Lessons from Online Teaching

During the course of this semester, I have turned our attention to the topic of teaching U.S. history online. In this last discussion of this topic, I intend to reflect on how my online teaching experiences and the discovery of new tools have shaped my teaching in the Face-to-Face (F-2-F) format–particularly how I call upon the same teaching tools to enrich students’ learning experiences.

  1. Soft Chalk: This is a new discovery and a new love for me. This tool enables instructors to create media-rich learning content that is easily accessible across platforms and machines types. (Think, more lively storyboards.) More so than my regular PowerPoints (commonly uploaded in the PDF format), I have attempted to use this e-learning tool to really bring to life historical concepts that I want my students to master. For instance, within any given lesson, I upload links to various websites, videos, and pictures. I can also test my students to determine what they are retaining as they are engaging this tool. The score (which I often use as extra points) can then automatically transfer to the grade book!

There is one caveat: I like using this tool when it has been purchased by an educational institution. Otherwise, it can be a bit pricy for an individual subscription.

  1. Knowledge Assessment: In my F-2-F classes, I enjoy using the web-based learning management system (LMS) as a way of encouraging students to review the concepts that we are discussing or have discussed in recent weeks. Sometimes, I use online quizzes to cut down on the class time needed for such assignments. (These online quizzes are timed and accessed within LockDown Browser, which locks down the testing environment to minimize cheating.) Additionally, I have found that posting abbreviated quizzes that “Test Your Knowledge” before an exam or before/after classroom discussion is a favorite among students.

This same tool then can serve as a sort of ice breaker during our course meetings when students ask me (and even each other!) about concepts that continue to elude or baffle them.

  1. Of course, I also call upon these content review exercises as a means of better aiding students when meeting with them during office hours. This brings me to another lesson I learned from my online teaching: the value of holding Virtual Office Hours. In addition to maintaining regular office hours throughout the semester, I often encourage students to meet with me online through the chat function of the LMS (or email providers like Google) or through Skype. Now, students who are away from campus can still reach me and we can have those important conversations.
  1. In nearly all of my F-2-F classes, I like to use the Online Discussion Board component. I will be frank, this tool has too often experienced too little use in some of my courses, but it has not been useless. Particularly, I like to utilize this resource when students are really interested in a discussion, but we are out of time. As we are moving on to the next topic, I tell them that we can continue the discussion online. Sometimes they take these conversations to the discussion board; sometimes they do not. Nevertheless, I think that mentioning this tool serves to make them more mindful of time restraints for future discussions as well as demonstrates that I am interested in what they have to say. I am sure to regularly check discussion threads and to reply. Even more, if there are good comments/questions there, I use them as a starting place during course meetings. Usually, this is enough to get other students interested in this resource.
  1. Finally, I should mention that my commitment to encouraging students in my online courses to study and to use digital history and digital humanities projects has shaped my F-2-F teaching also. Now, whenever possible and appropriate, I purposely use technological resources rather than rely solely on written texts (especially when it comes to primary source material). My students love it! Not only are they usually able to explore a particular topic or theme in more detail (by perusing different avenues of the site), but they then bring these very different interests and passions to our course meeting. In fact, these discussions represent some of those very times that I have to tell students that we will have to continue our talk on the discussion board!

A couple of student favorites include:

a) Teaching With Documents: The Lewis and Clark Expedition:


b) A collection of items that appeared in The Liberator:



This semester, as I have reflected on ways to improve how I teach online U.S. history, I have been quite pleased to realize how my teaching of these courses has shaped my overall teaching style and method. Thus, I would be interested to learn more from other contributors and readers about how teaching online may have made you a different or  a better teacher. If you have tools/resources/ lessons to share, please include them in your comments below!







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