As with traditional instruction, there are three critical evaluation points in Web-based instruction—course startup, course progression, and course ending. Using a flight metaphor, this article provides 20 guiding principles for these three critical junctures: Preparing for takeoff—Principles 1-10; Airborne—Principles 11-19; and Coming in for a landing—Principle 20.
“Growing numbers of professionals who cannot take a
hiatus or commute to a campus want education, and
have a responsibility to provide for their needs” (Ryan, as cited in Hons,
Although many students who take online courses regard themselves as independent learners and would prefer to work individually (Collier & Morse, 1999), students’ reliance on the instructor is more intense in Web-based courses than in face-to-face teaching (Almeda & Rose, 2000). As with traditional instruction, there are three critical evaluation points in Web-based instruction—course startup, course progression, and course ending. Using a flight metaphor in this article, I provide 20 guiding principles for these three critical junctures: Preparing for takeoff—Principles 1-10;
Airborne—Principles 11-19; and Coming in for a landing—Principle 20.
Principle 1: Have a public Web-page (non-password protected and external to actual class site) via which students can access general course information prior to course startup.
On this public Web page, you may wish to include links to classroom protocols, the course syllabus, and the course timeline and calendar of due dates.
Principle 2: Identify sources of technological support for faculty and students.
Figure out where to go for technical help for both you and the students prior to the first day of class. Establish clear protocols with the students regarding how to request technical assistance. Have the students check with another student, the class at large, and/or the help desk prior to asking you to provide assistance. Make a point to clearly establish your role as the content expert, rather than as a technology expert. Include direct links to these resources (e.g., help desk) on your public course introduction page and on every page of your course.
Principle 3: Identify library resources and resource personnel.
of technology into the learning environment enhances information retrieval and
offers the librarian a new entrée into the classroom curriculum” (Simpson, 1996
Principle 4: Develop assessments that are congruent with course goals.
Use a simple course planning grid to match course activities and assessments with planned course objectives. If a particular assessment doesn’t match with a specific course objective in the grid, then consider deleting that activity from the syllabus.
Principle 5: Solicit student feedback prior to course takeoff.
Evaluate students before the course begins through student self-evaluations, self-assessment questionnaires, and readiness assessments. Require students to do a global self-assessment of their readiness for course participation.
Principle 6: Decide upon your role in the class discussion.
Brown (2002) provides the following typology for possible faculty roles in classroom discussion:
Community leader – creates a friendly environment, cheers strong contributions, and nudges reluctant contributors.
Discussion leader – poses questions, moves toward higher [critical] thinking skills, encourages students to question each other, and provides mini-summaries.
Manager – enforces rules and guidelines, provides meaningful and frequent feedback, monitors student involvement, and keeps the workspace “clutter” free.
Technical consultant – coaches [students] on how to use computer software, establishes a frequently-asked-question file, and connects students with appropriate help desks.
Information resource person – joins the conversation as a substantive participant, refers students to key resources, and often posts new material at the site.
Combination of all five [roles].
Principle 7: Praise appropriately.
Decide how you will recognize individual and global contributions of students to the class. Use emoticons and, as appropriate, phrases that denote positive reinforcement, such as “thumbs up” and “kudos to Sally for ….” Use phrases that will be less likely to offend students who are not receiving praise. For example, consider posting comments such as these: This response has addressed each item; Your comments raise an issue that merits further discussion; Questions like these have always intrigued me; or I am really enjoying your discussions in this topic area.
Principle 8: Decide whether to use synchronous (e.g., chats) or asynchronous discussion.
Especially in distance courses, small group discussion and electronic office hours usually receive high marks from student participants (Brown, 2002, par. 2). If learners resist synchronization, remember the following about asynchronous discussion: (a) It accommodates varied time schedules; (b) It allows more people to participate; (c) It encourages discussants to “think before they speak”, and (d) It can be monitored more conveniently (Brown).
Principle 9: Practice what you preach prior to evaluating credit activities.
For example, assign preliminary noncredit work for students to complete and submit. Provide detailed feedback on such assignments in a formative manner to emphasize the importance of peer review.
Principle 10: Provide a statement of understanding form with your syllabus and have students “sign off” on the form.
A signed statement of understanding indicates the importance of actually reading the course syllabus to the student.
Principle 11: Require exercises that demonstrate competent skills, leading up to major or complex assignments.
If possible, give students a thorough face-to-face orientation to the course. Following that orientation, require them to complete an introductory assignment (quiz) that focuses on the class format, navigation of the course site, and syllabus content. To check their technological readiness, consider giving a four-pronged technology skill assessment—computer files management skills, Web browsing skills, word processing skills, and e-mail skills.
Principle 12: Integrate writing into the curriculum as early as possible.
In the first week of the Web-based course, include a discussion topic that focuses on e-introductions and community building. Students can engage in storytelling through posting of autobiographies, in which they highlight past, present, and future educational goals and aspirations. As the course migrates toward content material, require students to write narrative, scholarly posts. If a particular stylistic convention is common in coursework, e.g., APA format, require it as well. In courses where students are required to submit scholarly papers, this type of frequent practice helps to improve writing skills in a formative manner throughout the semester.
Another way to build writing skills in the curriculum is to require students to submit an outline for work (project, paper, etc.) by a reasonable due date. Then provide feedback on the scope and structure of the proposed project/paper, prior to grading a final manuscript.
Principle 13: Hold students responsible for their thinking through peer assessment.
The process of peer review can be used to build
trust among student participants, as well as to enhance instruction. This process
can be designed as an interactive and collaborative learning experience, with
opportunities for students to take a leadership role in the class
discussion. As a community building
technique, consider requiring students to submit evidence of peer review by
target dates. While only a few points
should be assigned to this type of peer review, it is important that the
activity have credit attached.
With credit awarded, students will be more likely to participate in the process (Collier & Morse, n.d.).
Principle 14: Build in learner use of higher order thinking skills—analysis, synthesis, evaluation.
Accomplish this principle through assignments of short readings or brief assignments, such as an examination of case studies to compare contrasting viewpoints.
Principle 15: Over-organize each activity and provide detailed specifications on requirements.
For each activity, provide students with clear expectations—samples, if possible—and a grading rubric, preferably in advance of each assignment and/or its submission. Allow reasonable flexibility in student completion of assignments.
Principle 16: Test what you teach and teach what you test.
While using a course planning grid at course startup (preparing for takeoff) is a good way to check whether a planned assessment matches course objectives, remember that it is just as important that faculty test students on material that is taught. Once assignments are submitted, give prompt feedback to students, whether publicly or privately, depending on the nature of the assignment.
Principle 17: Use a clear/consistent presentation template for course content:
Title of Module;
Organizing Theme/Central Idea (Introduction);
Materials or Resources Needed (Textbooks, E-readings, URLs, references);
Essential Question (Discussion prompt);
The specific goal measured by the assessment in this module;
Performance criteria (grading rubric, checklist, etc.)
Principle 18: Incorporate multiple pathways through the learning materials.
Some best practice examples that
represent multiple pathways through learning materials include case
studies, discussion prompts, mastery quizzes, required peer reviews,
self-assessments, short readings with required interactive
y , an d
Principle 19: Solicit student evaluate mid-flight.
During the course, ask students what they would like to see more of, less of, and for any other comments related to instructional improvement.
Principle 20: Evaluate after course ends (don’t use scantron evaluation only).
Dede (2001) recommends an end-of-term course evaluation based on these three criteria—instructor, student learning, and course activities:
Instructor: In what ways was the instructor most
effective? Why? What recommendations
would you make to the instructor to strengthen his or her teaching and/or to make the course more valuable?
Student Learning: What are the most valuable things that you have gained from this course?
Course Activities: What specific
course activities and materials did you find most valuable?
How did these activities or materials help you learn?
Reflect on your present course. Record your past mistakes. Think of future delivery of your course. Reflect on the summative query: “What did I learn this semester that will alter my teaching of the course the next time?”
The proliferation of distance learning programs in
higher education is a direct consequence of the
demands of an information-based
society. The new literacy for the
twenty-first century and beyond is
clearly the ability to use
appropriate technological tools in an information society (Evans, 1999). Faculty
who are preparing to teach online
can demonstrate best practice examples by providing students with
opportunities to do the following:
Access resources and information (e. g., reading lists, Web quests);
Publish stories on the site (e. g., electronic news letter, op-ed);
Ask questions (e. g., private course mail or online office hours);
Have a say (e. g., forum, discussion topic);
0.Dialogue with invited guests with
experience in the online environment (e.g., chats hosted by
guest speakers) (Weatherley & Ellis, 2000, par. 16, p. 3).
Whether teaching face-to-face or at a distance,
building community is a key ingredient for successful teaching and learning
(Brown, 2002). Weatherley and Ellis (2000, see
abstract , ¶ 3) add, “People are the most
important part of the online equation. The
professional challenge is developing the appropriate communication style to
build the learning relationship within the new learning environment.” For those faculty preparing to teach online,
both faculty and learner success are inextricably linked to administrative
vision, resources, commitment, technical support, program development, and
authentic measurement (Hons, 2002).
Almeda, M. B. & Rose, K. (2000).
Instructor satisfaction in
of Asynchronous Learning Network, 4 (3).
Brown, D. G. (2002). The role you play in online discussions. Syllabus 16(5), 9.
Collier, C. & Morse, F. K. (n.d.). Requiring independent learners to collaborate: Redesign of an online course.
Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 1(1). Retrieved
Collier, C. & Morse, F. (1999). Integrating technology: Issues for traditional and constructivist pedagogies. Journal
Dede, C. (2001).
Course evaluation: Emerging educational technologies. Retrieved March 31,
Evans, R. (1999). Serving modern students in a modern society at the community college: Incorporating basic
technological literacy." T.H.E. Journal, 27(3), 102-108.
Hons, C. (2002, January). Big ten school in cyberspace. The
Martin-Kniep, G. O. (2000). Becoming
a better teacher: Eight innovations that work.
for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Simpson, C. (1996). The school librarian’s role in the electronic age. (ERIC Digest). Eric Clearinghouse on
Information and Technology. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.
Weatherley, R. & Ellis, A. (2000). Online learning: What do teachers need to know about communicating online?
Author Note Ruby Evans,
Associate Professor and Coordinator for the fully Web-based Graduate
Certificate in Community College Education, University of Central Florida,
Orlando, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org The author acknowledges the
internal peer review provided by Iris Rose Hart, Professor of English, Santa Fe
Community College, Gainesville, Florida.