When teaching online, you will make heavy use of Canvas, which becomes your “classroom” in an online course. If you are not already comfortable using Canvas, we encourage you to check out the Canvas 101 training course to get started. Although we make occasional reference to how to do things in Canvas, the purpose of this guide is to give you a sense of what you might do in Canvas, not how to do these things. For in-depth instructions on how to use particular features of Canvas, we encourage you to begin with the Canvas 101 training course and then to visit the Canvas Instructor Guide when you need further guidance on how to use a specific feature.

Before we explore the topics noted above, let’s take an overview of what you can expect from an online course. If all of your teaching experience has been with face-to-face courses, then it may help to see a comparison of these two modalities: 

What Stays the Same Online

In many respects, online courses and face-to-face courses are similar. For example:

  • In planning an online course, you ask the same major questions that you would for a classroom-based course:
    • What is the purpose of this course or unit? What are the major goals and learning objectives?
    • How will I know if students have achieved these objectives? What will be the indicators of success, and what criteria will I use for each indicator?
    • What combination of instructional strategies and learning activities should I use to achieve the desired outcomes and to facilitate my students' understanding and success?
  • You still need to maintain an active presence in the course. Students will not see you twice (or once, or three times) per week in a physical classroom, but they still need to see you (if virtually). You must play a pronounced role as the students’ guide through the course. How exactly you might approach this will be discussed in later sections of this guide.
  • It remains important to have a variety of methods for presenting instructional content and engaging students.
  • You can still expect some students to thrive, some to seriously struggle, and some to persist somewhere in-between. Recognizing these realities and responding appropriately to them remains important to the success of your course.

What is Different Online

In other respects, online courses and face-to-face courses are quite different. For example:

  • In online courses, the organization and presentation of content becomes even more important. Developing an organization scheme that you follow throughout the duration of your course can help minimize student confusion and cut down on the number of “where do I find this thing?” emails you receive from students.
  • Pacing also plays a critical role in helping students stay on track with course work. Keeping a consistent schedule and paying close attention to how you pace coursework helps to keep your students on-track and engaged.
  • It is tempting to think that the types of student-centered activities one often does in a face-to-face course are impossible in an online course, but this is typically not the case. Good options almost always exist for carrying out a lesson or activity online. They may just have a different look and feel than they do in your face-to-face course. You may even find some activities working better online.
  • The tools or resources you will make use of for teaching and learning online may be new to you. Online courses often leverage a variety of tools including discussion boards, video, and assignments.
  • You need to provide a higher level of detail for your students in an online course. In a classroom, students have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions “in the moment”. That often doesn’t happen in online courses. Be detailed and specific with your instructions. Make it clear what you want students to do and where you want them to do it.
  • Even with detailed instructions, students might have follow-up questions for you. Establishing opportunities for students to communicate with you – which take the place of impromptu interactions in a classroom – is very important in an online course.