Online Teaching

Online courses offer students the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere.

On this page:

Defining “online”

There are four types of online courses:

  • Web-enhanced
    • Face-to-face with online components or resources.
    • Good place to start with online teaching.
  • Blended
    • Mix of face-to-face/online course; students spend equal time in both.
    • Content, interaction and assessment takes place online and in-person.
    • These are also called “hybrid” courses.
  • Fully online
    • Asynchronous
      Students learn from any place at any time. Activities include lectures, student presentations, guest speak-ers, simulations and demonstrations.
    • Synchronous
      Students and instructors meet online at a predetermined time using a webinar application. Activities include lectures, presentations and guest speaker sessions.
  • Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
    • Large-scale online courses available to everyone. These may be offered for free and there are generally no limits on attendance.

Considering teaching online?

There are eight core skills that faculty need for teaching online:

  • Organization.
  • Communication.
  • Collaboration.
  • Tech knowledge.
  • Self-motivation.
  • Time-management.
  • Flexibility.
  • Outreach.

In addition to the core skills, faculty should know how to navigate and use the key functions of a learning management system (LMS). UB Learns is the centrally-supported LMS at UB. Key functions include:

  • Post syllabus.
  • Access course roster.
  • Create and update course content.
  • Add announcements.
  • Send email (privately or to all).
  • Create and post in discussion forum.
  • Manage student assignments.
  • Create and add to quizzes.
  • Setup and use gradebook.
  • Hold virtual office hours.

Effective practices

Structuring online course content

  • Ensure clear structure and presentation of content.
    • Clear and consistent titles and labels.
    • Explicit instructions with icons and symbols.
    • Navigational overview in course welcome area.
  • Chunk content into modules.
  • Provide “signage” to guide students through content and resources.
    • Structure learning engagement with key concepts.
  • Provide continuous feedback and assessment.
    • Keep students on track by establishing course progression
    • Provide multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning.
    • Assure that students know how and when learning objective are met.

Designing online interaction

  • Build a sense of community.
    • Ice-breaker activities
    • Creation of personal profiles
    • Welcome messages.
  • Build opportunities for interaction into the course.
    • Provide areas for students to reflect, share or demonstrate learning.
    • Provide space for students to ask questions or share their perspective.
  • Anticipate student questions and develop clear interaction guidelines.

Managing online course delivery

Provide a detailed syllabus and course information area

  • Consider providing a syllabus that is broken down into separate documents. This can improve find-ability of the information and reduces your workload by anticipating and addressing student questions with specific course information documents.

Define Your Expectations

  • Provide interaction guidelines and expectations in syllabus and promote interactive course engagement from the beginning.

Break the ice: begin the online course with an activity that encourages interaction

  • Ice breakers foster a sense of community and can reduce faculty workload by encouraging students to seek support from peers. These activities also model behavior expected from students and provide opportunities for practice.

Establish a routine

  • Shorter, more frequent interactions prevent backlog.

Leverage the online medium

  • Features in your learning management system can help you monitor student progress efficiently, problems and facilitate intervention at key times and document student performance.

Foster group dynamics

Establish consistent, effective methods of communication

  • Build community or group awareness through the use of discussion forums.
  • Use course announcements to disseminate pertinent information to the whole class.

Consistently promote interactive course engagement 

Engaging the online student

In online classes, students should be engaged with content, each other, the faculty and the learning experience for the entire duration of the online class. But unlike in face-to-face courses, online students engage with learning materials on their own time.

Five strategies to create engaging learning experiences for online students

  • Ask them what they know.
    About the subject; why their taking the course.
  • Keep their aspirations in mind.
    Align your approach to meeting course learning objectives with students learning goals.
  • Be interested in their interests.
    Connections form from shared interests.
  • Find out what challenges them.
    Explore challenges with willing students; too much challenge without open communication channels is dangerous.
  • Model the learning experience.
    Participate in learning activities, showcase your work alongside students, explain the “why” behind assignments and make content relevant for students.


It is important to ensure that all online students, including those with disabilities, have access to online course tools, information and materials.

Ally in UBlearns

The Ally tool in UB Learns helps faculty enhance the usability and accessibility of their course materials. The tool analyzes uploaded course materials against web accessibility standards and offers instructions on how to improve accessibility. Ally also creates accessible file formats for students to download.

Information on this webpage was adapted from Interested in Teaching Online, a resource made available by the State University of New York, through its Open SUNY Online Teaching unit, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

To view a copy of this license, visit

Open SUNY and its logo are registered trademarks of the State University of New York.