Online Teaching Pedagogies

HMS has created a Canvas course intended for HMS faculty and program managers who support courses. The course is organized into six asynchronous modules, each focusing on a key topic in online course transformation.

Add this course to your Canvas dashboard. (HarvardKey Required)

Canvas Course Site: How to Teach Online

Module 1: How is Online Teaching Different?

Module 1.1: Effective Online Course Design
Just as film is a different medium than live theater, online teaching is a different medium than in-person teaching. It offers new opportunities, presents new risks, and requires some new skills. This module will set the scene to allow you to think about the specific medium of online teaching and learning. This module will also give you important information about the structure of this multi-part resource site and how to navigate it.
Module 1.2: Characteristics of Online Courses
As you begin redesigning your course for online, the challenges for you and your learners might be top-of-mind. As a way to balance this (valid) concern, let’s briefly consider the potential benefits of online courses. As you reflect on these potential benefits, which appeal to you as you think through adapting your course? Share your own ideas and discuss with peer teaching faculty.
Module 1.3: Key Design Principles
You already have extensive knowledge of the content in your course and of your course's core objectives. As you adapt your course to a brand new context, you will need to continually assess the extent to which a particular activity or pedagogical choice aligns with these core objectives. To help you evaluate the decisions you have to make and decide how to prioritize those decisions, we present two principles of learning design that we encourage you to keep in mind throughout this process: Course Alignment & Community of Inquiry
Module 1.4: What is Unique about Online Learning for Learners?
This page discusses two aspects of the learner experience that can be powerful aids in effective online course design: 1) learners must grapple with new “cognitive loads” in an online setting, and 2) learners will be engaging in the course from radically different home environments.

Module 2: Fostering Community among Remote Learners

Module 2.1: Building Community
Moving your course online presents many challenges—perhaps the most difficult one is creating personal faculty/learner and learner/learner relationships.  This happens much more easily and organically in a traditional classroom where there are ample opportunities for spontaneous interactions. Although the best teachers pay close attention to building community no matter where they are teaching, building community for an online course requires intentional planning and a little more work.  Most studies in this area indicate that faculty “face-time” and/or “voice time” is essential to learners feeling connected.  The more you can cultivate the sense of community in your class, the better for student learning and engagement. This module will address how to develop and maintain a safe and welcoming learning space for your faculty team and learners.
Module 2.1.1: Tips on Building Community
Creating community online takes time and intention. You will likely need to think more about this and spend more class time on building community than you do in the physical classroom
Module 2.2: Classroom Climate
Consider a course you’ve taught in a face-to-face setting. How did the physical layout of the classroom shape the tenor of class discussions? How did the class size, course topic, and learner demographics impact how learners engaged with one another (and with you)? All of these factors contribute to your course’s overall classroom climate, which comprises physical, interpersonal, intellectual, and social dimensions.
Module 2.3: Preparation for the Semester
Learners’ first exposure to your course will likely be through the syllabus -- a document that serves as a “vital socializing mechanism” that can “reveal assumptions (real or imagined) that instructors have about learners” (Sulik & Keys, 2014). Learners make inferences about the instructor (and the interpersonal dimension of the course) by examining the course’s policies; these can be punitive (emphasizing consequences for transgression) or supportive (emphasizing the pedagogical benefit and rationale for the policy).
Module 2.4: Setting Expectations
Think about how learners will see and learn more about one-another in Week 1 of your course. Kick-Off with Icebreakers. In addition to reviewing key points on the syllabus and course policies, take some time to briefly explain the Canvas course organization and where to find important information. The first week of class is also a great time to collaboratively develop norms with learners around participation.
Module 2.5: Maintaining Community
Throughout the semester, two-way communication can support learning and maintain “teaching presence”, or the feeling that the instructor has consciously created the experience, and is monitoring it and adjusting it for learner learning.
Module 2.5.1: Virtual Office Hours
Hold Additional Office Hours. Office hours are a way to interact with learners outside the confines of a normal class period. Offering various office hours throughout the week will allow learners in different time zones to have an equal opportunity to meet with you.
Module 2.6: Learning Environment
While learners are taking your course online, they are likely navigating challenges arising from the “new normal” caused by COVID-19 It’s a challenging time. Leading with compassion goes a long way towards motivating learners and creating an inclusive learning environment.

Module 3: Live Online vs Asynchronous: Which Learning Fits Where

Module 3.1 Where to Start Your Virtual Redesign
This module discusses changes to your course structure and syllabus necessitated by the transition to online learning. We focus on a fundamental question: synchronous or asynchronous? As you'll see, this decision will underlie many of the structural and instructional alterations resulting from your course redesign. Beyond providing recommendations and resources to help you redesign the overall structure of your course, this module also provides an introduction to best practices related to synchronous and asynchronous methods of instruction.
Module 3.2: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous: How to Sort and Organize Your Content
What content is absolutely essential that I teach live-online? In other words, synchronous delivery. Everything else should be made available as self-directed learning. or in asynchronous formats,  Could it be that simple? Yes it’s simple, but not easy. There’s more to know to make a smart choice, as you will learn.
Module 3.3: Online Course Structure and Syllabus Design
In redesigning your course for the virtual environment, you will face several decisions related to the overall course structure. To begin to navigate these decisions, consider the following questions related to your course meeting pattern, content, and assessments & learner participation. Each set of questions is followed by a set of action items to assist you as you construct the framework for your virtual course.
Module 3.4: Synchronous Teaching: Options for Keeping Attention, Stimulating Participation, and More
In our virtual context “synchronous” means instructor and learners are in the same virtual space at the same time. In this section we'll look at strategies for converting lectures to work well in the live-virtual class.
Module 3.5: Asynchronous Options: Examples and Best Practices
In our virtual context “asynchronous” means that learning is not limited to a specific time and place. After you have identified the live-online learning components in your syllabus that take advantage of having everyone together at the same time, the rest will become self-directed learning activities that supplement the live learning and extend the learning experience beyond it.
Module 3.5.1: Canvas Course Site Design
The Canvas course site is where much of your syllabus comes to life. Canvas is a familiar technology, but now it's doing much more to support you and your learners. Many physical aspects of your teaching, from the handout you gave to learners at the beginning of a class period, to the filing crate where you might have returned final papers, will now take place in Canvas. Canvas training is provided by Teaching and Learning TechnologiesLinks to an external site. so this page won't attempt to cover all the bases. Rather it's a starting place for thinking about using Canvas more richly; we encourage you to follow-up with Teaching and Learning Technologies with questions and specific needs.

Module 4: Optimizing Live Teaching in Zoom

Module 4.1: Optimizing Live Teaching in Zoom
To make the most of your time together in live sessions (and to avoid ineffective long lectures) you’ll be using your time together in new ways. This module will give you information on how to navigate this “new normal.”
Module 4.2: Planning a Live Class Session
For use during live online class sessions, a session plan is recommended. The plan will help you with structure, transitions, time management and distribution of teaching team's roles.
Module 4.3: Technology for Teaching and Recording
If you're new to Zoom, or want a refresher, we recommend starting here first - Getting Started With Zoom. HMS IT is offering Zoom Training Workshops and Offices Hours (Links to an external site.). The live online workshop will introduce you to Zoom’s features and functionality, including screen sharing, recording, chat, and more, with an emphasis on helping you prepare to teach your class online and using HMS Canvas. If you haven't taught on Zoom before, we recommend scheduling a few test runs with your teaching team.
Module 4.4: Live Session Norms
Norms are important for live class sessions. We recommend reinforcing these in the first few live sessions as well as stating them in your Canvas course site and/or your syllabus.
Module 4.4.1: Learner Engagement
Helpful Zoom tools for live sessions that promote engagement: Chat, Polling and Feedback Types, Zoom Annotation Tool
Module 4.5: Co-Teaching & Managing Zoom Sessions
Your teaching team can be a powerful resource in live online teaching.

Module 5: How to Design Simple Asynchronous Learning Materials

Module 5.1: Asynchronous Learning Materials
Research literature clearly indicate that long Zoom lectures are ineffective (Bligh, 2000). In addition, "live" whole-class meetings present significant challenges with globally-distributed learners. Learner survey feedback about Spring remote learningPreview the document at HMS has indicated that the learner experience has been largely affected.
Module 5.2: Identifying Opportunities for Asynchronous Learning
To begin, it's helpful to formally define some key terms that we often use.
Module 5.3: Planning Asynchronous Materials
Now that you have brainstormed formerly-synchronous parts of your course that may be converted to asynchronous learning, this page will discuss the basic structure of this approach.
Module 5.4: Producing Asynchronous Materials
Canvas is the general delivery means to learners of your out-of-class learning activities, or asynchronous materials. It’s useful to start with a vision of the end product, possibly a Canvas page, or a Canvas assignment, a Quiz, an external web resource, or a combination of all of these in a Canvas module.

Module 6: Assessing Student Performance in an Online Course

Module 6.1: Overview of Assessment
In Module 1, we discussed the concept of aligning your goals for learner success with your assessments. Remember to approach your online assignments with the goal of preserving the alignment with your existing course learning objectives, even if the format of some assignments may need to be adjusted. With this strategy in mind, here are some general principles and global guidance about online assessment.
Module 6.2: In-Class and Take-Home Exams
A traditional in-class exam requires learners to be synchronous: to complete the same assessment in the same time window, and in the same location, often in handwritten form. But in an online setting, a “live” synchronous exam can actually increase your learners’ “undesirable” cognitive load. For example, learners experiencing Internet bandwidth issues could be unduly impacted by a live exam.
Module 6.3: Group Projects
Participating in team projects offers learners the chance to engage in “real-world” tasks, gain interpersonal communication skills (Figueira & Leal, 2013), and build a stronger class community. Yet in an online setting, learners may face additional communication and organizational challenges. In weighing the pedagogical “pros” and “cons” of team projects, it can be helpful to revisit your goals for learning success. What pedagogical purpose(s) will the group project serve?
Module 6.4: Group/Individual Presentations
A traditional presentation is synchronous; learners typically present it “live” to the class and receive feedback on their ideas from the instructor and their peers. It can be an important demonstration of learners’ learning throughout the course, and a way to help them practice for “real world” presentation scenarios.
Module 6.5: Papers/Written Assignments
Individually-written assignments are among the easiest assignments to adopt to an online environment, given that learners already complete the work independently and asynchronously. However, you will need to be aware of how you are designing and administering the written assignment, as well as your means of providing learners with feedback.
Module 6.6: Assessing Participation/Discussion
Here we discuss how instructors can assess participation both synchronously and asynchronously.
Module 6.7: Grading and Academic Integrity
You may already have a smooth digital workflow for grading and feedback. If, in the past, some of your grading and feedback workflow has been physical (exam printouts, handwritten notes), you will benefit from adapting to digital methods.

Further Resources

Teach Remotely: Best Practices for Pedagogy

VPAL-managed website with general advice, a variety of course types, and additional tips on student engagement. View VPAL's Online Pedagogy Best Practices on their Teach Remotely site.

The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning

Dedicated to enhancing the quality of instruction at Harvard. Visit the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning

Canvas Course: Teaching Tools for MD Educators at HMS

A Canvas site for faculty development in the Program for Medical Education. Self-register for the Teaching Tools for MD Educators at HMS Canvas course. (HarvardKey Required)

Canvas Course: Canvas for Course Builders

A course covering the main components of Canvas to empower instructors with the skill sets to get started building Canvas courses. Self-register for the Canvas for Course Builders course. (HarvardKey Required)