Traditional, Online or Hybrid Learning: It’s all about access


Screenshot 2020-02-19 14.10.58As you know by now, we have an office dedicated to online learning and educational technology, the Center for Digital Instruction (formerly OLET). We even have a few full degrees that can be earned online. Yes, we are currently in the midst of developing more fully online degrees.

As you’d expect from the Director of CDI, I believe wholeheartedly in the method of online course delivery. I also believe that online courses can and should be at least as good as a traditional course. (If you haven’t already, you might want to sit down for this one) I also believe that an online course can be better than a traditional course, given good course design, compelling material, and engaged participants.

Despite all of this faith and optimism I hold for online education, I still believe in the traditional course built on weekly meetings. This mode of learning can be so beneficial to students. The opportunity to focus on one course as a group, for students to know the faculty, spend time in the library, and participate in the community of the institution makes traditional degrees and courses excellent learning opportunities.

Research supports that if most non-traditional students had their way, they would take classes in the traditional classroom setting. But they often can’t. Work, family, distance, and a combination of obstacles create a situation where many cannot take classes that are limited to certain times of the day on certain days of the week.

So in this instance, it’s the fully online courses that can provide the best opportunity for learning. The research shows, however, that these same students who take online courses for convenience would happily participate in a multi-modal degree. A multi-modal degree or course mixes online delivery with the traditional. Students who participate in hybrid, blended, or flipped classes typically find these to be the best of all worlds. They can make these classes work with their schedules, while getting the experience of the institutional community.

What does this kind of course look like? This mix of online and traditional delivery is called “hybrid” and comes in two different formats. The Hybrid Classroom is a course in which “online activity is mixed with classroom meetings, replacing a significant percentage, but not all required face-to-face instructional activities” (Mayadas, Miller, & Sener, 2015). A Hybrid Classroom course mixes both synchronous and asynchronous modalities, replacing a significant portion of the required face-to-face instructional activities, but not all. For example, a course may typically meet three times in a week. In this version, however, the class will meet in a physical space only once each week or even every other week, while offering online work that replaces the traditional face-to-face meeting.

The second type of Hybrid Course is called Hybrid Online. It is also referred to as a “flipped” course. Hybrid Online courses mix online and traditional modalities but with a strong emphasis on online. Most of the work will be done online while reserving some time at a physical location for specific work. For instance, a course may deliver most of the course content online but require a weekend of classroom work that would be highly practical and applicable to the course. In this example, students would only meet once or twice during the term.

Both of these kinds of courses (Hybrid Classroom and Hybrid Online) typically benefit regionally based students. So, while they expand the “walls” of the institution, it is still somewhat limited to those within driving distance of campus. That’s the trade-off.

In the end, we are interested in one thing: providing access to a quality learning experience for students who would not ordinarily have that opportunity. Friends, I don’t need to tell you, but that fits so neatly into the LaSallian model. If we can focus on opening our doors wider, reaching beyond the current boundaries to a broader constituency, then we create the opportunity to have greater influence than we have ever had.

If you are interested in putting your class fully online or creating a hybrid version, please speak to one of us here in the Online Learning and Educational Technology office. We stand ready and willing to help you imagine and dream, then embark on any of these creative course delivery methods to reach students in innovative and effective ways.

Contact: (901) 321-4004


Mayadas, F., Miller, G., & Sener, J. (2015, July 7). Updated E-Learning Definitions. Retrieved from Online Learning Consortium:


Dale Hale is the Director of CBU’s Center for Digital Instruction (CDI). He holds a PhD in Education Policy Studies and Evaluation from the University of Kentucky. Previously, Dale was the Director of Distributed Learning at Asbury Theological Seminary where he was in charge of all aspects of the institution’s distance education program. 

How Innovative is Your Innovative Course?

Screenshot 2020-02-13 15.22.35Alan November is an EdTech guru. A former teacher, headmaster, university and TED lecturer (see one of his TED Talks here), acclaimed author, and head of a successful educational consulting firm,

Alan is one of a handful of folks worldwide recognized as influential in the realm of digital literacy (find his bio here). If you haven’t read or seen his stuff, take a peek at his Ted Talk referenced above (you won’t be sorry). Alan is funny and unassuming, but also provocative.

Case in point: one of Alan’s pieces asks us techie/teacher folks if we are “rich in technology but poor in innovation” in terms of technology integration. His premise is that many of us are lulled into thinking we are good at utilizing innovative technology in our courses by the mere virtue of having Canvas classrooms full of tech-savvy students armed with the latest gizmos and whizz-bangs. In the piece, Alan suggests that if we are to know whether we are pursuing innovation in our classrooms, then we need to call up our most innovative lesson and ask ourselves six key questions:

  1. Did the lesson build the capacity for critical thinking on the web?

  2. Did the lesson develop new lines of inquiry?

  3. Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible?

  4. Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?

  5. Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)?

  6. Does the assignment demonstrate “best in the world” examples of content and skill?

Full disclosure: I’ve always considered myself pretty good in terms of the integration of tech into my courses. But when I first read Alan’s piece, I began to doubt myself. Was I an innovative teacher? I thought so … but maybe not?

One dreary December day, I decided to put myself to the test. I reflected upon one of the lessons that I considered to be innovative and then applied Alan’s six questions to my recollection of the lesson, jotting down my insights and answers; thoughts which I shall share with you below.

Before I do however, I should tell you a little about the “innovative” lesson I selected. A few years back, I taught a global issues course, and one of the issues we highlighted during the course was poverty. During our month-long discussion on poverty, I had each student track their personal spending for a month and then compare their spending to the $2-per-day poverty threshold established by the United Nations. In addition to keeping a spending spreadsheet, I asked students to reflect upon their spending habits relative to their thoughts about people living at or below $2 per day. For students who wished to do so, I issued a challenge for them to join me to go for a month in attempting to spend less than $2 per day and to digitally log/blog, vlog their journeys.

So how did this “innovative” lesson fare as measured against Alan’s six questions?

Did the assignment build the capacity for critical thinking on the web? At the outset of the lesson, students were directed to the UN website to read about different poverty levels and to read about the background to the $2-per-day poverty threshold. Part of the lesson also directed students to read and discuss several case studies (published by The Choices Program) of families living in varying levels of incomes throughout the world. The lesson focused on primary source material (a positive) and also encouraged students to examine poverty through different perspectives (also a positive). I did not have students conduct research on the purchasing power of $2 per day in the countries in which the case studies were written (a missed opportunity, thus a negative) nor did we examine any alternative definitions of poverty other than those articulated by the UN (a negative). Grade: C.

Did the assignment develop new lines of inquiry? The central theme of the lesson was to inquire about what it might feel like to live on $2 per day or less, so the lesson itself was inquiry-based (a positive). Because we missed out on a discussion of purchasing power in different nations however, we missed out on lines of inquiry related to purchasing power (a negative). For example, we might have inquired about living on $2 per day in Lesotho versus neighboring South Africa. These lines of inquiry about the relativity of purchasing power would have enriched the learning experience and would have offered the students additional opportunities to critically analyze other sources of information. Grade: C/D.

Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible? During the month-long “unit,” I planned and provided for numerous class discussions and peer editing sessions of written rough drafts (a positive). Bloggers and vloggers shared their links and the rest of the students in the class and even the larger school community were encouraged to reflect and comment (also a positive). Grade: A.

Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world? In keeping a spending journal and reflecting on spending habits versus the spending habits of impoverished peoples, my students were asked to record their thoughts in a Word doc, in an online blog, or via a YouTube channel (a positive). For those students who wished to blog or vlog, I helped them set up Blogger and YouTube accounts. About half of my students chose this option. Through weekly school bulletins, members of the school community were made aware of my students’ blogs and vlogs and so could follow along and even comment. Grade: A/B.

Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)? Although the work asked of students was authentic, there was no community component to it (a big negative). During that month, we could have visited a community shelter or food bank. At some point during the month, we could have volunteered in the community. We could have investigated sources of local poverty and/or had community leaders come in to speak. I note that I/we missed a lot of opportunities here. Grade: D/F.

Does the assignment demo “best in the world” examples of content and skill? At the time, a few individuals and groups had published their own “$2 a day challenges,” and we did examine some of these blogs and vlogs (a positive). We missed the opportunity to view and discuss, in general, what elements constituted an exemplary blog or vlog (a negative). Grade: C.

More full disclosure: at the time, I thought my lesson was pretty cool and so did my supervising admins. By its third year, the challenge had become something of a campus-wide rite of passage, and our class “journey” even once made the local evening news. Back then, I would have given myself an A in terms of innovation.

In using Alan’s benchmark, I ended up with two As, two Cs, a D, and an F; a far cry from an A.

Like I said at the beginning of this blog, Alan’s work is thought-provoking. It’s one of the reasons I follow him on social media and read most of what he has written. He urges me to think, and his ideas cause me to reflect upon my own practices. In this particular case, Alan’s work has prompted me to reconsider what exactly constitutes academic excellence and exemplary technology integration. Years ago, I thought I had achieved a degree of pre-eminence. Now with the gift of hindsight, less hubris, and a more thorough benchmark, I see that my lesson wasn’t even all that “good,” let alone “great.”

There’s always work to be done. Every course is a work in progress.


Kyle Purpura is an Instructional Designer and Trainer for Christian Brothers University’s Center for Digital Instruction. He holds an Educational Technology Master’s Degree from Boise State University and has served as a technology trainer and content developer in higher education overseas, as well as a high school administrator. 

Online Course Design Class Launched

By Lurene Kelley 

OCD Kickoff event held in the Sabbatini Lounge. Members of our team in front, presenting the layout of the course.

OCD Kickoff event held in the Sabbatini Lounge.

Many of you have taken Canvas training. Some have even completed the four week, fully online Faculty Training (OFT) course. Even if you’ve not participated in a single OLET training – we’d like you to see what’s ahead, as online learning will play a vital role in the future of CBU. A cadre of faculty and adjuncts prepared to deliver and facilitate high quality online learning will be essential to the success of this initiative.

On January 13th, we launched our inaugural Online Course Design (OCD) session – a 16-week, hybrid course created to produce fully-developed, quality online courses by the end of the semester. Eighteen professors and adjuncts are part of the first OCD cohort.

To head off your question, yes, we are aware of the OCD acronym! And yes, we want our educators to be a bit obsessive-compulsive when it comes to generating and facilitating their online class!

The course began with a kickoff and happy hour for facilitators and participants to get to know each other, as well as a presentation about the unique design of the class. Some participants in the class have little or no online teaching experience. Others have been teaching online, but understand that designing a quality online course is something different.

“I am taking this course in order to become a more well-rounded online course designer,” said Cort Casey, an associate professor in the CBU Education Department. “I have actually taught quite a bit online before, but I am a novice online course designer.”

The first six-weeks are fully online. Participants read articles, watch videos, take quizzes and contribute to forums, just as their online students do. It’s part learning online course development, part “what it feels like” to be an online student. In these six weeks, professors explore ways to engage with their class, how to develop a course that students can easily navigate, and advanced features in Canvas. We also ask educators to rethink what they know about teaching in a traditional classroom and approach digital learning in a new, yet familiar way. The entire course is built on the foundation of student-centered design – all aspects focus on creating an online learning environment that considers how students best learn, navigate and participate online.

Karen Golightly is an associate professor and Chair of the English Department at CBU. She has taught online at various institutions, including CBU, for 20 years. But as any good professor knows, online or in the classroom, there is always room to grow.

“I’m trying to balance the specific student outcomes needed for each assignment/discussion question and some of the smaller details that are required, such as guiding questions for videos with the content of a literature (or creative writing) course,” said Karen. “The OFT (Online Faculty Training) got me working directly on these two aspects, but I want to refine those aspects of my course. I also want to engage students more. I’m going to work on how to make my courses more interesting. I hope this doesn’t include videos of me speaking very often, as I don’t like doing that. But I’m looking forward to learning how to establish a social presence online (I am often too direct) as well as engage students better.”

A period of contemplative, self-paced work follows the online portion. In this phase, professors take what they’ve learned and apply it to creating their fully-online course. Each participant is assigned to one of our Instructional Designers (ID). During the course design phase, participants meet one-on-one with their assigned ID. Participants will also gather in person at least once during this phase to share ideas and learn alongside their colleagues and our entire OLET team.

The culminating event will be a showcase that the entire CBU community is invited to attend! Our participants will give short presentations about their online course in an open forum. The goal is to share ideas with fellow participants, but also to show any interested faculty, students and staff what a high quality, online course looks like at CBU.

It’s going to be a challenging 16-weeks for our participants – all who teach, serve in leadership roles and/or work outside CBU. OLET has provided a fair stipend for successful completion, but just two weeks in and it’s obvious: these educators are in this to teach their students well, no matter where it happens.

As stated in CBU’s strategic plan, we are all dedicated to providing transformational learning experiences by “expanding vibrant academic programs and student experiences.” Developing a high-quality, interactive, meaningful online learning program is a key part of this mission. Online teaching is not antithetical to a Lasallian education. If we do this with care, it is central to it.


Lurene Kelley is the Online Student Success Specialist for Christian Brothers University’s Center for Digital Instruction. She holds a Ph.D in Organizational Communication from the University of Memphis and is a former college professor and journalist.  

The Duality of the Holiday Season

Screenshot 2019-12-05 09.40.32By Dale Hale

It’s the simple things that make the season, but if we’re realistic, we must also acknowledge the busyness of this time of year.

In academia, we look forward to the long winters’ naps during the break, but we understand it also comes with preparations for the Spring!

Before slipping into holiday mode, consider checking on a few things so both you and your students can experience a more pleasant re-entry into the Spring 2020 semester.

  1. Make sure you’ve updated your online classroom for the new term. Import what needs to be there. Our Instructional Design team created this short video to show you exactly how to import your content! Clean up what doesn’t need to be present. Get everything ready. The new term begins on January 4th and tidying up your online classroom while the students are in it can be confusing for all involved!
  2. Publish your course. Make sure you publish the contents of each module, as well as each module. A green circle with a checkmark in it means it is published and visible to the students. If you don’t want students working ahead, you can limit access by controlling the dates of accessibility. Always check the “Student View” by choosing that perspective in the upper right side menu. If you can’t see it in Student View, then it’s not been published. Contact our Instructional Designers if you need help with any of this. Contact us at or (902) 321-4004
  3. Plan to expand your use of Canvas, our LMS. You may have just used it as a repository for lecture notes or as a means of giving a quiz in your on-campus class. Did you know that you can use Canvas to take attendance? It’s really easy. Give it a shot. Learn something new. Try the gradebook. If you don’t know how to do something, contact us. I promise you, we will do all we can to help you accomplish what you want.
  4. Our Instructional Design team is ready and enthusiastic to help right up to the semester break. Although our office is closed during the break, the Canvas Support is available – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Just call Canvas Support at (901) 318-3024 or chat with a representative by clicking on the Help button in the main sidebar menu inside Canvas. They’ll even send you a helpful transcript of your conversation for reference!

With all of this done — classroom ready, new skills learned and new practices begun — it’s the perfect way to embrace and share the warmth that seems to happen more this time of year than any other. It’s a time for all of us to feel rejuvenated and prepared to start the new year fresh.

I also want to take this opportunity to wish each of you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

During this time of hustle and bustle, it is easy to get amped up with frustration. I’m not telling you something you don’t already know. It’s crazy out there. So, take a few minutes to breathe.

The holidays are a time to remember. Remember your heritage. Remember your family. Remember your other loved ones, those not related by blood but are perhaps as close as a blood relative. This is a time when you tell the stories, both humorous and touching, that seem to bind you even closer together.

The holidays are also a time of generosity. We give, sometimes until it hurts. The Salvation Army bell ringers are out in force. I did that one season many years ago. I stood in the cold, ringing a bell while wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Standing there in that frigid cold, watching the temperature dip below 20 degrees, I was even the recipient of generosity. Someone saw and took pity on me, bringing a hot cup of coffee. I didn’t even like coffee then, but I drank it with pleasure at the soothing warmth it brought me. What a simple but wonderful and generous gift!

So, take some time to remember and enjoy all of the things this season brings.

St. John Baptist De La Salle once said, “To touch the hearts of your students is the greatest miracle you can perform.” After all, that’s why we are here – to make a difference in the hearts and minds of our students. We bless them by our work. In the immortal words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone!”

Screenshot 2019-12-10 13.20.16


Dale Hale is the Director of CBU’s Office of Online Learning & Educational Technology (OLET). He holds a PhD in Education Policy Studies and Evaluation from the University of Kentucky. Previously, Dale was the Director of Distributed Learning at Asbury Theological Seminary where he was in charge of all aspects of the institution’s distance education program. 

That Time I Made My Own Course Video

Kyle Purpura's first teaching video.

Actual footage of Kyle Purpura’s first video!

By Kyle Purpura

In the early 90s, I began teaching accelerated economics courses in the international high school where I was employed. Although the language of instruction was English, over half of my students were non-native English speakers. This meant that I had to be cognizant that some of the course materials I inherited, such as the 600-page textbook, might not always be the best choice for a few of the members of the class. So from the outset of the year, I found myself on the lookout for relevant, suitable, palatable course materials to supplement what I had inherited.

Enter Phil Holden, the “Godfather of YouTube Economics.” Although we might be tempted to think otherwise, YouTube has only been with us since 2005. By 2006, Phil Holden, a charming economics teacher from a small, British international school in Greece, began publishing a series of straightforward, 5-20 minute videos focusing on various aspects of economic analysis. Filmed from a flip-cam mounted on a tripod, Phil’s videos consisted of him standing in front of a board, diagramming, explaining, and analyzing economic models and events.

The videos were technically simple, but Phil’s mastery of the content and his delightfully upbeat presentation made them something really special. They were obviously the product of a passion: making economics accessible to an audience that did not necessarily learn efficiently from reading economics textbooks. With permission, I downloaded every one of Phil’s videos and began sharing them with my classes. My students loved them.

There came a point where students would ask for a demonstration of something Phil’s videos hadn’t touched upon. So, I was motivated to make my first video (truth be told, I was also motivated by a desire to be just like Phil). So armed with a tripod and flip-cam, and wearing – for some inexplicable reason – a salmon-colored shirt, I shot the raw footage for my first video. I was nervous.

Don’t ask me why I was edgy, because it was just me, the whiteboard, and the camera. I hit the little red record button, and walked to my mark in front of the white board. I was awkward and felt wooden. I halted, stammered, and stuttered. Somewhere in the back of my mind though, I knew I could edit some of the stuttering out later. Finally, I finished! And then I edited (and edited, and edited), completing the process by publishing my very first YouTube video to my newly minted YouTube channel.

On Monday, I showed my students the video. The feedback was tough and hopeful all at the same time. Students didn’t love the piece as much as they loved Phil’s stuff, but they appreciated that I took the time to create and share something that could help them with the course. That was all I needed to hear.

Screenshot 2019-11-20 15.50.44Motivated to create better and better course content, I shot more and more videos, finding the process easier with each passing shoot and subsequent editing session. After the fifth video with me in front of the camera, I switched tactics, taking up screencasting instead of me in front of the camera. Through narrated, animated PowerPoints, I was able to focus more on the nitty gritty of the econ diagrams, while still providing “color commentary” with my recorded thoughts. Screencasting, as opposed to me on camera, allowed me to be more comfortable and to create better quality videos. I found that being behind the microphone was much more natural for me than being in front of the camera.

My students loved the new screencasts, every bit as much as they loved Phil’s stuff. Often they would tell me that they used both sets of videos – mine and Phil’s – in tandem with one another. Students also loved that they could ask me to create a video on a certain topic, and that I would have one finished within a day or two. And I certainly loved making them. The screencast format allowed me to easily fill in the skill and content gaps that students were sometimes experiencing. I could also tailor the video content to address the particular questions my students were asking.

But did this strategy produce positive outcomes? Now that I am no longer in the classroom, it’s a question I often ask myself. The answer is, “I think so.”

When I consider my students’ average scores on externally moderated exams, their scores increased after 2007/08, which is about the time I began to shoot my own vid-casts. This makes sense to me, as many of my students were kids whose first language was not English and had a fairly difficult time with advanced level textbooks. The videos distilled complex information and ideas so that they could better follow along; plus, if students were viewing at home, they could pause and go back back to information to hear and see for a second or a third time.

On the other hand, the increase in students’ median scores could have also been the result of other factors: changes in examination formats, a teacher who felt more engaged now that he was creating his own content, differences in class sizes, differences in international schools, etc.

Nonetheless, I believe that my strategy paid off – that better outcomes were attributable to my created video content. Students benefited because they could modify the speed of the course content at home to suit their different abilities to process information. They could also copy down and repeat in writing the step-by-step analysis that I highlighted in my videos. And they could show me – by pausing a video in class – where they were having problems in their understanding of the material. And students knew that they could request a new video of me at any time … which I delighted in accommodating.

Over ten years and almost a million channel views later, econ students from all over the world still contact me. “Mr. P, could you maybe make a video on …”


Kyle Purpura is an Instructional Designer and Trainer for Christian Brothers University’s Center for Digital Instruction. He holds an Educational Technology Master’s Degree from Boise State University and has served as a technology trainer and content developer in higher education overseas, as well as a high school administrator. 

Creative Ways to Connect Online

Screenshot 2019-11-20 15.04.51

By Lurene Kelley 

Dr. Juliette Paul is no stranger to giving digital life to words on paper. As an assistant professor in the Department of Literature and Language at Christian Brothers University, she specializes in Digital Humanities — a form of scholarship and pedagogy that applies computational tools and methodologies to printed works.

For Dr. Paul, online teaching is just an extension of her interests.

“I enjoy the opportunity to reach students in a different way, to create a different learning experience for them,” said Paul. “I believe online courses enrich their semester’s face-to-face work. For myself, I’d lose something, even in depth and versatility of my own teaching, if I wasn’t teaching online.”

Paul’s first online teaching experience was at a community college in Chicago. Since arriving at CBU in 2016, she has taught an online course every semester. She has also participated in OLET’s faculty training. In this time, she’s developed practices that she believes enhance her students’ experiences, as well as her own.

Communicate Early and Often

The conversation in one of Paul’s online courses begins before it ever opens in Canvas. Two weeks before the start of class, Paul sends an email. She introduces herself, reminds students of the first day of class, sets expectations and shares information about resources they’ll need. Paul does this to let students know she’s already anticipating their arrival and to increase chances that students will have the resources they need once class begins. This is especially critical in abbreviated, 8-week courses where waiting for a book to arrive can mark early failures for a student.

But her proactive email relationship doesn’t end there. Throughout the semester, Paul sends an email out every weekend welcoming students to the upcoming week. She writes about what will happen that week and how it will build on what they’ve already learned. Paul says these regular class emails are written more personally than her instructions in the modules and that this constant, more informal style of communication helps build participation and relationships with students.

Getting Personal

The first few assignments in Paul’s “Introduction to Literature” online course this Fall have nothing to do with the assigned novel this semester. Her earliest ungraded assignments involve showing students how to navigate her course. She takes them through a checklist of looking at the first module, watching her “welcome video” and clicking on the course overview. Another early, ungraded assignment is one many professors require — a discussion forum encouraging students to introduce themselves. Paul gives detailed instructions regarding what she wants to see in the introduction and models that by introducing herself.

Screenshot 2019-11-20 15.06.46

Paul sees this seemingly mundane assignment as vital to building relationships over the course of the semester, because it can be mined for information that is important to the student. In the introduction, Paul learns the name the student prefers. Just as it happens in class, the name that is officially associated with CBU credentials may not be what the student uses. Paul says she makes sure to use that student’s preferred name in any responses throughout the semester.*

She believes that this simple introduction assignment and other early exchanges, if used intentionally by the professor, can produce more engagement.

“My goal early in the term is to make students feel really welcome,” said Paul. “And also let them know, ‘I see you’ – I see you logged in, you did the assignment. I also say things like ‘Did you hear that ‘so-and-so’ had a similar idea?’ to really work to create connection between myself and students and among students,  just like you would at a party! I look at it as a social environment.”

Paul also creates a graded assignment requiring each student to meet with her one-on-one – either in her office or via an email exchange. You could also add a WebEx meeting to this assignment.

Screenshot 2019-11-20 15.08.20

“Online learning can feel more depersonalized than face-to-face or advising,” said Paul. “I’ve come to learn that many of our students are even more eager in online to have regular contact with faculty members. Giving students feedback more frequently is more important to my teaching style online and important to the student’s success. When I teach online courses, I am engaged in a different way than face-to-face, but not less so.”

* Author’s note: Professors could also make it a practice to specifically ask all students for preferred pronouns in the introduction instructions. This could feel welcoming to students who identify as gender non-binary and would give the professor and classmates the opportunity to use the student’s correct pronoun throughout the semester.

Scaffolding for Online

Professors often worry that online students might feel less connected to each other and their professor, and also that the limitations of an online platform lessen the quality of the course. Paul believes the engagement and quality can be there, they’re just different.

For example, in a traditional classroom, Paul may require students to write an 8-10 page research paper. She may ask for less pages for her online students, but that doesn’t mean they’ve written less. That’s because she has “scaffolded” the project by requiring more pre-writing assignments on a rigorous schedule that are smaller, but actually enhance the final project.

“The assignments for online are different than face-to-face, but they’re the same quality,” said Paul. “I want students to demonstrate the same skills that face-to-face would lead them to, but by way of the social and research-based learning activities that digital environments tend to afford online learners. Although I don’t require less, in order for students to reach their potential, we all have to work more slowly and deliberately.”

Blurring Digital and Physical Spaces

Paul also uses Canvas regularly in her traditional classroom courses. The Canvas shell in this case, becomes a repository for class readings and videos, as well as a place for her students to participate in graded online forums between class meetings and contribute to reflective journals. Even in her traditional classes, Canvas is a virtual environment to bring students, teacher and resources together.

Paul admits that teaching online has challenges and that, like in the classroom, her efforts aren’t always successful. But she believes that looking for new ways to engage with students in Canvas and in the online environment, as a whole, can open up our understanding of how and where students can learn and thrive.


Lurene Kelley is the Online Student Success Specialist for Christian Brothers University’s Center for Digital Instruction. She holds a Ph.D in Organizational Communication from the University of Memphis and is a former college professor and journalist.