What Makes a Good Online Course?

November 9, 2020

Part 3: Instructor Engagement


When you invest time and money into an online course, you are paying not only for the content but for your instructor’s presence and expertise. An instructor’s presence—which is often determined by how frequently they engage in your online classroom—is a determining factor in whether or not the course is a quality online learning experience. For example, do you see your instructor commenting regularly in the discussion boards? If so, that is a signal that your instructor is present and engaged. 

In a face-to-face course, you can ask your instructor a quick question after class or stop them in the hall for a brief conversation. However, in an online course, instructors have to build interaction opportunities into the course since organic interaction is less likely to occur. Online interaction opportunities can be a mix of communication methods that your instructor has strategically selected and pre-planned in advance. As you continue your online program, or sign up for your very first online course, how can you determine which method your instructor is using to stay regularly engaged? Below is a list of possible engagement methods that you might see as you progress through your online learning journey. Every faculty member uses a different blend of strategies, so identify them early and visit those course areas often.

  • Weekly announcements. A good sign that your instructor is keeping pace with the course is by posting a weekly announcement that offers updates, reminders, and encouragement. It lets you know that your instructor is checking in regularly and is ready to respond if something occurs that affects the progress of the course.

  • Discussion post replies. Another way your instructor can demonstrate engagement is by chiming in on discussion boards. They don’t need to reply to every single post a student makes, but replying to at least a few posts signals that they are keeping track of what is being shared by your classmates. Oftentimes your instructor can reply by sharing examples, additional resources, guidance, or even humorous stories relevant to the subject matter.

  • Course introduction video. Your instructor might choose to post a course introduction video. A video allows you to “see” your instructor, giving you a visual and holistic image of who they are. Video gives you an idea of how your instructor speaks, their physical teaching environment, and other subtle clues that help you get to know your instructor in the same manner as a face-to-face course. Some instructors might even post videos by week or by module, although that can be time-consuming and isn’t necessarily a common practice.

  • Virtual office hours. As with a face-to-face course, a quality online course will offer office hours, most likely in the form of an open Zoom room. It is a link you can use on certain days and times to visit your instructor’s “office” and ask questions about assignments, grades, or other course-related matters. Your instructor may also offer students one-on-one meetings by appointment.

As you explore different online courses and instructors, it is important to be mindful of instructor engagement and be aware of the level and type of interaction you need to be successful in an online course.

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