‘Small Teaching Online’: Small Changes, Big Impact

small teaching online

By Tyler Isbell

‘Small teaching’ is an approach to improving instruction based on the belief that “minor modifications to our teaching can have a major impact on student learning” (Lederman, 2019).  Essentially, effective improvement is made when faculty make small changes to their teaching based on research.  This small change approach allows instructors to avoid the overwhelming pressure of complete overhauls or time-consuming restarts.

Based on James Lang’s approach from Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, Flower Darby presents the micro-actions you can take to design, facilitate, and motivate so that your online class is a huge success.  The name of her recently released book is Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes.  Her book is divided into three sections: Designing for Learning, Teaching Humans, and Motivating Online Students (and Instructors).

Today’s Small Teaching Online Tip: “Online Classes are Not Slow-Cookers.” 

Your new online course should NOT resemble your favorite slow-cooker recipe (Darby & Lang, 2019).  Students need more than a quick set up and then a few days to cook the material by themselves.  Most students will not thrive in such an environment – They did not sign up to take an electronic correspondence course.  Students need to feel a connection with their instructors (and with their peers) in order to feel supported in their learning and avoid being discouraged from finishing the online course.  Here are some ways to build your teacher presence in the online classroom:

  • Show Up for Class – Schedule time several times each week to visit your course as if you were attending in person.  Make announcements (this can even be scheduled to help you be present when you cannot be present), answer questions, respond to discussion boards, and give feedback.  With Canvas, your responses may be text, audio, and/or video – more on students hearing and seeing you in the next point.
  • Reveal Your Personality – Students want YOU.  They want to know that you are there and that you are a real person.  Use the ‘About Your Instructor’ page in the template to share more about you, including a picture and a welcome video.  With Canvas Studio within the LMS, you do not need any third-party software to shoot, edit, and share a webcam or screencast video.  CBU faculty members who participated in the Online Faculty Training (OFT) course this summer had the opportunity to create their own welcome videos within Canvas.
  • Design and Teach for Cultural Inclusion – Create a safe learning environment for ALL students.  Make your expectations known and demonstrate how students should interact with you and with other students in the online classroom.  Consider how ethnic or cultural contexts might shape your students’ experiences in your course.
  • Convey Caring and Support – In the same way you want your student to know you are a real person, remember that your students are real people, too.  There are many obligations and commitments that each student must meet.  Consider offering every student an opportunity to receive a deadline extension or an opportunity to revise an assignment if something unexpected occurs.  Think of ways you can “checkup” on each of your students individually.  One faculty member requires her students to meet with her individually at least once during the term.  She prefers a face to face meeting, but offers a web conferencing option for students that cannot meet in the same physical space.

References 

Darby, F. (2019, April 17). How to Be a Better Online Teacher. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from: https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-online-teaching

Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lederman, D. (2019, June 26). Small Teaching Online. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/06/26/bringing-small-teaching-online-classroom

Tyler Isbell is an Instructional Designer & Trainer for OLET

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