Online Learning: Faculty


Being thoughtful about how to make the best use of Blackboard tools contributes to an effective online learning experience. The following are reflections and insight from the Hostos faculty community on their online course design and teaching experiences.


Defining expectationsFaculty on defining  expectations:

Since online learning is so different in its practices than face-to-face learning, I like to spell out to my students how one goes about being an online student and what they can expect from me as an online instructor. I go through the steps of what being a student in an online class means – that they should look at the weekly folder for the upcoming week on Monday to see what activities will be conducted and what work is due. They should plan their week’s work accordingly and check in several times on any discussion boards to see how they have developed/ where they’d like to contribute.

I time the announcements so they appear at midnight on the first day of the week, and persist through the term, but are posted in reverse order so that the newest one is always at the top (minimizing scrolling is always a best practice). The students, on the other hand, really appreciate always knowing what’s expected of them. Since we are not immediately available in an online course, our instructions have to be clearer than ever.

I like to keep it simple. Tasks will be clearly defined on a Monday with due dates and methodologies for completion.  I plan on varying between Journals, Discussion boards and Formal Writing Assignments.  Feedback will come from me and other students.  Student participation is mandatory and will count as their attendance.

I’m really concerned with reliability or regularity.  I mistakenly thought maintaining the course schedule after the transition to online learning (reading responses due on class days) would serve that purpose.  Instead, of course, students had entirely new schedules, and the weekly model of assignments/tasks was [were] much more effective.

With the guidance of the task list in the training course, I’ve updated the course elements for the course I am slated to teach next semester. Doing so in advance has made me more thoughtful of how I intend to execute the course, whereas I previously did not have as much preset conditions for an in-person lecture.”

Having this structure already makes me feel more in control and confident in teaching the course, as I have sufficient time to finalize how I would like the course to be delivered.

I’ve been teaching a class for over 25 years.  My main goal is to reach new and younger audiences, and I want my students to realize they can understand classical music.  My approach has changed. The way we’ve been asked to organize the material online is making me realize that by providing the information in a sensible manner, will help the students decide by themselves.  They won’t need to experience face-to-face the passion I feel for the music to be inspired.

Faculty on resources and support:

“One strategy I implement every semester is to ask students to exchange emails and phone numbers. In doing so, my objective is for them to create a community of co learners where they support one another. It is also one way to network so to me, the interaction among students become the best source of support.

One point that definitely resonated with me was establishing a routine/weekly template for students to follow–I think it did make things easier on my students once I did this, because they knew what tasks they would have to do on a given day/week, and I was less worried about being on Blackboard 24/7 because it allowed me to also create a schedule/routine for Cartoon: Student with thinking capmyself.

One thing I plan to check out in the future is the VoiceThread technology. I already have an archival document of frequent comments, but perhaps this tech will help streamline my comments even more.”

“I am very excited about the interpersonal communication building possible with flipgrid. I will assign exercises with this often, but of course monitoring its success. I discovered flipgrid thanks to my son’s teacher and found his interest in responding to students and recording videos enhanced his overall interest in the subject matter. I am hoping this has the same effect on my students. “

“I am one of those that detailed in my announcement where students can find materials for course along with external resources that may never thought would be useful such as the PUBLIC LIBRARY.”

Course Design and EnvironmentFaculty on course design and environment:

I am organizing my course content in folders named after corresponding chapters. These folders are placed in Course Content and contain all the necessary information related to the material covered in corresponding chapter, such as lecture slides, videos, simulations, and other relevant information. So, students will see clearly presented folders and will be able to find the information needed. I used this design last semester and the students found it very helpful.”

“As for the structure of my learning units, I’ve decided to stick with weeks as I’ve done in previous courses. I’ve always found that it’s easier for students to know what we’re doing that way. I can understand the idea of discrete learning units when you’re using a textbook, but in my course, we read longer texts over a number of weeks. Because what we get through in a discussion may vary from section to section, having the weekly framework specifying which pages/chapters students are expected to read keeps everyone on the same page.”

“I already organize my course into six learning units, introduction, fiction, poetry, drama, research, and final. Each unit will contain readings, lectures, a simple quiz, and an essay assignment… I try to streamline the items so that concurrent items are titled similarly, and I try to use hyperlinks strategically so that students can click on the item that the directions describe.

I agree with the recommendation to create the course in a “template” format so that the students would have a similar look/feels with every unit and would know what is expected of them. I found helpful the suggestion to have “chapter quizzes” with a pool of questions that would change with each attempt to take the quiz which serves as a review of the chapter as well.”

I find that the more I have streamlined my course this past semester regarding where the content was posted, the more the students used it and completed assignments.

When we first went to distance learning, the options for Blackboard were overwhelming not only for me, but the students. Much of the time was spent looking for the content rather than using it. I find that only utilizing a few of the options and taking advantage of those options to their fullest extent is an easier option for the students. I make an announcement. Put files in course content. Use the discussion board and collaborate, mostly that all. More than that they feel like they missed something somewhere.”

“One of the obstacles that I’ve faced personally is that I feel like the Blackboard interface itself isn’t always the most user-friendly. Specifically, even in a very streamlined class, there’s lots of links and tabs, and it’s not always easy to navigate (for existence, the “back” button doesn’t always bring you back to the previous page.) I can only imagine what students experience when they’re using Blackboard on their phones! 

I do think some of the best practices mentioned can alleviate this somewhat–having shortcuts to areas students will need to access most frequently, having a main “Course Content” folder organized by Learning Unit, etc.

“Not all students learn the same way and at the same pace. Designing a course that is effective and available to all implies we must be flexible enough to accommodate all possibilities. As such, I use all available resources and tools such as youtube,, power point presentations, news articles, movies, short films, etc. as ways to engage students in critical thinking.

Interaction and EngagementFaculty on interaction and engagement:

Although I would really like for everyone to use their camera, there are some reasons why you would not want this to be required. Here’s a good article with some insightful comments that changed my mind on this. I plan on encouraging my class to turn their camera and mic on when they are addressing the class or their groups. If they don’t feel comfortable using their camera then they will need to set a personal photo as their display image and use a microphone when in discussions and during group work in breakout rooms.” 

I worried that splitting people into even smaller groups would take energy out of the class. In retrospect I think I should have employed breakout sessions more frequently, even if there were just two people per group. Having a space where students can connect without a professor watching is a key aspect of building collaborative relationships with fellow students.

“I love creating discussion boards that deal with the topic being presented in a class session. I require that students write a response to the promptthen go back and read another student’s response and write a constructive commentary to the other student’s comments.  This allows for communal learning and for students to become co-creators of the learning experience.  I also participate in the discussion board by providing a commentary at the end of the discussion that focuses on the overarching themes that arise in the students’ discussions.”

Cartoon: Instructor receiving 700 messagesI send individual feedback to each student of their assignment, but I also provide an overall feedback to the entire class after reviewing every student’s work.  This allows the class to learn about the contribution that each of them makes to the class.  By providing continuous feedback to students (in a constructive way), I begin to establish rapport with each of them and they begin to see me as a learning partner where they can bounce ideas for their paper topics or presentation topics.”

“I wholeheartedly agree with the use of peer-to-peer learning strategies. I have my students use both a general discussion board for their cultural artifact presentations to approximate the kind of dialogue we might have had in a f2f class as well as group discussion boards for peer responses to their longer assignments.

“Providing a clear, positive, sustained online presence is one of my top priorities as I develop this course.

Assessment and FeedbackFaculty on assessments and feedback:

The best way to support students through the online learning experience is to set transparent routines so that the technology doesn’t act as an obstacle to the learning.  In my in-person English class, I used to require students to annotate the readings and I would check their annotations at the beginning of class.  They will now submit their notes about the readings.  In-class discussions will now take place on the Discussion Board (I will require that they respond to posts by 2 other students).  And peer review sessions of drafts will happen asynchronously.  I am also planning to make myself available through Blackboard Collaborate during optional office hours.”

I plan to organize formal writing assignments around the drafting and revision process, which should help to individuate the learning process and provide as many choices as possible for student learning.  Rather than covering the literature, I plan to focus students’ attention on various collections of contradictory or otherwise problematic textual quotations. Students will then work collectively to interpret these collections before moving to interpret them more individually.” 

I plan to encourage students to pick from, use, or even “plagiarize” their peers’ comments within our discussions while writing their first draft. Any plagiarized sentences that students carry over from the discussions into their first draft, can then be revised and therefore individuated from the first and second drafts. I plan to minimize cheating by emphasizing the appropriateness of plagiarism early in the writing process. It’s one thing for a student to try to pass another’s work off as his own, but it’s quite another thing for that student to borrow a raw, somewhat underdeveloped idea from another student and, through his own work, develop it into his own idea. We call the former ‘cheating but we call the latter ‘writing.’

“Streamlining assessment always sounds good in theory, if difficult to achieve in writing intensive and literature courses. I have found that having them submit essays in PDF through SafeAssign on Blackboard helps me and them, since it allows to post comments/feedback within the text and also in paragraph style below the given grade. Students see comments and the grade as soon as it is read. However, all student must be able to post a PDF file, which is not easy for all of them.”

“I use group work for content discussion and peer-review for in-progress essay writing. I have used peer-to-peer forms where the rubric benchmarks are “translated” into questions that the students respond about their peer’s draft. I am still trying to find the best way to do this in Blackboard.”

“I am going to try a combination of Google docs and screen grab videos to show students annotations on a poem. I’ve realized an added benefit of the Google doc option is that if I need to make changes, I can do it right in the Google doc. Once I have linked to the Google doc in Blackboard, I don’t have to change anything in every single blackboard course.

“I think quizzes are a great, low-stakes way to make sure students are reading (and that they know I’m checking to see if they’re reading). I allowed multiple attempts and counted the highest grade, but I didn’t advertise that, and I found a few students did go back and re-do them on their own, which meant they had to re-visit the material, so I was glad to see that!

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