Best Practices

Online courses take time to build: we are here to help

When it comes to quality course design, strategies and approaches vary depending on the mode of course delivery. Online teaching, in particular, has specific best practices that extend beyond merely posting course materials online. Whether you are new to online teaching, find yourself restructuring a traditional class that has recently moved online, or are a seasoned online instructor who’s ready to explore a course review or renewal, the instructional design staff at Touro can help you meet your goals in developing high-quality, rigorous online courses. Below, we highlight some best practices that you may want to consider as you start, or continue, your online teaching journey.

Don't reinvent the wheel: use your online teaching toolkit

Our team, works closely with faculty and industry experts to collect and curate instructional materials and learning tools that you can incorporate into your course. You can access this growing collection of discussion board activities, syllabus templates, Touro-specific policy statements, learning activities, and more in the Department of Online Education’s Online Teaching Toolkit. You can access these materials in Box – simply click the link and log into Box using your Touro sign on credentials.

Best Practices

Getting Ready to Teach Online

Making the shift to online learning takes time. Your best approach is to meet with a Touro Instructional Designer, syllabus and questions in hand. Browsing high-quality online courses can also give you a big advantage in imagining how you will translate your teaching style and content to an online learning format.

To begin the transition to teaching online, give yourself opportunities to experiment with the Canvas learning management system (LMS). You can start converting one or two of your in-class activities into a Canvas-hosted element, like a discussion board, assignment, or online assessment.

To get the Canvas skills you’ll need to teach online, you have a few options. You can explore the Canvas Orientation for Faculty here, contact a Touro Instructional Designer for an overview training, or join the larger Canvas community and browse the instructor guides.

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Fast-Tracking an Online Course

In an ideal world, online courses are developed more than a semester in advance of the online course start date. Rarely, however, do we find ourselves in ideal circumstances. Following course development best practices can be a crucial approach in making efficient and productive use of your time.

Use Templates: Ask your instructional designer for a pre-made Touro Online Course Template, or ask your colleagues for access to an existing course design.

Stay Organized: Whether you’re looking at module layout, assignment formatting, or course due dates, staying consistent and organized will allow you to make best use of your time. One well-developed module can serve as the boilerplate for your entire class, and you can copy modules, assignments, and learning objects to customize at a later date.

Use the Touro Rubric for Online Education and the one-page checklist: Designing your course with Touro Online Education standards in mind will help you focus your efforts on the course design.

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Creating an Online Syllabus

Online syllabi require more detail. Technology requirements, netiquette expectations, and online attendance policies are just a few of the many issues that must be clearly outlined in an online course syllabus.

Relying on a standardized online course syllabus can remove a lot of the guesswork associated with developing a high-quality document. You can check with your department for resources, or use this syllabus template with instructions from the Department of Online Education.

Using Media

Multimedia options work to heighten student engagement with your course, but they should likewise support your instructional learning objectives. Providing students with media resources as a means of comprehending course content is especially effective for visual and auditory learning styles. If the media doesn’t relate to course learning objectives, it should be marked as “optional.” As you incorporate multimedia material into your online courses, consider the following options:

  • Make use of Open Educational Resource (OER) Depositories: Many excellent animations, illustrations, images, tutorials, and simulations are available in OER repositories. You can view a collection of OER resources.
  • Put pedagogy first: Select your media to align with pedagogical goals, such as providing opportunities for social engagement, reinforcing concepts, or facilitating active learning.
  • Watch out for large file formats: Large media files can pose bandwidth problems. Choosing streaming services such as YouTube, compressing large image files, and choosing short run-time lengths can make a big difference for your students.
  • Make short, well-lit video lectures: When it comes to recording your own video lectures, length and lighting matter. Keep your videos shorter than 15 minutes (and ideally around 3-5 minutes), and use these best practices in setting up your webcam recording.
  • Archive.org offers an impressive collection of audio, textual, video, software, and image collections. Searchable and intuitively linked to other archive resources such as Project Gutenberg, the Smithsonian, news sources, and Flickr, archive.org is a great catch-all site to begin any classroom media project.
  • The Media History Project is a “non-profit initiative dedicated to digitizing collections of classic media periodicals that belong in the public domain for full public access.”
  • BLC Library of Foreign Language Film Clips is a tagged and structured collection of clips from foreign language films (requires application for an account).
  • Newseum: Provides access to front pages from over 800 newspapers worldwide
  • Open Culture: “The best free cultural and educational media on the web,” including free language lessons, movies, audio books, etc.
  • Penn State's Free Media Library: Contains links to free media collections of audio, image and video resources.
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Facilitating an Online Class

Managing Presence, Preserving Your Time, and Maintaining a Culture of Academic Integrity: An online class can be a daunting workload challenge, especially if you want to establish an instructor presence that students can see. Using strategies to maximize your impact without bankrupting your free time is crucial in facilitating an online class.

Instructor Presence and Time Saving Tips: You can heighten instructor presence while protecting your time with these practices:

  • Create regular announcements that you can revise for subsequent years.
  • Host optional live Zoom office hours for drop-ins or appointments.
  • Create canned responses for assessment feedback that you can quickly customize for students.
  • Participate in the discussion boards efficiently: spread your responses to different students week by week, and remember that short responses can be an encouraging addition to your discussion board contributions.
  • Create opportunities for students to interact with one another – that social presence will positively reflect on their overall evaluation of the course.
  • Use scoring rubrics to facilitate faster grading. Learn more about how to incorporate rubrics into the Canvas Gradebook here.
  • Make sure to use an “Ask Your Instructor Board.” Refer to it in the syllabus and direct student questions there – then, you only have to respond to a particular question one time, to the benefit of everyone.

The Truth about Cheating in Online Education: Like it or not, students cheat. But empirical and theoretical studies continue to show that online students are no more or less likely to cheat. Moreover, many online courses have fewer incidences of academic dishonesty than face to face classes. Experience tells us that a student who is determined to cheat will likely do so, no matter what the risk. But between the more distributed assessment habits of online teaching and the visible tools in use that are monitoring academic integrity, the controls for monitoring cheating in an online class are in some ways more effective than those in a face to face class. Here are some tips to promote academic integrity in your online class:

  • Create a culture of honesty: Studies show that the most effective tool in preventing academic dishonesty is the professor themselves. Requiring students to complete the Academic Integrity Statement online is a first step, but you can extend the conversation, and shape the culture, but incorporating topics about integrity into your course materials and conversations.
  • Use the technology available: Canvas has an effective plagiarism detection software Called TurnItIn, as well as browser lockdown software for quizzes and exams. Online proctoring resources are baked in to the Canvas platform, and if you wish, you can have students monitored during examinations.
  • Create unique assessments: Students will surprise you with their creativity and motivation when you create unique homework assignments! Moreover, making assignments that are highly personalized to the students’ input and preferences, or using prompts that integrate personal reflection, often have fewer attempts at cheating.
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On Time Management Strategies:

On Teaching Presence:

Learning Objectives and Assessments

Strong Learning Objectives are the Cornerstone of Quality Course Design: Many faculty find that one of the most profound consequences of developing measurable learning objectives is an enlightened sense of how the course homework assignments are supporting student learning. Measurable learning objectives focus on action verbs that can be categorized in a taxonomy that ranges from lower-order to higher-order thinking. Knowing how your learning objectives measure up against these taxonomies can be an eye opening experience, and facilitate data-driven decision you might make about making some assessments easier or harder, depending on the level of difficulty that is appropriate for the student population and the course.

While it might not be obvious at first how to create measurable learning objectives, with only a little practice, you’ll soon become an expert. You can start with online objectives builders like ASU's Learning Objectives Builder, or UCF's Objective Builder Tool, and start aligning your course objectives with your assessments right away!

Designing Assessments: More than Just Testing, Assessments are for Teaching: Research shows that quizzes and exams alone give an incomplete picture of a student’s progress. You can use assessments to ascertain prior knowledge, reinforce learning materials with low-stakes and multiple-attempt settings, to reinforce long-range skill development, to scaffold components of larger projects, and much, much more. Canvas assessment tools, along with integrating educational applications, provide faculty with many opportunities to develop diverse and robust assessments, including rubrics that can help students assess their own work and faculty grade assessments with ease. You can learn more about using these tools by visiting the Canvas instructor guides, or email onlineeducation@touro.edu and meet with an expert from the Instructional Design team to collaborate with you on your teaching and assessment goals.

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  • On Rubrics:
    An excellent source for viewing thousands of rubrics, and building your own, is RubiStar. This US Department of Education program helps you build rubrics online, and search rubrics across a variety of disciplines and topics for your own use or modification.
  • On Assessments:
    Check out Brown University's collection of links about assessment at their Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. Also, Brown has published this list of assessment tips.

Netiquette and Online Communications

Just as there are conventions for speaking among different audiences and in different contexts, online communications are similarly governed by a series of practices known as Netiquette. At Touro, all online classes feature Netiquette information in the Course Policies page, and all online course syllabi are required to have a netiquette policy statement.

To learn more about Touro’s netiquette policy, you can see the text version of the netiquette policy, and the infographic version of our netiquette policy. Either formats are acceptable for an online course syllabus.

Supporting Student Success

Not all students are ready to learn online, even though online education might suit their needs as adult learners. You can help students succeed in their online courses by knowing where to direct them for support. The Department of Online Education supports students as well as faculty, and we can support you in supporting them. Here are some tips for supporting student success in online classes:

  • Know where to go for help: Adding TouroOne Helpdesk and Canvas Helpdesk information in your syllabus, opening announcement, and first learning module can ensure students have the resources they need for support from the very beginning.
  • For issues that fall outside of helpdesk support, refer students to Lea (Friedman) Abberbock, Program Manager in Online Education at Lea.Friedman3@touro.edu.
  • Encourage students to complete a Canvas Orientation Course: Such courses can be completed online, and Touro has orientations built for students in fully online classes, and Canvas orientations for students joining Zoom-enabled classrooms.