Tips and tricks of online teaching

Professors across all departments at The University of Tulsa have quickly developed strategies for virtual instruction in the midst of COVID-19. Jerry McCoyan applied professor of physics, describes the process of transitioning to online teaching in three words: demanding, odd and uplifting.  

Because of COVID-19, teaching policy at TU changed rapidly and professors had to transition to distance learning within a matter of days. “That was a tall order, but we were helped considerably by the strong relationships with our exceptional staff in the Faculty Resource Center,” McCoy said.  

With in-person lectures having been replaced by “chat” during virtual lectures, McCoy remarked it is different not seeing students’ facial cues as to whether they are following his presentations. “It’s odd not to have a raft of students in my office or colleagues nearby. I’m working in isolation  as I should be.”  

Jerry McCoy

Amid change and uncertainty, McCoy noted it is encouraging to see the education process continue to move forward. McCoy has enjoyed watching students interact with each other online and he has been amused by some of the small changes in their personal style: “I was recently conducting an online lab during which one student confessed to attending the session in their pajamas with a burger and fries close at hand. They all know that eating in a real lab is a no-no, and I doubt any of them would be caught dead in their PJs.” 

Tom Sengdirector of TU’s School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce, is not new to virtual instruction. Seng has taught the online master of energy business for seven years, so transitioning his undergraduate courses was relatively simple. 

Seng remarked that it is a perk that the “live” virtual sessions can be recorded so students who are “absent” can view the lesson and discussion later, which is an advantage over a traditional classroom setting. Students can also interact via audio or messaging during the live sessions and there is a virtual “whiteboard” where instructors can share applications, files or their whole desktop. 

Danielle Macdonaldan assistant professor of anthropology, has found that patience, both for her students and herself, has gone a long way during this periodAs policies shift, she observed, compassion alleviates stress and confusion. Sharing online teaching experiences with faculty across different departments at TU has also helped Macdonald gain some levity during this time. There is an amazing sense of shared community and solidarity across the globe as faculty share tips through social media platforms. It has reminded me how interconnected we are and how communities come together in times of crisis,” Macdonald said. 

Sara Beam and her dog Roscoe
Sara Beam and her dog, Roscoe

One TU faculty member who has taken to social media to offer helpful advice is Sara Beaman applied assistant professor of English, who has compiled a list of teaching tips. “The last few weeks have been surreal. It’s like we have suddenly been pulled into a science fiction novel,” Beam notedHer pointers offer some clarity.  

Beam’s top six tips 

  1. Ask students what they need. Ask early and ask often. Check in with them one-on-one via email or during an upcoming one-on-one conference on Collaborate, Zoom or Skype. 
  2. Simplify, streamline and focus. Announce the goals of each lesson, the agenda and activities, and then direct students through them one-by-one. Align assessments with stated goals.  
  3. Keep videos short. If there is a long lecture, break it into three to five chunks.  
  4. Interact with students during every lesson. Comment on message board posts and provide brief feedback often instead of lengthy feedback once or twice.  
  5. Keep a general forum available for questions about the course or for relevant information sharing. 
  6. Follow your original teaching philosophy and values when making decisions about online teaching. Find a way to be yourself.