Reflections on a webinar: Strategies for excellence in online teaching, UniSA Teaching and Learning Breakfast series (6th May 2020)

In this webinar Dr Simon McIntyre (UNSW) and Dr Negin Mirriahi (UniSA) discussed the move to online teaching as part of COVID-19, the lessons learned and how these may be harnessed and built upon with strategies that will support excellence in online teaching for future learners.

Dr Ann Luzeckyj, Senior Academic Developer (Teaching Specialist) in CILT offers her reflections on what they shared.

The first suggested strategy was to be kind to yourself and to your students, echoing the sentiments of Aidre Grant who suggests “the best online teaching tool is kindness”. In doing so, consider how sudden the move to online was and what an amazing job was done. Semester 2 is looming and there are many unknowns so it is time to take stock and reflect on our achievements. The basic principles of online teaching are not different from face-to-face teaching, but it is a more complex environment which requires careful planning.

Reflect on what worked well in Semester 1 and what changes are required for future teaching. Use this reflection to begin planning for Semester 2. Keep in mind:

  • some students will need to continue learning online because they will not be able to return to campus for various reasons (live in a remote area, interstate, overseas etc.)
  • some courses may lend themselves to better continuity if topics remain online
  • a more blended approach may be appropriate or necessary.

Balance, rhythm and expectations
When planning future teaching another suggested strategy is to use technology judiciously and appropriately. Consider timing and activities when planning synchronous and asynchronous approaches to ensure balance. Ideally, synchronous activities (those using Collaborate or Teams) should involve large group sharing and peer-to-peer discussion. Activities involving concept or content delivery or requiring reflection and thinking time (watching videos, utilising discussion forums, blogs, wikis, quizzes etc.) work better asynchronously. Identifying the rhythm of how your students grasp the knowledge and ideas you are portraying is also useful. Making your logic of teaching and expectations clear to students and aligning all of these with the learning outcomes and assessments in the topic will help students understand what they need to know and do, and why.

While most experienced teachers make their expectations clear and provide ‘signposts’ to students, many also allow their teaching to seemingly ‘flow’ naturally without paying much attention to the balance and rhythm. This approach works in face-to-face contexts because teachers can see how students are reacting and can adapt what they do accordingly. In online contexts the expectations and signposts need to be clearer and the balance and rhythm require careful attention and planning.

Community of Inquiry (COI) model
The Community of Inquiry (COI) model was identified as a valuable framework for teaching online as it aids planning. As discussed in our April newsletter this model involves three presences:

  • Teaching presence where you need to consider your role as the teacher and how you will be present, engage students and build rapport.
  • Social presence involves both your presence but also, importantly, the student presence and how they will interact and engage with each other.
  • Cognitive presence requires you to consider how students will build knowledge and develop skills.

Planning so each of these is paid equal attention will support student learning. Finding the balance across them also helps develop the rhythm of your topics.


The final suggested strategy was to be flexible in your approaches and with your students. Have a contingency plan in reserve in case things go wrong. It is important to remember that just as teaching online requires a different approach, so does learning online. Most students did not choose to learn online and many are managing multiple, complex issues as well as their studies. Consider:

  • allowing extra time for assessment submissions
  • supporting discussion and communication across a variety of forums (Collaborate, WebEx, Teams, Facebook etc.)
  • providing additional synchronous discussion time (10 mins) before or after planned sessions (so students can catch up with you or each other or ask questions)
  • recording sessions and (where appropriate) making these available to those unable to attend in person (ensure you have students’ permission).

In addition to the strategies taken from the webinar, consider our own Topic design basics, the FLO topic baseline, and the invaluable Teaching online guidebook, available via FLO Staff Support. You might also want to get your topic calibrated. On a final note, consider taking an online course so you have your own experience as an online learner to build on.

Written by Dr Ann Luzeckyj
Senior Academic Developer (Teaching Specialist) – CILT

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