How to Improve Your Online Instruction


As a final, “in-class,” assignment, the students in my knowledge dissemination course were charged with brainstorming 3 things they wished instructors would improve on in their online teaching. They were then asked to prototype a knowledge dissemination plan to best get that information to professors. They had 20 minutes.

With their permission, I am sharing their suggestions here with the hope that we (me included) can all get better at this.


Group 1

How can instructors improve their online teaching methods?

  1. Flexibility – being completely open to the needs of your students, having flexible office hours and a flexible syllabus if possible (collaborate with your students on the expectations!)
  2. Variety – assign diverse mediums for assignments to keep it interesting and have a couple different types of deliverables to suit all your students’ needs (e.g. if a student isn’t as comfortable participating in class or posting on a discussion board, they can still show engagement through written reflections, videos, longer-term assignments)
  3. Accessibility – make sure all of your teaching materials (lectures, guides, written expectations) are available asynchronously for any students that may have unstable wifi connection, is logging onto your synchronous sessions at 4 AM on the opposite side of the world, etc.

How will we disseminate this knowledge to instructors?

We propose a professional development synchronous online workshop (1.5 hours maximum, as we understand attention spans when online are also short :)) in tandem with a Canvas course where all materials form the workshop will be available. We’re targeting UBC professors with this initiative, which explains why we chose Canvas for the platform – however, a similar project could be replicated on a larger scale using Zoom and a shared Drive! Programming for the 1.5-hour online workshop would be as follows:

  • Video Screening – produced by the students (and paid for with the budget money) introducing all of the recommendations listed above. Think Old Spice ad – that’s the energy we’re aiming for. A pamphlet would also be provided as a written supplement to help teachers follow along and elaborate on certain strategies. Both the video and the pamphlet would be posted on the Canvas after the workshop so instructors unable to attend would still have access.
  • Student Panel Q&A – the panel would consist of a diverse group of students all from different faculties, as the way an organic chemistry lab is structured online would differ from a film studies course. Students would introduce themselves, debrief the video, then open the floor to any questions/concerns teachers may have. Students are the panelists/experts here as we are the ones with the most experience on what does and doesn’t work!
  • Guided Discussion – instructors would finally be randomly assigned to breakout rooms with a student moderating the discussion in each room. Discussion prompts include posing different scenarios – what if a student is hard of hearing and requires closed captioning, but your video calling platform doesn’t support this? How would you adapt to teach with students unable to make the synchronous meetings due to time zones/unreliable connection? etc.

The synchronous online workshop would be key in opening the dialogue between teachers and students when in comes to online learning – it is crucial that there is collaboration when strategizing to make the most effective learning environment for everyone. We also talked about making fancy hundred-dollar pins and certificates that would be distributed to instructors who attended as incentive to come to the synchronous session, and to flex to their students that they’ve been open-minded enough to go through our PD day [half joking… but you gotta do what you gotta do to get people to attend!]

However, the conversation doesn’t end after 90 minutes – afterwards, we would enroll all UBC instructors in our Canvas course, so they can continue the discussion, ask more questions (students would still be there to answer), and share teaching strategies as they proceed throughout the term. The Canvas course also allows instructors unable to attend to have access to still learn from the resources and the discussion. The most important piece of this proposal is that it serves to create a platform of open communication between instructors and students, so we can learn and move forward in education together. We’re all learning how to do this for the first time – communication is key!

Group 2

  1. Have more synchronous sessions (including more office hours) in order to better facilitate discussions, make online classes feel more ‘real’.
  2. Make the syllabus available sooner so people can better anticipate the workload and understand the time commitment required for assignments.
  3. Keep all work on one platform only.

Universities are traditionally, rigidly structured institutions, and we feel they will not respond well to online campaigns like (Links to an external site.) petitions or social media campaigns in general. On the other hand, letters carry a professional, fancy tone – especially on the nice paper, and with the nice pen we intend to spend (part) of the $3000 on for this campaign. We would like the AMS to send this message because of their intended purpose of representing students in improving student life and given their power as a student organization. The AMS has written open letters in the past, so we feel this aligns with previous actions taken.

Group 3

1. camera requirement for professors and students (as much as possible)
2. strict regular deadlines
3. encourage synchronous communication with small groups of students

How to communicate them?

– mandatory video workshop requirement to get onto canvas + question at the end to recall the video
– email aesthetic version
How to Study online UBC page with workshop video + forum to speak about ideas that worked

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