Guest Contributor Ken Baldauf, Florida State University.

MOOCs, MOOCs, MOOCs! Everyone’s talking about MOOCs! Are massively open online courses really going to take over higher education? While MOOCs aren’t yet a serious threat to a traditional college degree, they have opened educators’ and administrators’ eyes to the advantages of online education. Class enrollment is no longer limited by classroom space, and university enrollment need not be limited to residential students. As institutions work to define the scope of their student population, many are exploring various forms of online education. Here at Florida State University, we have been offering online courses and online degree programs for over a decade. But in the year of the MOOC, courses are going online all over campus like never before, many offered by departments that have never offered an online course before. The purpose of this article is to assist teachers who suddenly find themselves designing an online course.

Just like in the classroom, there are effective and ineffective ways to teach online. Unfortunately, poorly delivered online courses are often held up as proof that online education is inferior to classroom education. I’m here to testify that online teaching can be MORE effective than on-ground classes, and more rewarding  for the teacher. The key is to promote online interaction between students, and build an online learning community. I often tell my colleagues that I am closer to my online students than I ever was to my lecture hall full of students.

As I have been assisting my colleagues in taking their courses online, I have given a significant amount of thought to the skills that are required for successful online teaching. I group these skills into three categories: social media skills, web publishing skills, and media production skills. Here are suggestions that I hope will assist teachers in acquiring skills in these three areas.

Social Media Skills

A teacher cannot build strong relationships with students online unless that teacher understands the online lifestyle. As much as possible, online teachers should experience a lifestyle like your students. Connect with friends on Facebook and Google+ on a regular basis. Find individuals with common interests on Twitter. Publish a professional page on LinkedIn. Utilize text messaging, and mobile social apps like FourSquare. Explore online communication tools that support both one-to-many and one-to-one communication in real time. Google hangouts is a great place to start. There’s also Justin.tv. Conduct research on how social media is used in education – edudemic.com has some wonderful articles on the topic. The more comfortable you become with building and interacting in online communities, the more effective you will be at building an online learning community for your students where lasting relationships are established.

Web Publishing Skills

Teachers who have basic web publishing skills are the most effective online teachers. Delivering course content in the web’s native HTML is much more effective than providing PDF or Word documents for students to download. An online course should be delivered online, not as a collection of documents to be downloaded and printed. I recommend exploring the basics of web publishing by creating a free blog and website at www.wordpress.com. WordPress is a content management system that utilizes an interface that is common across many similar popular systems. There are hundreds of WordPress tutorials online, including one I provide at kenteaches.wordpress.com. After becoming familiar with WordPress you might enjoy learning about BuddyPress. I use BuddyPress as an online learning community for my classes. It’s a great tool for encouraging students to get acquainted. In order to use BuddyPress you’ll need to set up WordPress on your own server or utilize a web hosting company like Dreamhost which offers one-click installation of WordPress. Also explore educational publishing tools like Apple’s iBooks Author and iTunes U. Google has a publishing tool called Course Builder.  It helps to learn HTML.

Media Production Skills

Successful online courses mix video and media in with reading to make the course content more engaging. Short instructor video snippets captured with a webcam can be used to provide lesson overviews, and weekly updates.  Teacher videos have additional value in that they allow students to get to know you, the instructor, as a person. Make sure your video is professional though! Do a search on “webcam video tips” for suggestions. It’s also helpful to learn how to record your computer display. Camtasia for Windows, or Screenflow for Macs, allow you to record screen action such as technical demonstrations or PowerPoint presentations. Windows Snipping Tool allows you to capture screen shot stills to include in tutorials or projects. On Macs you can utilize a variety of shortcut key combinations to capture your screen. Explore ways to publish your media through YouTube and Vimeo. Other helpful online media tools include Slideshare, Prezi, and Xtranormal.

Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to online teaching resources. I hope many of you will share your own tips as replies to this post. I believe that the secret to success for online teaching is first to create an online environment in which students and teachers communicate and share continuously in an ongoing dialogue throughout the duration of the semester, and second to deliver course materials in a clear and engaging manner. There are many other details to consider – books have been written, but communication and delivery are the keys to success.

Ken Baldauf is director of the Program in Interdisciplinary Computing at Florida State University, where he is responsible for developing courses to meet computing and technology needs across disciplines.  

 

Which online resources do you find most beneficial? What technology-related skills have you recently acquired — and how have they benefited your ability to teach online? Leave a comment below.