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Online Success: Deliver and Teach


The key to effectively managing a course that is online is to be consistently connected with the students in your online classroom with communication and quality feedback on assignments. Regular contact with your students helps assure them that they are well-supported.

  • Communicate early, communicate often.
  • Good practice suggests posting a message or announcement to your class at least once a week. Tell students what you will be covering in the coming week and remind them of any due dates.
  • Monitor assignment submissions and communication with students to remind them of missed and/or upcoming deadlines.
  • Respond to all inquiries within one business day (even if it is just to say "I'll get back to you tomorrow with an answer.")

Action Item: Send "welcome back" email

As early as possible, send a “welcome back” email to your students to let them know what is happening with the course and when you will be in contact. Download Welcome Back Email Template (Microsoft Word).

Your welcome back email should include the following information (sample email follows):

  • The URL/location of the course and when it is available
  • When you will be online
  • How to log in
  • Address potential concerns and list where they can get help if they need it
  • Attach copy of your updated syllabus in PDF form

Action Item: Post announcements

Post a “Start Here” Announcement

Similar to your "welcome back" email, we recommend that you post a "start here" announcement" on Day 1. We recommend that this announcement has the phrase "Start Here" somewhere in the title of the announcement so that the students know where to go to begin the course (Example: "Start Here! Welcome back to SM 590").

The announcement should repeat some of the information from the "welcome back" email, but it should be more focused on the here and now and how the students can get started with the course. For example, what will you be covering this week, when are virtual office hours, where in eCampus can they find their materials, what changes (if any) to the syllabus have been made, what are the assignments and due dates, and other housekeeping reminders that you need to tell them. Remind them to read over our Getting Help guide and Tips for Students for Online Success.

Post weekly announcements

Once a week (preferably on the same day each week) we recommend that you post an announcement again reiterating all of the above. Announcements are also a great way to link out to "spur of the moment” relevant articles or videos related to your weekly topics (or the course in general). Feel free to post more than one announcement a week as a way to keep in touch and keep current. If you have discussions in your course, announcements provide an effective way to wrap up a discussion from the week before. Learn more about how to create an announcement in eCampus.

Action Item: Add a general discussion forum

Consider adding a general discussion forum to your eCampus site where students can ask questions at any time. Learn more about creating discussions in eCampus.

Action Item: Hold virtual office hours

Maintain regular virtual office hours for your students and communicate those hours via announcements. Learn about using Collaborate Ultra, Zoom or Google Hangouts for virtual office hours.

Action Item: Be present daily

Log into the course at least once per business day to monitor email and discussion forums.

Provide feedback to student inquiries within one business day. In other words, be accessible! Because online learners must manage their time carefully, timely instructor feedback is especially important to them. 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.

Contact students who haven’t logged in. Email students who have not yet logged into your course. You can find this information by going to the eCampus Control Panel (left side lower menu) > Evaluation > Performance Dashboard. If a student has not yet logged in you will see “Never” under the Last Course Access and Days Since Last Course Access columns. Keep a watch on student participation (just as you would with attendance in a face to face class).

Contact students who are performing poorly or not logging in. It is essential to send an email notice to students who are low-performing (or, if they still have not yet accessed the course). You may also wish to send a text or give the students a call. Again, this can be a turbulent time for all. Reach out to your students.

Give timely and meaningful feedback

Over the next several weeks, be careful not to overplan graded assignments. Focus on quality, not quantity. Continue use and keep up to date your eCampus gradebooks. Communicate to your students, in advance, when you will grade and return all assignments and exams.

Give timely feedback

How long it takes to grade assignments and send meaningful feedback to students depends on the nature of the assignment. As a general rule of thumb, it seems reasonable to expect that students will receive their grades, including feedback, within one week of submitting an assignment. If you anticipate that it will take longer than usual to return student work, it is best to inform them in advance when their grades and feedback will be available. Remember, students may not be able to proceed in your course until they get your feedback on how they are doing. Therefore, it is also best to grade assignments in sequence (i.e., assignment 1, then assignment 2, and so on) so students can apply the feedback from one assignment to the subsequent assignments.

Give meaningful feedback

You have ideal "teachable moments" when providing feedback on student work. Simply telling a student "good job" or "needs work" does not give them the information they need to succeed. They need more specifics. What needs more work and how can they improve the quality of their work?

Just in case

Give prior notice to your students and to the administrative unit overseeing your course in the event that you will be unable to log into the course for several days or more (e.g., illness). Providing this information up front will help to forestall many student inquiries. You should also consider finding coverage for your 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.

Get help if you need it

Some of the content in this document is adapted from Penn State University’s Dutton Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.