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Top 10 Tips for Teaching Online Science Courses
by Distance Learning Staff
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Setting Student Expectations for Distance Learning

We collected key tips from professors experienced in developing and teaching online science courses. They’ll help you create a great learning experience for you and your students.

1. Know your audience

When choosing which courses to put online, knowing your students’ backgrounds (working parents, military, etc.) and skill levels (major vs. non-major) is key in helping create a beneficial learning environment for all.

2. Decide on the perfect science course

Try to start by converting a course that you’ve already taught in a classroom setting.

3. Be thorough in your expectations from Day 1

Lay out the course before you start the class. Looking at things such as lab timing and the specific materials needed throughout the semester can make an online class run smoother day to day. Try to lay out the assignments and labs (with expected timing of each) early on. Be consistent and up front with deadlines from the start of class.

4. Lab work

It’s one of the biggest hurdles in teaching an online lab science course. There are many hands-on kits available that replicate brick-and-mortar experiments and can be done in a student’s home. There are virtual labs available that act as good supplemental material. Make sure you work through these labs on your own and answer the questions during course development.

5. Decide on a clear, fair grading strategy

Questions such as “How many points should a lab be worth?” or “What is the lab policy on missing a lab?” do not directly translate from the classroom to an online setting. Specifically for online labs, have requirements throughout that ensure students are doing the labs at home. For example, students can take pictures at certain steps and submit them as part of their lab report (with a name, date, and course number written on an index card in the picture as well).

6. Use visuals and videos

Providing short pre-lab videos, procedural videos for different activities, and multiple visuals and images throughout different parts of the course are small things that can keep students engaged. Let students know what they’ll be doing and what they need to look out for throughout the course. This also increases your presence as the instructor and helps students feel more connected.

7. Make time and be available

Giving students access to you via email, and even phone, and promptly responding to their questions is the most challenging, but one of the most important, aspects of online teaching.

8. Schedule one-on-one meetings

Use phone or digital meetings to cover any specific questions or progress issues. The frequency can vary depending on class size and the issues that arise with the course.

9. Discussion boards

These keep students interacting and more connected with their classmates. Students can respond to others’ answers and feed off shared ideas.

10. Be flexible, especially early on

E-learning is an adjustment for instructors, and it presents a learning curve to students, especially for the lab portion of the class. Issues arise from taking a course online that may be out of a student’s control—lab kit problems, interface issues with your learning management system, or just life in general. This is where making time and being available really come into play.

Know what your students are going through by regularly keeping in touch with their progress and overall activity in the class. Being understanding can go a long way toward helping students be successful once they have settled into the course.

Special thanks to Alanna Tynes (Lone Star College), Richard LaBennett (North Carolina Central University), and Adam Authier (and the faculty at Schoolcraft College) for their thoughtful input on teaching and developing online science courses.
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