Instructional Design and Online Teaching

Expectations and Best Practices for Online Instructors

Resources for teaching online

The online learning environment presents a unique set of challenges that require clear definition of instructor performance. The following are considered best practices and expectations for instructors teaching online and blended courses at Viterbo. They identify the minimum level of interaction and management needed between students and instructors to maintain a quality online learning environment.

As a course instructor, it is expected that you will…

  1. Show instructor social presence in your course via audio or video. Hearing the instructor’s voice extends students learning beyond the textbook and connects them to the instructor and the course. Video and audio can be used to create short content lectures or to create weekly introduction videos with updates and reminders. Use technology in your course that students can easily access from Moodle, and doesn’t require them to register for another account (e.g., post your syllabus as a word of PDF document, instead of posting via Google docs). Make sure you have immediate and predictable access to the same technology that is required for students in your course.
  2. Create regular opportunities for students to interact with each other, with the course material, and with you, the instructor.  Students can interact and learn with their peers in a variety of ways (e.g., discussion forums, wikis, group projects, etc).  Instructors are expected to show a guiding presence in discussion forums.  Published studies show that students prefer discussions with instructor involvement due to keeping students on track, answering questions about course content, solving conflicts, and increasing enthusiasm (Dixson, 2010, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2), 1–13).  
  3. Require students to submit their work via Moodle (instead of email) and post student scores and feedback in the Moodle grade book (instead of email).  Documents can be lost or misplaced via email.  By keeping all grades and feedback in the Moodle grade book a clear record is established that benefits both student and instructor (e.g., in the case of a student grade challenge, or if an instructor has to be unexpectedly replaced mid-course). Instructors should provide meaningful feedback on student work using clear and concise language. You have ideal "teachable moments" when providing feedback on student work. Simply telling a student "good job" or "needs work" does not give them the information they need to succeed. They need (and want) more specifics. What was it that made the work good? Be specific in your feedback about what needs more work and how they can improve the quality of their work.
  4. Establish a regular schedule for communicating with students. Consider sending a once or twice weekly class email with updates, reminders, and encouragement.  Using the “Announcements” function in Moodle allows for a copy of these emails to be stored in Moodle as a reference for students. 
  5. Respond to student emails within one business day (24 hours weekdays, 48 hours on weekends). Because online learners must manage their time carefully, timely instructor feedback is especially important to them. Without it, they may not be able to make progress on their course work.  If you cannot provide a detailed response within one business day, it is good practice to respond to the student within one business day to let them know when you will provide them a more detailed response. In the rare case that you plan on being offline more than 48 hours, you should communicate this to students so they can plan ahead. You should also consider finding coverage for your online course if you are going to be out of contact with students for more than a couple of days, especially if they are to be working on assignments while you are gone. If you will be away from the course in cases of personal emergency, you are asked to notify students and your program/department chair as soon as possible.
  6. Communicate to your students in advance when you will grade and return all assignments. Online students need to self-regulate their time and learning and will need to adapt as needed. How long it will take to grade assignments and send meaningful feedback to students depends, of course, on the nature of the assignment. However, students may not be able to proceed in your course until they get your feedback on how they are doing. Please strive to get graded assignments, complete with meaningful feedback, to your students as promptly as possible. 
  7. Carefully consider a pattern of deadlines for activities in the course.  Many online learners use the weekends to catch up on course work. Consider posting assignments at least one week in advance so they can work ahead, and provide at least one weekend for them to complete work.  Creating a consistent pattern of assignment deadlines throughout the course, and including an at-a-glance deadline calendar in the syllabus, can help increase student success.
  8. Follow the established course start and end dates. When students register for your course, they expect that it will start and end as stated in VitNet. Schedule adjustments may, however, be needed to meet deadlines for graduating students and others with special circumstances.
  9. Open your Moodle course site in a timely manner and communicate to your students in advance about any expectations before the first day of class. Your course should be opened on Moodle and the syllabus provided to students in blended and online classes at least one week before the course begins for compressed courses (less than full semester courses), or on the first day of class for semester long courses. If you expect students to complete assignments or read the syllabus before an initial class meeting in blended courses, be sure to clearly communicate this to students.  Some students will want to start early, so opening material early is fine, but remember the official start (and end) dates of the course when creating these expectations.
  10. In accordance with University policy, post final course grades to VitNet by noon on Tuesday after the end of the course.
  11. You may be evaluated by members of the Committee on Online Learning during your online or blended course via a virtual class visit. Committee members may conduct a one week virtual visit and then share formative feedback with instructors.  For details, please see the Online Teaching Evaluations page. Separate from this process, students will complete course evaluations at the end of every course (via EvaluationKIT). Students access their course evaluations via email. Automated email reminder messages are sent to students who have outstanding surveys to complete. Instructors may view response rates (during evaluation period) and student evaluation reports (a week or so after evaluations are completed) at

Some content modified from "Best Practices and Expectations for Online Teaching" by Penn State is is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License