Online Teaching: It’s on the syllabus

20th June 2011

The syllabus. It’s torture. Perhaps not as much torture as grading, but it is still not my favorite thing to do. Sitting in the dentist’s chair with white knuckles is the only thing close.

For me, the syllabus is the crux of my classroom planning. I agonize over it. Prints come hot off the copier, and I look at them in awe, remembering the hours of labor and the attempts to choose readings to which my students can relate. In other words, it’s pure gold. And it should be for my students as well. It isn’t the length of a phone book. I have honed the words to be succinct but explanatory. The schedule details every class day and what assignments are due when. However, I always always get questions like “What is your email address?” My response? See the t-shirt above.

At the moment, I am working on developing an online course, and the syllabus is arguably even more important in this atmosphere.  This is actually my first online course, and it is a totally different experience. Students often have never had an online course. Or they’ve had a bad experience in one, or they love online courses but have never taken one through the platform your university utilizes.

How do you combat all these questions/issues? I found a great resource that discusses just that here, and I’ll post some highlights below:

– Set expectations for contact timeline; are you available 24/7? If not, when?

– Include contact information for tech support and hours of operation.

– Discuss exactly what you expect from students. Do you want one-sentence responses on a discussion board? Tell them.

– Remember students will not have the benefit of asking questions in class, so anticipate what questions they may have.

– Consider creating a welcome video reiterating some syllabus information.

– Let students know up front which file formats you can accept. Give instructions on how to change format when saving.

– Explain the online forum is not Facebook. Discuss what is acceptable.

– Let students know which time zone the online platform uses. Very important.

– Indicate to students how often you expect them to be online.

– Create a schedule with dates, and post dates on a bulletin board.

If you are struggling with this like I am, I highly suggest you check out the article I linked to above. However, if you are an old pro, please share. What have you learned about teaching online classes? Is there anything you know now that you wish you would have known when you began?

Thanks for sharing with the rest of us!

jenn aka the picky girl


  • I will never take another English class online. For some reason, I always get the sucky professors. Seriously.

    When my husband was in school, I wrote every assigned English, Philosophy, Theology, and Economics paper for him.(Let’s avoid Ethics here.) He always received As. But when I was graded in my English (and only English)class, it never failed that I ended up with a D average at the end of the semester.

    I don’t know if I work harder for other people than I do myself, or if just put out a “hate me and my shit” vibe.

    Anyhow, I can see how difficult it must be from your side of things, especially since it’s your first time and you’re not sure what to anticipate. You covered a lot of ground, though, and I’m sure you’ll do fine.

    • pickygirl

      That’s interesting. I actually hate the idea of online courses, but at the same time, it’s all that’s available to me at the moment.

      I certainly don’t think it’s the same type or quality of instruction, though. Are there any specifics about the class (pitfalls) I can avoid?

  • I love the t-shirt. I can remember the cringes teachers would get when asked for the 30th time something that was on the syllabus. I used to laminate mine so they would stay the course of the semester and I still have some of them in a box with some college things as they were really good references when I wanted to refer back to what I read or did for a certain class.

    Good luck with your venture into online courses.

    • pickygirl

      That is such a great idea! Love it.

      Thanks so much. Love the name of your blog.

  • Jenn I don’t know what happened but I couldn’t see any of your blog feeds so I thought you were offline for a while! Grr, I have lots to catch up on obviously.

    Good luck with your online course. I’m sure you’ll do great!

    • pickygirl

      oh no! so glad you found me. have been missing you as well but knew you started new job andwere extra busy. so glad to see you around here.

  • The link you provided came up with a 404 error.

    I’m teaching online for the 1st time this summer, as well. There’s so much to think about! I’ve never even taken an online course, so I really have no idea what I’m doing.

    I just have to keep reminding myself that it’s art history and nothing horrible is going to happen if someone gets the Counter-Reformation confused with the Renaissance.

    • pickygirl

      I think I fixed it. Check it out, as it’s a great article.

      I’m in the same boat. I’ve never taken an online course, though I’ve graded for a couple. But I advise for an online program and know how confused the students get…

  • hmmm, I have taken some online courses, but I don’t know if I can offer any advice b/c they were in graphic design. But the one I loved best was my InDesign class, and what she did differently from the ones I didn’t like as much was that she actually provided video tutes. BUT English is obviously a lot different from a class where visuals are everything (that said, other instructors didn’t think to do comprehensive vids, so maybe it’s not as obvious as it seems).

    The class I hated the most was my Digital Imaging with Photoshop class because the instructor refused to give any concrete advice re: Photoshop. Like, I’m sorry, if Photoshop is in the NAME of your class, then I expect not just general graphic design advice but specific advice as it pertains to Photoshop. She did the former, even when I asked specific questions, she would completely avoid answering them (it got to the point where I genuinely wondered if she actually knew how to use Photoshop since she didn’t seem to be able to advise me on what tool(s) I should use to do something simple but specific).

    Don’t know if you can really take anything away from those two experiences other than your preparation will go a long way. You’ll be more engaged and your students will know you’re taking this seriously and not just…phoning it in, so to speak.

    • pickygirl

      Nicole – that really DOES help. Obviously I plan to be active and knowledgeable about the subject matter, but the creating vid to spark interest deal… I wasn’t sure if students liked that or not. Thank you!