Online Teaching Tips by Alyssa Gilston, Ph.D.

By admin
Mar 30th, 2014

Online education continues to grow and advance at a fast pace as more students take advantage of the unique attributes it offers. Teaching in the online environment is vastly different from teaching in the traditional brick and mortar setting. I began teaching at the graduate and undergraduate level about eight years ago and quickly moved from a typical university into the brave new world of virtual education. Over time I have developed my own set of best practices and I hope that you will find them to be both helpful and valuable. I absolutely love being an online professor and educator and I do hope that my enthusiasm and energy is contagious! Cheers!

  1. If you know anyone who is currently teaching online or has previously taught online, reach out to them ASAP. Other online instructors will likely have an established set of best practices for teaching so use that wealth of knowledge to your advantage.
  2. Take advantage of any and all opportunities to network, connect and collaborate with other instructors at your university. This could be in the form of attending retreats, faculty meetings, webinars, conference calls, and town hall meetings offered by your university.
  3. Stay connected with your students. Hold office hours via Skype, AIM or telephone. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet with your students on a more intimate and personal level that could also serve to enhance community building in your classroom. Why not host a live chat for your students! If you offer it, they will come!
  4. Be creative and personalize your classroom. Consider adding different colors, fonts and styles to your work. Think about adding some of the newest Web 2.0 tools into your teaching tool box so that you can create a fun, collaborative and innovative teaching environment for your students. At the beginning of each term, I post a class map, indicating where all of my students live. They love to see how close and far we all are from one another.
  5. Take advantage of the resources, technologies and professional development webinars offered by your university. Most schools require a set amount of professional development hours each year so why not take advantage of this free chance to learn new and innovative ways to teach and connect with students.
  6. Organization is simply essential. You need to promptly respond to student’s emails, discussion board posts and phone calls, while also maintaining your classroom and posting substantive responses to your class. It is very common for online instructors to work as adjuncts at numerous schools at the same time and you can bet that each school will have different rules and regulations that need to be followed.
  7. Be flexible with your students, other faculty and even with yourself. Remember that one of the major strengths, advantages and attractions of online teaching is the flexibility that it allows.
  8. Hold your students to high standards and lead by example. Be sure that your announcements and discussion posts and responses are written using proper grammar and punctuation and be very clear about any and all expectations. Also be alert for any plagiarism or academic integrity issues that may arise, and know your school’s procedures for handling such situations.
  9. Be sure to ask for and read the feedback you get from your students to see what is working well and what may need some tweaking. Don’t be afraid to try something new – students are very receptive and excited about new approaches to teaching and learning.
  10. You must come to terms with the fact that online education is a 24/7 animal. You have to be OK with knowing that at the end of the day, you are really never done. There is always another post, email and Announcement to write or respond to, so try not to let your “to do list” grow longer than you can handle. Practice self care and when you need to take a break do so. Take advantage of your virtual environment and go for a walk, step outside, have a drink of water or cup of coffee and enjoy the flexibility of your virtual classroom!

© Alyssa Gilston, Ph.D.

Dr. Alyssa Gilston is an online psychology professor and course developer for Kaplan University, University of the Rockies and South University. In addition to her clinical work, she has been teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels for 8 years. You can reach Alyssa at

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