Part 9: Spring 2019 Labs

165 Online Teaching – 03.14.2019

Online learning is an entirely different animal than the traditional classroom. In the March 14, 2019 Active Teaching Lab, 17 participants discussed how to fine-tune teaching practices to create rich, effective digital learning experiences for students. Talking points included instructor presence, student engagement, and approaches to attending to individuals online vs. a physical classroom.


  • An online course is not the same as a face-to-face course, so when shifting from one to the other use the SAMR model to help evolve content for new possibilities.
  • Have a conversation at the department level about online teaching. Consider establishing a departmental vision or strategy. Collaborate, share, and establish standards. Building consistency is great for students. 
  • Start putting content up and organizing it early rather than as you go. You should finish developing the course online before students start the course.
  • Be careful not to create “a course and a half.” Just because the interweb is limitless in size doesn’t mean you should overwhelm your students with a deluge of every educational resource that has ever helped you with anything remotely related to the topic. Help your students succeed by giving them access to what they truly need.
  • Make a personal connection so you are a human behind the screen. Complete your teacher profile and photo, and require students to do the same so you put face to person. From the beginning, hold some form of virtual conference with students, even if it is just for 5 minutes. Track each student with any personal information that you get on them throughout the semester.
  • “Direct traffic,” meaning construct the course and the course artifacts such that either:
    • The students have redundant links at several locations to get them to the things you want them to see, or
    • Extraneous links are removed to help them follow a predetermined path. (In Canvas, that means removing some tools on the toolbar if you aren’t using them.)
  • Don’t respond to every discussion post. Let the discussion live in the hands of the students to share and generate ideas without interruption. Later, summarize or make connections so students know you were there. If you step in too often, you stifle the communication and ideas that can generate organically.
  • Don’t give your students infinite support in every possible avenue of contact. Set up specified channels of conversation and Q&A, and support them. Before diving in to content, set students up for success with a “week 0” module that lays out expectations, objectives, and effective study strategies. See a template for such an orientation module here.
  • Gain firsthand knowledge of this topic as an online student with the TeachOnline@UW course. Participants learn online course design and teaching best practices while experiencing how an online course works from the student perspective.

For more information on online teaching, visit the session’s activity sheet.


The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.), room 120. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

Sign up for regular Lab announcements by sending an email to


Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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