I repeat: This is probably NOT online learning that you’re experiencing

Another day, another rant about online learning: It’s ineffective. It’s difficult. And it takes a lot of time to do this difficult and ineffective thing.

It’s not me ranting, at least not about online learning. I’m watching other people rant on Facebook, Twitter, at the water cooler … oh, wait, not there. I’ve not actually seen other people in person beyond my immediate family in quite a while.

I understand the rant. I really do. Learning to do something new is difficult. It takes time. It doesn’t necessarily feel good or right or effective, especially if neither you nor the people you’re doing it with actually want to do it. And then there’s the matter of 2020. Oh, it’s a total dumpster fire.

I don’t want to take away anyone’s right to vent because we all need the release. Still, it’s pretty frustrating to see others so thoroughly disparage a practice to which I’ve devoted so much of my life’s work, and suggest that it is inferior to other forms of learning. I also find the complaints kind of ironic. During pre-2020 times, people would say things like “Oh, you’re teaching online? So you’re, like, hardly working, right? You don’t even have to show up on campus.” Now that almost everyone is using online tools to teach their classes, they’re talking about how much work it is. So which is it? Hardly working, or working harder than ever? And so much work in support of something that’s essentially ineffective? Why would anyone ever bother?

An aside: I’ve also seen some rants where people say that campus teaching is so much easier because as the expert you just show up and start talking. Really? That’s what people do? And it’s effective? We’ve all experienced ineffective classroom instruction, right?

Teaching is hard work, regardless of modality. I remember when I first started teaching in the face-to-face classroom. I reviewed all of the reading materials in advance and made notes about what I should review with students and how to extend the materials with examples. I made outlines with key points highlighted. I plotted out my time, figuring out what could be fit into a 50 minute session. I fretted over what I would do if no one spoke, or if everyone wanted to speak. I worried about ending early or running over. I was nervous that I might forget to go over key points. It was exhausting. Plus I taught at 8 am … and I am NOT a morning person.

Even after 20+ years of face-to-face teaching, I couldn’t imagine just showing up and talking as a default mode of teaching. Classes that I’ve taught multiple times are easier to prep and teach, especially if I’ve left myself good notes, saved handouts, have detailed directions about facilitating learning activities. etc. A solid plan from prior course offerings helps, but I still take time to review and noodle around with a lesson, and consider changes that should be made in light of my current students, advancements in the field, and the state of the world.

The same is true of online teaching, which I’ve also been doing for 20+ years. The first time teaching a new online course, there’s so much to do. I’m building modules, writing up policies and directions, and considering where videos would be useful (and then carefully scripting them, designing visuals, and recording them, cleaning up captions, and getting them linked to the right pages). I’m developing discussion prompts and guidelines. I’m planning new activities and trying to anticipate how students will interact, how the interaction spaces need to be designed, and how much time it will take for the interactions to occur.

The first time I teach a course — on campus or online — I’m just a step ahead of my students and perpetually exhausted, even though I know exactly what I’m doing in terms of course design and facilitation at this point. However, the second, third, and eight time around, teaching the course is a lot easier and I can skimp on course revisions or prep occasionally if I really have to.

Here’s the thing: It’s not useful to pit teaching modalities against each other in terms of workload. Designing an online class is a lot of work. Designing a campus class is a lot of work, too. The same can be said for facilitating, whether in a physical classroom, on zoom, or on an asynchronous forum. Each modality is different, and requires its own form of preparation. The first time you do it, it can be pretty tiring. After a while, you find your rhythm and it gets easier.

It’s also not useful to pit teaching modalities against each other in terms of effectiveness. We all have our own personal strengths and weaknesses, and we all have preferences, too. You may feel more effective when you teach in a face-to-face classroom, and you may prefer that experience as well. Those are valid feelings and preferences. However, that doesn’t mean that form of instruction is the most effective one. Years of research and practice do not support the hypothesis that one form is superior to the other.

Situationally, one modality may be a better choice than the other. During the pandemic, online is preferable to campus for health reasons. However, during typical times it goes against conventional wisdom to push instructors and students toward a modality that is not their preference. We know why our courses are online right now, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. It’s never surprising when people have negative feelings toward a course that they did not want to teach or take, and those feelings extend to modality just as much as they do to course topic or content.

Still, there are a lot of online learners right now who are perfectly happy in their online courses. They opted in to online learning. It is their preferred option even when there isn’t a pandemic raging on. And they learn just as well as their campus counterparts. It’s not fair to them to suggest that their experience is less effective just because they regularly learn through a modality that many other people are reluctantly struggling to figure out right now.

Also: This is probably NOT online learning that you’re experiencing right now. It’s emergency remote learning, delivered online. There’s a meaningful difference between the two, even if some of the tools and strategies are the same.

Online learning is an educational option. People choose it because it aligns with their preferences and needs. Done well, it’s a pretty awesome experience. Still, not everyone likes or chooses it, and that’s okay.

Campus learning is another educational option. People choose it because it aligns with their preferences and needs. Done well, it’s a pretty awesome experience. Still, not everyone likes or chooses it, and that’s okay.

Although I can’t imagine the circumstances under which online learning would be pushed into becoming emergency campus learning, I’m pretty sure the instructors and students would be upset, burdened, and inclined to complain. I understand why everyone is upset. But blame the pandemic, not the modality.

That high level of stress that everyone feels, the quickly filling inboxes, and the frustrating and endless technology glitches? Exhausting and frustrating — but not a normal part of online learning. Even those of us who teach and learn online all the time by choice are experiencing those issues. We’re not used to them either. This year everything is more difficult, everyone is needier, and nothing has gone quite as planned. Those are all symptoms of the 2020 dumpster fire.

Let’s get learning (virtually) webinar

slide from presentation

On August 13 I gave a webinar at FSU focusing on perspectives and tips related to the remote learning term that looms ahead for many K-12 and university students.

The first 15 minutes of the webinar content was a presentation, and the remainder was Q&A. The attendees asked a lot of good questions.

In the 24 hours since the webinar ended, I’ve had several people ask me for a copy of the slides and a link to the recording, so I’m sharing them here.

Webinar recording: Let’s Get Learning (Virtually) Webinar

I’ve also had people ask me about doing PD sessions for their school or organization. Yes, I do that! If you’re interested in that, contact me.

The remote teaching shift from response to recovery

Earlier in my career I had the opportunity to work as an instructional designer on courses related to disaster preparedness and response. These courses were designed to help train healthcare professionals for their role in handling situations that might result in mass casualties, like floods and earthquakes. Through that work (which, to be honest, I never thought would converge with my life as a faculty member) I was introduced to the disaster management cycle.


At the top of the cycle, you see mitigation and preparedness, both of which are focused on risk management. At the bottom are response and recovery, the parts of the cycle that are triggered into action by an actual disaster or emergency that has occurred. Response is what happens in the immediate aftermath, when people scramble to assess the situation, save lives, and keep critical services running. It’s a period of quick problem solving and temporarily solutions designed to patch people through the worst of the emergency. Recovery, then, is the phase that focuses on developing sustainable solutions and finding the new normal. Response and recovery tend to be concurrent processes for a period of time, although recovery is a long-term project in most settings.

So, what does this have to do with education? I’ve found the emergency management cycle to be a useful lens for thinking about education amid the COVID-19 crisis. During the Spring 2020 term, we were clearly in response mode. At my university, we had a week of lead time (spring break) to shift our classes to a remote format. Shifting to remote was not as simple as posting materials online or delivering lectures in front of a webcam instead of a classroom (and I don’t mean to imply that these were simple tasks for everyone). Decisions had to be made about tools and pedagogy. Student situations and needs had to be considered. Assessments had to be reworked. Stress levels were rising due to fear, uncertainty, economic struggles, and isolation. Working with small children or other family members around proved difficult. Everyone did the best they could, but this definitely was not a time for award-winning teaching and learning.

As we move into summer, for those of us teaching this term, and/or consider the upcoming fall term, it’s really time to think about recovery in the classroom. I’m talking about short-term recovery, starting for some folks in summer, and others in fall 2020. We still have a lot of uncertainty that lies ahead of us, but in the upcoming terms we will able to plan and execute remote instruction by design, not just react to remote instruction as an emergency response.*


The Pedagogical Disaster Management Cycle and COVID-19

Some of the big differences that we’ll see as we find ourselves moving into recovery, with classes that are remote by design, include the following areas:**

  • Opting in.When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down universities, most schools were in the middle of a term. Even schools that were wrapping up a quarter or a short term still had a segment of the regular academic year to complete. Students had already committed themselves to school for that term or academic year. Tuition was paid, plans were made, and the only real option was for students to complete the term remotely. Students and instructors didn’t sign up for Spring 2020 remote education. However, in Fall 2020 remote learning will be a choice for students. They can opt in to take classes, knowing these classes will be remote from the start or may shift to a remote mode if there is a new outbreak. Alternately, they can opt out. Even when remote is not the preferred option, opting in is sure to be better received and an overall better experience than an emergency pivot into the unknown.
  • Developing relationships.When we shifted to remote education in the middle of a term, instructors were able to ride out the senses of community, trust, and goodwill that their classes had already generated in the classroom. That won’t be possible for instructors who start the term remotely. Instructors and students won’t be able to capitalize on pre-existing classroom relationships. They won’t be visualizing each other in the classroom, but instead will find themselves interacting remotely with strangers. Instructors are going to need to establish identity and presence for themselves, and to encourage students to do the same. In many courses, they’ll want to build a sense of community and interdependence among learners.
  • Setting a rhythm for learning activities and expectations. Instructors will need to think about how time flows differently outside of a physical classroom, especially in situations where asynchronous instruction, compressed course timelines, and hyflex models are used. Students are often used to coming to class and being told what to do before the next class. That approach won’t work remotely, and students taking multiple remote classes may struggle to manage their time effectively. Instructors need to provide guidance for students on how to structure their course-related activities under these models, and set expectations for how much time will be spent on different activities on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Engaging learners remotely. As the spring term, most of us were just trying to get through it and survive, finishing out a course plan to the extent possible. At many institutions, the bulk of the semester was already over, anyway. However, with a full term of remote learning, instructors will be challenged to find ways to engage learners. Building community and setting a rhythm for a course is the first step, but then the activities that learners are asked to engage in will need to be worthwhile ones. Students are more likely to keep up with class and immerse themselves in learning if they feel that their instructor will miss them. It’s pretty simply: students show up and participate in activities that can’t be easily made up later. The flip side of that scenario is true as well. Instructors will feel more engaged in classes when their students show up and participate. In recovery, it’s time to learn how to foster this type of engagement.
  • Knowing the tools. Right as we made the shift to remote instruction, a lot of “how to use the tools” workshops sprung up. They were necessary. There were instructors  who didn’t know how to use their LMS or conferencing tools, and there were others who used those tools already, but not in ways that support remote instruction. These folks experienced a technology learning curve under stressful conditions (as did their students). There were plenty of technology fumbles in the initial shift to remote learning, but perhaps we can reframe those fumbles. They were the pilot test for what comes next. Instructors have learned new tools and features, and probably have a good sense of what they would like to do but couldn’t accomplish this past spring. During recovery, more thoughtful and purposeful selection and use of tools is possible. And really, none of this is about the tools themselves, but rather about having the right tools to connect to students, build learning relationships, and deliver/explore learning content.
  • Developing reasonable and appropriate remote assessments.  Some assessments planned for in-person classes did not easily shift to remote classes, for a whole host of reasons. Instructors modified assessments on the fly because students lacked access to necessary resources, proctoring tools were uncertain or unavailable, interactions were unpredictable, and everyone was just stressed and worn out. In recovery, we have the opportunity to proactively modify or develop assessments that will work for our students under remote conditions.
  • Having a backup plan. Back in January 2020, who thought to themselves “better have a backup plan in case a global pandemic shuts everything down”? Who had even used the term remote teaching/learning? Right. None of us. But now everyone in higher education is well aware that backup plans are needed, and has a sense of what it looks and feels like when everything changes in the middle of a term. In the fall, classes that start out remote will likely remain remote, but classes that start out on campus should have a backup plan should it become necessarily to quickly shift to remote learning. That plan can be proactively in place (this ties back to the preparedness part of the cycle) so everyone knows what will happen if a stay at home order is suddenly enacted. [Those of us who live in hurricane territory already have these plans in place for our fall term courses. We’ve had to say to our students: If you don’t have power next week, don’t panic. Check in as soon as you are able and let me know what your current status is.]

At the end of the Fall 2020 term, if it has been a successful period of recovery, we will learn from our experience with remote-by-design learning. Instructors will have more confidence and ability with remote teaching methods, and these skills will likely strengthen their abilities as classroom teachers as well. Students will have more experience with remote learning, which may translate into valuable lifelong learning and self-regulation skills. And institutions may become more flexible and collaborative, with everyone working together to promote success (or at least will have some good insights into what needs to be done for future mitigation and preparedness).

I know, I know … this all sounds a bit pollyannaish in the midst of a situation that really feels quite awful all around. The reality is that recovery will not be easy, nor will it be perfectly done, but the individuals who learn throughout the process can help shape the new normal. Those who fight it may find themselves disappointed if recovery becomes a long, drawn-out process, or if the new normal does not look entirely like our pre-COVID lives.


*All of this is a lot of work for instructors, who may be struggling to get work done with small children at home, who may be dealing with anxiety related to the situation, and who . I’m not going to get deeply into this topic right now, but I didn’t want to write this whole post about what is possible during recovery without acknowledging the labor that is involved in doing it well. Institutions can’t expect instructional excellence without investing in it.

**There are various ways of addressing these issues, all well established in the online/distance learning literature. I plan to write posts on these topics in the near future, with some practical tips and examples.

Put your own oxygen mask on first

This post serves as a reminder that it’s important to take care of yourself. I offer the reminder not because I’m some wise sage, but because I needed it as well. Continue reading

Shifting a multi-section course to remote delivery

One of my regular roles is supervising faculty member of a multi-section undergraduate course taught by doctoral students. It’s my job to hire and train the instructors, and I also set the syllabus, assignments, baseline course materials (OER that we have developed), etc. with the feedback and assistance of the instructors. I do the latter because (a) we don’t pay them enough to ask them to design their own courses; (b) it provides consistency across course sections; and (c) it’s useful for mentoring these instructors on course design. They then choose how to address the required topics during each course meeting and add personalization or embellish their courses as they see fit. I’ve done this for a decade, and I love mentoring these course instructors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that the four sections of the course being taught this term have had to shift online. I realized immediately that while all of the student instructors had taken online courses (graduate level), and had served as an online TA in our program (assisting a professor in a graduate level online course), teaching online was new to them. Rather than leave them to convert their courses to an alternate format on their own, I stepped in to help out, roll up my sleeves, and be an active part of the course team.

We started with a meeting on zoom, and looked at what remained to be done this term (screenshot included with permission of instructors).


We then created a plan. We sent out a survey with a version of these questions tailored specifically for this course. It’s a technology course, so we had some specific concerns about software and computer access. We learned that our students are pretty stressed out. They’re stressed about COVID-19 and family members, about being away from campus and friends, and about taking ALL of their coursework remotely right now. They all have sufficient computers to complete the coursework. Most are pretty well set up in terms of internet and housing, but a few are in unstable situations or in rural areas with sketchy internet access. A few are watching younger siblings, or feel generally distracted in a household full of people. Several are uncertain about their ability to learn right now.

We decided to work as a team for the rest of the term. The task of shifting online felt huge for any one instructor, but manageable when we divide and conquer. We also decided to be there for the students as a team. Each instructor is holding zoom office hours on a different day of the week, and all are welcome.

EME2040 Office Hours

Each instructor (me included!) is monitoring a slack channel where the students can seek text-based help. We’ve adjusted assignment parameters and removed a few minor assignments (this class has A LOT of moving parts). We’re creating weekly checklists to keep the students organized. We’ve split up responsibilities for completing different tasks right now.

In terms of instruction, we’re offering zoom sessions for those who want live interaction while learning, recorded videos for folks who can’t make those sessions (focused tutorials, not zoom recordings), and paper-based tutorials for the folks who don’t have the tech access. Having a team approach really helps!

Finally, we created a video to greet our students upon the return from spring break. Our goal was to introduce the whole team, project a sense of calm, and let the students know that we were making adjustments to the course.

I’m super proud of our team effort, and the response from students so far has been really positive. I decided to share our story because maybe it would inspire others to team up whenever possible. And the social connection has been positive for our instructional team, too — it has provided a sense of normalcy during a decidedly not normal time.

Instructor Identity and Presence in Online Settings

Guess what? If you’ve already been teaching on campus for part of the term, you’ve already established an instructor identity with your students. In other words, they have a good sense of your presence in a room. Now you just need to focus on transferring it to the online setting.

If you’re coming back from spring break to a new term, and you’re starting a class that had been planned for campus delivery, you’re going to need to think about how to establish a sense of instructor identity and presence in the online setting.

Our online presence is based on a combination of where we leave our mark in an online setting and what we communicate about ourselves both directly and indirectly. It is built cumulatively, across all of our course-related communications. For example, I tend to smile a lot when I talk, and I always record course introduction videos in my online classes, which are usually asynchronous. I’ve had students tell me that they can feel my smile and hear my voice when they read my written announcements each week.

Here are some resources I pulled together a few years ago for helping new online instructors think about and establish presence:

Defining presence — a basic overview of the concept Defining Presence

Presence across different media – consideration of presence through text and video

Presence Across Different Media

Don’t forget your online class!

TL;DR — don’t forget your online class in the great COVID-19 mid-semester course redesign challenge of 2020. Online classes may need adjusting too, and (depending on what you teach) you may even find a way to make changes that encourage your students to be on the front lines, helping with crisis response in whatever field you teach.

This semester I’m teaching a campus-based class and an online class.

I bet you’re thinking I have one class that was all systems go, ready to handle COVID-19, and one class that needed reworking. If you are, you’re correct. However, I bet you’ve got the two confused with each other.

In my case, it’s my online class that needs some rethinking. Just because it was already online doesn’t mean that my students aren’t affected by COVID-19.

Let me explain:

My campus class is a PhD seminar. Each Friday morning, 14 of us sit around a seminar table for 2.5 hours and discuss. Invariably we have a few folks who zoom in because they’re not in town or they’re sick. No big deal. We have a meeting owl, we screen share from the instructor station and project that on the screen in the classroom, and it’s pretty seamless. We function well this way. I don’t anticipate any of these students struggling to join a zoom session from home in the upcoming weeks — and we discussed this during our last face to face meeting, on the last Friday that campus was open. In fact, half stayed home and opted to join via zoom that week. And so our “Friday morning coffee club” class will continue as planned, meeting in real time, covering the same material and doing the same assignments. Not a big deal, no real change. Heck, I already set up the weekly zoom link back in January!

EME5250 banner

My online class is full of MS and PhD students who are learning about open educational resources. The class contains a mix of campus and online students. Most of the online students and some of the campus ones work full time, and many of them are educators or instructional designers in the K-12, higher ed, and corporate sectors. I’ve communicated with a few of them this week (it’s spring break) … and they are slammed with work! It’s not surprising. They’re either shifting their own classes to a temporary remote format or helping others make the shift.

It’s clear that some of my online students will struggle to return to class as normal next week. They have other top priorities. It doesn’t matter that they are students who signed up to be online students, and it doesn’t matter that the class was already running online with no real issues. They may have the access, experience, and mindset to be successful online learners, but many of them are experiencing extra job stress and duties right now.

I’m fortunate that the online class relates to instructional design and the on-the-job issues that these students are now facing. With that in mind, I’m making a modified final project option for them which would allow them to apply what we’re learning in class to their job and provide me with a portfolio that documents and explains it. This is in lieu of a similar project on a non-work-related topic. And for the other students, I’ll give them the option to continue as planned or to provide help to others on a volunteer basis right now and build their portfolio accordingly. Win-win, right?



Conducting virtual defenses

University offices may close in the midst of COVID-19, but our graduate students still need to defend their theses and dissertations. I have two doctoral candidates defending dissertations in two weeks, and I’m a committee member on a third defense that week as well.

I’ve done defenses where 1-2 people have been at a distance before, and it works to an extent. However, the event is still very location-specific, and the transactional distance between the people joining virtually and those in the room is palpable. Everyone has to be very conscious of including the virtual attendees.

A fully virtual defense is different. Everyone joins from their own location, and has equal presence in the room. It’s basically a web conference with a presentation followed by a Q&A session, with a few important differences.

Here is the protocol that I’m using:

  1. Set up the defense meeting in zoom. I’m setting as a private meeting, and enabling the waiting room (I’ll explain why later).  I have the settings adjusted so that others can screen share. I want to control the meeting, but to allow the students to control the presentation part.
  2. Send reminder and protocol to committee. I will be sharing the following information and comments with the committee prior to the defense:
    • Link to join session.
    • Please find a quiet location for joining the meeting. I recommend that you use headphones to listen, because that will help reduce any feedback.
    • Please plan to have your webcam on. This is a small meeting and we do not anticipate bandwidth issues. It will be helpful to see each other’s faces, and will make it a more personal experience for the candidate.
    • Remember to be on mute when not speaking.
    • When we reach the Q&A section, we will take turns asking questions as usual. At this time I will recommend that you adjust your screen so you have the gallery view on and can see everyone’s face. Gallery view is the one that looks like the opening of a The Brady Bunch episode. If you need practice using the settings, please just ask. I’m happy to help you.
    • If you have a question or comment and it is not currently your turn, please don’t interrupt the current speaker. We will likely notice via your facial expression/body language, but you might also type “I’d like to add something” into the chat, and we’ll make sure you get to speak next.
  3. Rehearse with student. It’s important to give the candidate a chance to practice presenting and handling Q&A in this format.  I’ve already run a practice session with other graduate students attending. We ran through the presentations, did Q&A, and then debriefed at the end. It was valuable, and we’ll do one more
  4. Day of set-up. I will ask the candidate to log in at least 15 minutes in advance and set up their screen share. I will have to be monitoring so I can let people in from the waiting room. When the committee enters the meeting room, they should see a title slide.
  5. Start the defense. At the appointed hour, welcome everyone and give a reminder of the overall protocol (detailed in #2, above). Allow for social niceties. Then introduce the dissertation and hand over to the candidate. Remind everyone to mute themselves, and turn off the webcam if they wish.
  6. Beginning the Q&A. I will remind everyone to turn webcams on and stay muted unless speaking. We will choose an order for questioning, and invite the first questioner to begin. I want to take notes for my students, so I will use my second laptop or my iPad for that purpose. That way I can have one device fully devoted to the defense. If I didn’t have multiple devices, I’d take notes by hand.
  7. Transitioning to committee discussion. When the Q&A is over, I will place the candidate back into the waiting room. This is why it was important to enable the waiting room and for me to be the meeting host. An alternate approach would be to ask the candidate to leave the meeting and await a message (such as a text message) to rejoin the meeting. That’s doable, but the waiting room is a more elegant option.
  8. Transitioning back to the student. Once the committee deliberation is over, it’s time to invite the candidate in from the waiting room for the results and feedback. Normally this is the time where we all shake hands in celebration, and take photos in front of the title slide. That won’t happen in a virtual defense, but I have a plan. Before I bring the candidate back in, I’ll be screen sharing something like this:
    I’ll also get us to all pose for a screenshot to commemorate the event.
  9. Debriefing. I’ll debrief with the candidate via zoom after the committee leaves — or maybe the next day, even. Two hours is a long time to sit in a virtual meeting.

Guests (a variation): We typically allow guests to attend the public presentation part of the defense. The Q&A is closed. This is still doable. We can allow guests in from the waiting room at the start of the defense, and then ask them to leave after the presentation. If they don’t leave (some people walk away, leaving their computer on), it’s possible for the host to kick them out of the meeting. Because the waiting room option is on, it won’t be a problem if more people have the meeting link. They can’t join if I don’t let them in. I can also shut off their cameras and mute them, if necessary (but I will also send out a protocol for joining and what to expect when sharing the join link).

Oh, and one more VERY IMPORTANT thing: I’m planning a virtual party so my research group can celebrate these new PhDs. Celebrating the accomplishment is pretty darn important. I might even don my cap and gown at the beginning, and offer a little speech in honor of the soon-to-be graduates since they won’t be walking across the stage and getting hooded at the end of the term.

Online Office Hours

Online office hours can be a lot like campus office hours: Some days you sit, you wait, and no one shows up. Other days (like when there’s an assignment due) you have a line of people waiting to talk to you. And sometimes someone shows up just to chat, with no apparent agenda. In short, online office course can be boring, busy, and … perhaps fun or perhaps a little awkward.

Here are some tips for managing online office hours.

  1. Decide how you want to conduct office hours. You can have an open free-for-all, where you wait for people to show up in a virtual meeting room, or you can schedule individual appointments. It’s all a matter of privacy preferences.
    • Group meeting: Anyone can show up. It can be kind of fun when multiple students show up to hang out and discuss ideas related to the class, but it’s not conducive to conversations of a private nature. If you go with group meetings, you can also offer to set up individual meetings by appointment at mutually convenient times.
    • Individual appointments: Students can sign up for a time slot during the appointed office hours period. I recommend using a tool like signup genius if you want to offer signups. You can set it up so students won’t see anyone else’s name on the signup, just which slots are available and which are already booked.
  2. Set up the tool.
    • I have my zoom-based office hour set up with a recurring meeting link so students can use the same link every week. That keeps things simple. I can post the link once in the LMS and not worry about it again. I can even have zoom generate a calendar invite for the recurring meeting.
    • My group meeting is set up with a waiting room. This means that I enter the meeting room first, and I manually invite students to join. I choose this setting because sometimes a single student shows up to chat and the conversation takes a turn for the private. This ensures that no one else can just jump into the middle of that conversation. Instead, I get an alert that there’s someone waiting to come in. That gives me time to wrap up the private conversation and then let the waiting student in.
    • In group meetings I use the setting that plays a chime when someone enters the room. This would be annoying while teaching, but when you open up office hours and no one shows up, it’s a wonderful thing. I can navigate away to another window and I’ll hear the chime if a student shows up. I usually keep my camera on but webcam cover over it when waiting for students to show up. I may also put the sound on mute if it’s possible that they’ll hear anything other than me typing away at a furious pace upon entry.
    • Be prepared for people who show up and having nothing to say. It happens. Have something in mind that you can discuss with them. They will show up and expect you to lead the conversation.
    • When I do individual meetings, I always set up a one-time private meeting link. This ensures there won’t be any meeting crashers. This means that if I’m scheduling back to back meetings with students, I keep switching zoom rooms. It’s not a big deal. In those instances, I allow the students to join before host and don’t use the waiting room. I also set an alarm so I’ll get an alert 3 minutes before the next meeting begins. That allows me to wrap up and move on.
  3. Be prepared. Anticipate what students might want to talk about. Have appropriate web sites and and/or documents open in the background so you can screen share as needed. For example, if an assignment is due in a week, have the assignment directions open. Do not have anything sensitive open on your computer at that time … just in case you accidentally screen share the wrong thing.
  4. Let students know what to expect.
    • If you’re holding group meetings, remind students that this is not the time to have a personal or private conversation. Give them an alternate means to schedule such conversations.
    • If you’ve set up a waiting room, tell students how that will work.
    • If you’re running individual meetings, let students know you will be watching the time closely and will need to shift from space to space. Tell them to enter the room and if you’re not yet there to wait for you.
    • If you’re running individual meetings, let students know they can screen share things they’re working on so you can look at them and discuss together. It can be handing for walking through a student draft.

Finally, be sure you’re available to students in other ways and articulate when and how you’ll manage that. Sometimes students will expect you to be available via phone or email during office hours. However, those activities are not compatible with sitting in a virtual room interacting with students. Help student understand expectations for communication in each of the ways that you are available.

Participation in asynchronous discussion

Here is an article I wrote in 2005 about participation in online discussion. The article reports findings from a multiple case study (nine online classes), looking at how the discussion activities were designed, facilitated, and graded, and what happened in terms of quality, quantity, nature, and timing of student posts.

Dennen, V. P. (2005). From message posting to learning dialogues: Factors affecting learner participation in asynchronous discussion. Distance Education, 26(1), 125-146.


  • Students will follow whatever guidelines you give them, so give specific guidelines.
  • Deadlines drive interaction for most students. Incremental deadlines can help support interaction.
  • If the instructor participates too much, the discussion becomes instructor-centered and students won’t interact with each other.
  • If the instructor is absent, with no clear indicators that they are even reading the discussion, students may get off topic, stop participating, and even talk about the instructor in the third person.
  • Students want feedback on their discuss performance. It can occur in various ways: privately when grading, en masse through announcements or messages to the class, or directly through instructor interaction on the discussion forum.