Teaching in-person and teaching online might appear vastly different, but by adopting some best practices from online teaching, you can save time and communicate more effectively in the classroom. Try one or more of these online teaching strategies if your student engagement feels like it’s flagging.

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  1. Put your expectations in writing

  2. In online teaching you have little to no face-to-face time with students to clarify goals or answer questions. To compensate, every last instruction is put in writing, including basic guidelines about oow to succeed in the course. Rubrics spell out what is called for in a given assignment and exactly how marks will be allotted.

    When it comes to the classroom, it’s still worth crafting explicit and comprehensive written instructions and rubrics even though you can deliver and interpret your expectations in person. Why? Because students aren’t paying attention when you tell them in lab or from the podium. If it’s not also in writing, your brilliant ad libbing and elocution will likely be forgotten by the end of class—or, wrongly interpreted. Your primary goal is not to evaluate students on the power of their attention span.

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  3. Reach out via email and messaging

  4. Online teaching is as strong as your online communication. Because there’s no body language or break-time chit-chat, it’s extra important to reach out to these remote and faceless students at the beginning of term. Humanizing the experience helps online students become engaged and stay engaged—letting them know you’re friendly, proactive and there to help them succeed.

    It’s harder for students to hide from you while sitting in a classroom. Plenty still do. Others stop showing up to class. If you take a few minutes at the start of the semester to reach out with an email or a message on the course LMS, you open a line of communication that might make the difference between a student failing or facing his academic hurdles. Accommodated students will feel more comfortable talking about what they need. Others who are shy or confused or simply having a rough term are more likely to ask for help.

  5. Build educational resources into your course platform

Many online courses comes with course materials fully loaded in modules that students navigate at their own pace. The professionally architected module content that typically supports online teaching features text, images, videos and links to sources for further viewing, reading or listening. It’s extremely convenient for students, who encounter all materials for their course at the precise time they’re needed.

As a classroom teacher, you might not have a team of instructional designers and programmers behind you. But you can still put a modular resource strategy to work. Using open textbooks or materials covered under academic fair use, you can upload and arrange course readings into a weekly or modular format in your course shell. All students will then have access to the course readings from wherever, whenever they want.

As an instructor, I enjoy being able to customize a selection of readings from a variety of sources and working with up-to-the-minute and primary source materials. Perhaps most importantly, building open textbooks into your course shell avoids the pernicious problem of overpriced textbooks.

Won’t these online teaching strategies create more work?

Yes, it takes time to be comprehensive with your assignment instructions. But putting that time in up-front will cut down on the extra hours—usually during the stressful crunch at end-of-term—you spend dealing with students who have grievances about grades. If everything’s been published in advance, not only is it easier to justify a fair grade, it’s easier to defuse an angry student.

The same goes for reaching out. Take the time at the outset to connect with your students by week two or three: this acts as a kind of vaccination against that population of learners, dormant all semester, who suddenly emerge in week 11 or 12 in full-blown crisis mode, demanding your attention and derailing your plans with late and desperate submissions.

And as for using open textbooks, in my teaching I haven’t noticed any difference in course prep time. I have, though, noticed I spend less time answering the ever-irritating question: “Do I really need to buy the textbook?”


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Karen Quevillon

Karen Quevillon

Karen Quevillon earned a PhD in Philosophy from Northwestern University and lives in Hamilton, Ontario. She teaches writing, literature and liberal arts courses in-class and online at Ontario colleges. A published author of poetry and fiction, she has worked as a freelance writer for almost a decade.