Teaching Ideas for Online Class Sessions

In anticipation of Baruch’s Online Learning Week (October 9-14) this post provides an overivew of preparing and online class session and introduces a few simple ideas for adapting a class meeting to an online format using widely available and free tools. The CTL staff is available to help you brainstorm how these suggestions might work for your course; reach out to us at ctl@baruch.cuny.edu.

Preparing for an online class session

When adapting a class session to the online format, ask yourself the following questions:

Which class session(s) will be offered in the online format?

Maybe you have to be out of town on a particular date. Or perhaps there is a particular class session that engages multitude of online media. Identifying when your online session will occur and what content needs to be covered during this time is the first step.

"Where" will my online class session take place?

Baruch offers several online platforms to host your course or a single class session online. All students have access to Blackboard, which allows faculty members to create a quiz, set-up a discussion board, or ask students to turn in other assignments. All faculty and students also have access to Blogs@Baruch, an alternative course platform with more flexibility and design options; students can create “posts” that include various forms of media, including pictures and videos. Baruch also supports VOCAT, a video annotation platforms where students can create and comment on videos. Other education technology options include web conferencing options and lecture screen-capture software. Check out the CTL’s page on Ed Tech to learn more.

What will students be doing during the online class session?

A successful online class session will result in a deliverable, an artifact through which students demonstrate engagement with the course material. If they read for the class session, they might respond to a discussion board prompt or annotate the text with questions. If they watch a video, perhaps they comment or annotate with peers in VOCAT. Perhaps they create an original post on Blogs@Baruch that links to class media.

How will I facilitate student engagement and interaction during the online session?

Facilitating student interaction will help foster class community and will ultimately produce deeper student engagement in the course. Are students commenting on each other’s discussion board posts? Will they annotate a peer’s presentation or a shared text? Can they collaboratively work on an assignment in a Google Doc? Even when not hosting a class face-to-face in classroom, it’s important to determine how students will interact with one another.


Starting Points

Re-visit your syllabus to determine if a certain lesson/unit might be more conducive to the online format. The best material might have some digital component that students can engage with online (i.e. reading a PDF, watching a video, completing a quiz). Then, focus on developing ways to engage with this lesson’s material in the online environment. Where will students access the lesson content? What will they need to do to demonstrate engagement?

Determine how many online sessions you want to incorporate into your course. You may want to focus on putting parts of 2-3 different lessons online to “free up” time during class for necessary face-to-face work. For example, instead of checking for reading comprehension in-class, create a pre-class quiz on Blackboard or ask students to participate in a discussion board. More suggestions below!

→ Take time to carefully consider what you are asking students to DO in the online environment. Are students reading and responding to a text? Annotating an article? Watching and commenting on a video? Providing feedback on a peer’s work? Typically, students should produce some sort of artifact (a discussion board post, a comment, completing a quiz) to show that they have engaged with the course material during the online session.

→ Be sure to note, for some faculty transferring an entire lesson online is fairly straightforward – the topic and assignment already lends itself to easily make this adaption. For others, certain approaches might not make sense. As you read through the suggestions below, be aware that you may not use all (or most) of these approaches and tools in your class.

Some ideas for…

Below you will find a list of quick and simple ideas for adapting course material into an online format. These suggestions will not work for all courses and course materials. There are many more creative and effective ideas than are covered here, so if you have something to share, please send it our way!

…fostering class discussions:

Create a discussion board: Assign students to read/watch course material for the class period. You can then develop a set of discussion questions that you want students to answer. Check out this quick overview of how to set up a discussion board on Blackboard or learn how discussion can be fostered on Blogs@Baruch by asking students to comment on a peer’s post or by installing a discussion board plug-in.

  • Craft your discussion board assignment: You can ask students to reply to your questions or ask them to post their own original questions. To encourage “dialogue”, you could consider requiring students to reply to a minimum number of their classmates’ posts by certain due dates. In your assignment, make sure you are clear about the due dates and how many questions your students should answer. 

Create a quiz: Blackboard offers faculty the ability to create quizzes. Cristina Balboa, Assistant Professor from the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs often pairs quizzes and discussion boards in her online course. This combination is a good way to assess reading comprehension of individual students along with communal exploration of the topic via discussion boards. To learn more, see these instructions on how to set up quizzes on Blackboard

Use social web annotation tools such as Hypothes.is (Link to tool here). This tool allows students to annotate directly on web-pages and PDF files. This free tool is a great way to have your  reading the same text and sharing their thoughts/comments questions collectively. Also check out  this video on how Hypothesis works.

Create a class or group “wiki” on Blackboard or Hypothesis, which allows students collaborate on the creation and/or commenting of one document. For more information, check out this this video on how Wikis work on Blackboard


…watching and commenting on media:

Upload media and have students annotate/comment using Vocat. Vocat is a web application managed by the CTL that allows faculty and students with an account to upload a video or image and then to annotate and/or assess the work. Vocat may be used as a teaching tool and an assessment instrument. The current version features cloud transcoding and storage of videos, in-line annotation of videos, a robust rubrics generator, real-time data reporting, and REST APIs. The CTL has an archive of “Vocat-ready” videos from a range of disciplines. Contact the CTL to learn more.


…facilitating presentations:

Have students record their presentations and upload them to Vocat. Vocat is a web application managed by the CTL that allows faculty and students to upload a video or image and annotate and/or assess the piece of media. (For Example, faculty can upload a youtube video and students can comment or students can upload a video of a presentation and peers can comment.) Vocat may be used as a teaching tool and an assessment instrument. The Vocat platform supports storage of videos, in-line annotation of videos, a robust rubrics generator, and real-time data reporting. More information can be found at http://vocat.io/.


…giving lectures:

Turn your Powerpoint lectures into a short lecture capture video using Powerpoint add-on OfficeMix or Camtasia software. Watch this video to learn more about OfficeMix try out the 30-day free trial of Camtasia to determine which tool might work best for you. The CTL helps faculty members who are teaching online and hybrid courses build video lectures that integrate other media. CTL Staff are happy to work with faculty members to determine the best solution for creating, hosting, and serving asynchronous instructional media  


…collaborating on research projects:

Assign your students research based assignments. Students can spend the “online” portion of the class dedicated to primary and/or secondary research. They can report on their online work by writing about their research project, methodology, works cited, and more through a collaborative writing platform like GoogleDocs or via a blog at Blogs@Baruch. They could also annotate online sources using Hypothes.is and/or invite classmates to respond to their annotations.

Have students identify and edit a Wikipedia entry on an aspect of their research. When doing research, student must familiarize themselves with foundational concepts and past literature. From this knowledge, they can help build out an already existing Wikipedia entry on their research topic. They may not be able to edit the main topic, but have student identify a smaller aspect of their research project on Wikipedia. For example, if they are researching “branding strategies” they may be able to add to an entry about a specific brand. This assignment tasks students with engaging in public scholarship to demonstrate and share their knowledge with a larger public. For more information teaching with wikipedia, check out the Wikimedia foundation resources: https://wikiedu.org/teach-with-wikipedia/ and check out these helpful Case Studies. If you’re still weary about teaching with Wikipedia read why you might want to on the HASTAC blog.

Do you have other suggestions and best practices to share with fellow faculty?
Please send them our way at ctl@baruch.cuny.edu!

14 thoughts on “Teaching Ideas for Online Class Sessions

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