Navigating the Unique Challenges of Online Teaching

Online classes are a prominent part of the education landscape, with special interest from both students and college administrators. But little is available to help faculty members navigate the resources, compensation structures and pedagogical concerns unique to the virtual classroom.

It is our hope that this guide will help fill that gap and facilitate the application of the science of teaching and learning to online psychology classes.

See the complete interactive Flash presentation for extended details about online teaching, including: supporting research; examples of compensation structures, support services and course design; free articles and reports; and other tools.

Considerations and Recommendation for Colleges and Faculty

Faculty Preparation

Know about the online teaching environment before you commit yourself.

  • Take an online class. Get a student's perspective while you learn the strengths and weaknesses of the online format.
  • Assess your knowledge of technology and support. Familiarize yourself with the technology resources and people at your institution.
  • Understand the time commitment and recognize advantages. Teaching online requires more time. But advantages include freedom to set your own schedule, less paper and less commuting, and time saved with instantaneous access to posts.
  • Learn to maintain academic integrity. Decrease the likelihood of academic misconduct with the careful formulation of syllabi, an online academic integrity module, and a clearly articulated student honor code.
College Support

Colleges need to ensure appropriate support for qualified faculty is in place.

  • Provide training. Offer faculty members training in best practices and rubrics to use on their classes.
  • Offer compensation for course development. Learning to operate and implement a learning management system (LMS) is time consuming. Many institutions compensate faculty members preparing to teach online for the first time.
  • Hire instructional designers. Pair a faculty member with a designer who has the technological skills to develop an online course and help with IT issues, LMS problems, copyright and intellectual property, etc.
  • Provide other IT support. Offer IT training on the college's LMS. Have someone available on campus for questions. Offer a user's group of others who work with the same system.
  • Reduce class size. Help faculty members cope with the extra time required to teach online by reducing class sizes.
Student Support Services

Students participating in online classes need support readily available and easy to access.

  • Help students determine if an online class is the right choice. Outline your expectations at the beginning of the course. Offer an assessment tool so they can evaluate their readiness to take a class online. Specify the technology requirements upfront.
  • Offer writing assistance. Online students need access to services — such as writing assistance and tutoring — at the same level as their traditional student colleagues.
  • Provide technology assistance. Support online students with a local person or office that is familiar with the college's LMS and able to troubleshoot problems. Availability by phone after hours is extremely helpful.
  • Offer opportunities for campus life. Technological connections to the college, faculty and each other can improve degree completion and student retention rates.