers to become overwhelmed and burnt out with the demands of teaching, grading, and providing feedback. However, if self-care is a priority, you can approach your work more effectively and enjoy it more. This will help you do your job more effectively and enjoy it more.

Self-care helps you manage stress and anxiety.

The ability to concentrate on your work can be compromised when you are feeling stressed or anxious. If you take care of yourself on an emotional and mental level, you will be better able to handle stressful situations. Self-care can also prevent the buildup of stress and anxiety. 

Tips for maintaining your health and well-being while teaching online.

Now that we have discussed the necessity of self-care let’s talk about some specific ways you can take care of yourself as an online teacher. 

The following tips may be helpful: 

Get enough sleep.

Sleep is essential to your productivity. It is important to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to wake up refreshed and ready for the day ahead. 

Exercise regularly.

To maintain a healthy mind and body, you must schedule some time for physical activity several times a week. Physical activity releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting properties. 

Make time for relaxation.

Taking a bubble bath, reading your favorite book, going for a walk outside, or anything else that helps you relax could be highly beneficial for your mental well-being.

Schedule regular checkups.

See a physician or dentist before something goes wrong! Regular checkups will allow any health concerns to be identified early. 

Create boundaries.

To take care of yourself, you should set healthy boundaries between work and personal time. Schedule breaks throughout the day, and dedicate at least one day each week when you aren’t thinking about work. 

Celebrate your successes!

It can be easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day online teaching. Between planning lessons, delivering content, and managing asynchronous discussions, it’s easy to forget to step back and celebrate your successes. But taking the time to do so can pay big dividends in the form of improved morale, greater efficiency, and even better student outcomes. Here’s why you should make celebrating your successes part of your routine. 

Learn from Your Successes

When you reflect on what went well during your successful experience, you will be able to identify the practices and strategies that contributed to the success. As such, you may be able to replicate those successes in future courses. For example, let’s say you successfully used a certain discussion board strategy this semester. If you take the time to analyze what made that strategy successful, you can apply it to future courses – and perhaps even improve upon it. 

Share Your Success Stories with Other Online Teachers

You can help create a community of practice where all of us can learn and grow from each other’s successes (and failures). By sharing your success stories with other online teachers, you help to establish an online learning community. In addition to helping others, sharing your success also strengthens your understanding of the reasons for your success. When explaining your accomplishments to others, it is necessary to think about why your successes occurred in the first place. This leads us to our next point.

Celebrate with Your Students! They’ll Appreciate Your Hard Work!     

While your students might be as relieved as you are when the semester has ended, take a moment (or even an entire class period) to celebrate everyone’s success together. It will be a pleasure to hear about all the great things your students accomplished this semester – and they will be motivated to do even better in the future. As well as providing everyone with an opportunity to relax before saying goodbye to one another, celebrating together can be a great way to connect.   

There has been a great deal of change in such a short time that taking a breath, trusting intuition, and acting with consciousness has become more critical than ever. We hope you have found the tips and tricks we discussed helpful in helping you provide better online teaching strategies.

If you want similar resources, it’s not too late to visit our homepage and sign up for our newsletter. We will send you periodic tools and information to help you transition smoothly to online teaching. 

James Brauer


James Brauer, Ed.D., MBA is currently Director of Graduate Education at Avila University. Previously he was a virtual school administrator of a public online school serving students throughout the state of Iowa. Brauer has also served as an assistant principal and special education teacher. He is passionate about leadership and management, health and wellness, and personal development.

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