SUNY CIT conference - June 1999

BEST PRACTICES in Online Instruction

In June 1999 over 50 faculty from all over SUNY attended the 1999 SUNY CIT conference session, What works? Instructional Design Roundtable. The goal of this session was to identify/determine issues that affect online instructors and that exist or emerge in developing or delivering an online course, and how to address these issues with course design strategies that work. The results have now been compiled and are published here as a resource for all SUNY faculty interested in improving or learning more about developing online course materials and teaching online courses.

Thanks to all the SUNY faculty that contributed to this endeavor

Alexandra M. Pickett
Assistant Director
SUNY Learning Network

The recommendations presented here represent a compilation and categorization of the recommendations collected from the participants of the June 1999 CIT conference workshop entitled What Works? Instructional Design Roundtable led by Alexandra M. Pickett, and cofacilitated by: Nancy Howe-Ford, Peter Shea, Bill Jones, Steve Mann, Tisha Bender, Randy Rezabek, Bill Pelz, Bob Yavitz, and Tim Matthews.

Course design

  • Do keep it simple.
  • Do develop clearly defined goals, objectives, and projects.
  • Do develop a consistent design throughout your course.
  • Do force yourself to be very literal and concrete in your statements. Always state the performance and how they'll know when they actually have performed it. State clear objectives with criteria.
  • Do create your learning activities with repeated instructions.
  • Do review your course picturing yourself as the student actually reading it for the first time.
  • Do have the course completely done online before teaching the course.

  • Do grade students on the quality and quantity of their discussion responses.
  • Do provide structure for your discussions. Too much discussion can be hard to follow and off topic discussion can dilute the learning objective of the discussion.
  • Do use descriptive titles for discussion responses.
  • Do have each student develop a creative thinking question and lead one discussion.
  • Do provide model responses for subjective discussion topics to let your students know what you want.
  • Don't respond too fast to student discussion comments. Very often students will “guide, direct, and correct” peers relative to theoretical misperceptions.
  • Don't allow discussions to go off on tangents.
  • Do provide grade feedback on discussion at mid-semester--or earlier--to allow students time to improve their performance.
  • Do use discussion as a larger part of course evaluation than tests and quizzes.

Using lectures
  • Do reinforce lectures with projects and discussion topics.
  • Do encourage students to print out long documents.
  • Don't include lectures that are too long.
  • Don't just put your lecture notes or power point presentations online--no one will be able to understand them without you there to explain.
  • Do break up large blocks of text with section headers and keywords.
  • Don't expect students to learn by passively without instructor/peer interaction.

Learning Activities
  • Do keep project groups small and organize the groups yourself.
  • Do use journals for students to reflect on what they are learning.
  • Do use companion websites that come with many textbooks.
  • Do use stories of your own experiences ("war stories") to show your students real world applications of your ideas.
  • Do use riddles and other conundrums to initiate discussion on a topic.

  • Don't let students work ahead. Interaction with other students is part of the whole class’ learning experience.
  • Do open one module of the course at a time and then close it to keep students from working too far ahead.

Getting your course started
  • Do send an advance letter to your students reminding them how and when to get started in your course.
  • Do communicate with your school's student advisors to educate them more about your course and how students need to be prepared for it.
  • Do encourage your registrar to substitute the website for the classroom field in your course listing.
  • Don't start course content during the first week because of students coming in late.
  • Do use the first week of your course to have students get familiar with each other in ice-breaker discussions and activities.
  • Do use the first week of your course to have students get used to the software. For instance, have them submit a practice assignment that includes a typical document they will produce in the course.
  • Do create an Orientation to your course to help students familiarize themselves with the functionality of your course and have an opportunity to practice the various types of activities you will have in your course.
  • Do quiz students on their Orientation to make sure they have the skills to take your course.
  • Do use your first name in the course.
  • Do post announcements frequently and be responsive. It helps students to know you are involved in the course.
  • Do use email for individual private and personal interaction only. All communications that can be public should be.
  • Do have empathy for students who are having problems with technology and are catching up.
  • Do remind students of deadlines like the end of drop/add.

Grading & Assessment
  • Do use Microsoft Word tables to create margins for making comments on essays.
  • Do organize writing assignments so that students hand in a draft and receive feedback that they incorporate into a final version.
  • Do provide quick feedback on assignments.
  • Do rethink how you do assessment. Tests & quizzes do not function the same as in the classroom.


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