Best Practices for Teaching & Managing Your Online Course

The following guidelines identify the minimum level of interaction and management needed between students and instructors to maintain a quality online learning environment.

  1. Follow the established course start and end dates. When students register for your course, they expect that it will start and end according to the Registrar’s calendar. Schedule adjustments may, however, be needed to accommodate early curricular needs or to meet deadlines for graduating students and others with special circumstances.
  2. Follow consistent guidelines for managing your online course. These guidelines identify tasks that should be performed on a daily, weekly, or semester basis. As you will see from the guidelines, the key to effectively managing an online course is to be consistently “present” in your online classroom. Regular contact with your students helps assure them that they are well-supported.
  3. Monitor assignment submissions and communication with students to remind them of missed and/or upcoming deadlines. You can help ensure a successful learning experience by practicing proactive course management strategies. Good practice suggests posting a message or announcement to your class at least once a week, to tell students what you will be covering in the coming week and to remind them of any due dates.
  4. Early in the course, establish a regular schedule for when you will be logging in to the course and communicate this to students. Normally this is once per day. Although many learners at UMBC are traditional college students, a growing population are adult learners who have work and family responsibilities. These students tend to be more active in courses on weekends, so you may also wish to reserve time in your schedule to monitor courses at least once on weekends.
  5. Give prior notice to your students and to your department in the event that you will be unable to log into the course for several days or more (e.g., during professional travel). Providing this information up front will help to forestall many student inquiries.Consider finding coverage for your online course if you are going to be out of contact with students for more than a couple of days, especially if they are to be working on assignments while you are gone. If you will be away from the course in cases of personal emergency, please notify students and your department as soon as possible.
  6. Provide feedback to student inquiries within one business day. Timely instructor feedback is especially important to online learners. Without it, they may not be able to make progress on their course work.  If you cannot provide a detailed response within one business day, it is good practice to respond to the student within one business day to let them know when you will provide them a more detailed response.
  7. Provide timely and meaningful feedback on student work using clear and concise language. You have ideal “teachable moments” when providing feedback on student work in a timely fashion (i.e., soon after it is due so you can positively impact their next assignment). Simply telling a student “good job” or “needs work” does not give them the information they need to succeed. They need (and want!) more specifics.
    • What was it that made the work good? (So they can do it again!)
    • What needs more work and how can they improve the quality of their work? (Specifically!)
  8. Communicate to your students in advance when you will grade and return all assignments and exams. Online students need to self-regulate their time and learning and will need to adapt as needed. How long it will take to grade assignments and send meaningful feedback to students depends, of course, on the nature of the assignment. However, students may not be able to proceed in your course until they get your feedback on how they are doing. Please strive to get graded assignments, complete with meaningful feedback, to your students as promptly as possible. As a general rule of thumb, it seems reasonable to expect that student will receive their grades, including feedback, within one week of submitting an assignment. If one anticipates that it will take longer than that to return students’ work, it is best to inform them in advance when their grades and feedback will be available.
  9. Contribute to the continual update and improvement of the course content. When teaching face-to-face, it is expected that an instructor is keeping the content of the course current and is routinely “tweaking” the course based on feedback from students, peers, and administrators. Teaching an online course is no different! Because your course is online, however, as you update your course content, learning activities, and assessments, you’ll need to also pay attention to spelling and grammar, as well as copyright, usability, and accessibility best practices.


Adapted from Penn State College of Earth & Mineral Science under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.