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STEP 2: Teaching Strategies

The Four Steps of Online Teaching

Moving some of your instruction online can seem daunting, especially if you hadn’t initially designed your course to be delivered virtually. Below are some tips to help you in shifting to a new mode of instruction without losing engagement or progress in learning.


Distribute course materials and readings

Distribute course materials and readings since students may have limited access to computers, it is good to convert your course materials and readings into PDF format which is friendly for mobile devices. Make sure the students know where to find the materials (e.g. email, Elentra, Blackboard).

Delivery of Lectures

Choose between synchronous delivery and asynchronous delivery depending on your course content and your teaching style.  For learning content online, microlearning is a great way to deliver your content without overwhelming the learner.


When you consider microlearning as one of your instructional strategies, you are looking for how to provide the greatest value to the learner within a limited amount of time.  Microtraining delivers short bursts of content for learners to study at their convenience. Content can take many forms, from text to full-blown interactive multimedia, but should always be short.

Synchronous Delivery

Synchronous courses resemble traditional on-campus college classes in that students can hear, see, and/or interact with each other at the same time and be virtually-present online. This would be most similar to a live, in-person class experience.  You should make synchronous sessions an event during which students engage with each other, the material, and you.

During synchronous sessions, be engaging, stay on point, and encourage discussion. Students can watch video lessons and slideshow presentations and even have virtual class discussions.  Consider using Zoom breakout rooms for group activities and small group discussions. Give the students tasks to do during the session and have them present their results during class. If you make the session an interactive event, not a passive tv-watching experience, students will find it much more difficult to tune out.

Asynchronous Delivery

Asynchronous delivery is where learning takes place at different times and places for every participant. Students don’t have to stick to a strict schedule to engage in live classes or discussions, and the only requirement regarding when they turn in their work is the assignment deadline.

This approach is predicated on instructors creating and/or distributing content (e.g. recorded video lecture, voice-over PowerPoints, or just handouts) ahead of time and supplementing it with additional elements (e.g. discussion boards, text, assignments).

If you must lecture, consider recording the lecture and let students watch it as pre-work before coming to class.  This would be considered a Flipped Classroom format.  Treat the recorded lectures as you would a reading assignment and use polling, in-video quizzes, or assessment functions to check for the class’s understanding of the assigned material before you start your virtual class.

Blended Delivery

A blended course uses both synchronous course components and asynchronous components. Perhaps one week the course contains a live lecture, and another week the course content is presented online for the student to complete at their own pace.

Run Lab Activities

One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.

Below are considerations from UMSL as you plan to address lab activities:

    • Take part of the lab online. Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work), and save the physical practice parts of the labs until access is restored. The semester might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
    • Investigate virtual labs. Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as these for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
    • Provide raw data for analysis. In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.

Foster Student Collaboration

  • Foster collaboration among students: choose simple asynchronous tools (e.g. email, discussion boards) if possible because they offer low barriers to entry. Let the students know why they are asked to collaborate, what the learning goals are, and how their collaboration will be measured.
  • Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.

Assess Student Learning

Assess student learning: text-based assignments can be collected via Blackboard, Elentra, or email.

To ease assignment collection via email attachments, please be sure to tell the students your preferred naming convention, e.g. lastname-firstname-assignmenttitle.docx. You may also consider collecting them in selected file formats such as DOCX and PDF.

Group Work Assignments:

If you assign group work, make it difficult enough that one or two students cannot complete it on their own.  For instance, instead of coming up with one solution to a problem, or answer to a question, have them come up with five. Use aggressive deadlines to force interaction.