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Online Learning Best Practices: 5 Great Resources for the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Lockdown

Many prominent colleges and universities, including Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Virginia, and The Ohio State University, have temporarily closed campus classrooms in response to the spread of COVID-19. More are almost certain to follow. Fortunately, most of these schools have taken or are in the process of taking short-term measures to effectively ensure that their students have the opportunity to finish out the semester via Internet platforms and applications that facilitate online instruction.

Rapidly transitioning from traditional classroom-based teaching to computer-based online instruction mid-semester can be a difficult and stressful process for administrators, departments, and faculty who may have little or no prior experience with online learning techniques and technologies. It may also represent a challenge for students, especially those who are experiencing formal online learning for the first time. However, there are proven strategies for designing online courses and successfully delivering online classes using readily available technologies and tested pedagogical approaches. has spent the past several years researching online degree programs, interviewing experts and innovators in the field, and reporting on important issues and trends in online education, from instructional methods and pedagogical best practices, to the various Internet technologies and computer applications that educators use to provide students with a successful online learning experience. Our goal is to provide faculty and students with accurate, up-to-date information about learning and teaching online and offer resources that draw on interviews with online program designers, researchers, and instructors.

The sections below address five key areas that may be of interest and concern to faculty and students whose courses are moving online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and represent starting points for developing a deeper understanding of online teaching methods, techniques, and technological assets.

Instructional Methods for Online Learning
Several experts with experience in designing and teaching online courses at major universities offer advice and guidance on the ins and outs of online instruction and the logistics of online course delivery in this feature, which draws on interviews with faculty from the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of New Hampshire. In addition, Jared Stein, the Vice President of Higher Education Strategy at Instructure, the educational technology company responsible for Canvas, the learning management system (LMS) used by the University of Utah, the University of Central Florida, and many other schools, offers insights into how LMS platforms facilitate online instruction.

FAQs: How Online Courses Work
An overview of many frequently asked questions about online education, online courses, and online learning with answers provided by several experts, including former University of North Carolina Vice President of Learning Technology and Innovation, Matthew Rascoff, who is now Associate Vice Provost for Digital Education and Innovation at Duke University; Babson Survey Research Group co-director Dr. Jeff Seaman; and online course designer and Associate Vice President of Distributed Learning at the University of Central Florida, Dr. Thomas Cavanaugh. Among the issues addressed are the day-to-day basics of running an online course, the provision of academic support services to online students, the concern about cheating in online classes, and the technology requirements for online students.

How Do Universities Design Online Programs?
Eric Paul Friedman, director of digital learning at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and his colleague Jim Frey, who is an instructional designer, offer insights into the design of online courses, provide advice to faculty about online teaching, and explain how to make learning online as effective as traditional, in-person instruction. For additional information and other resources regarding effective strategies for online teaching, refer to Look Who’s Talking About Online Course Design. Faculty who have questions specifically about making online classes accessible to students with disabilities may want to refer to Look Who’s Talking About Accessibility and ADA-Compliant Online Courses.

20 Great Mobile Apps for Online Students
There are numerous applications that can be incorporated into online learning, either at the direction of instructors or as an option for students who are preparing class presentations, learning a foreign language, researching a specific topic, and/or just trying to stay organized. This feature details twenty mobile apps that are readily accessible and that can serve various educational functions, from facilitating group projects (Slack) to editing video (Magisto) and more. Memrise, for example, is an app to help students who are learning a foreign language, while Mendeley is designed to facilitate academic research. There are also a number of Google apps that may be helpful to students who are learning online, including the Google Slides, which can be used to put together class presentations online.

Cheating in Online Education: Myth vs. Reality
The perception that cheating may be easier in an online learning environment than in a traditional class is examined in this feature, which uses survey and research data to debunk myths and present facts about different types of academic violations, from plagiarism to cheating on tests. The Harvard Guide to Using Sources is used as an example of an accessible resource for students, and the use of plagiarism detection software is discussed. For a more in-depth exploration of issues surrounding citation and plagiarism, see our Student Guide to Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism in the Classroom and Online.

Online Learning Best Practices: 5 Great Resources for the COVID-19 Lockdown

Matt Ashare

Matt Ashare is a writer with 25 years of experience in publishing. He was an editor at the Boston Phoenix and a contributor to other publications, including Rolling Stone, Spin, and the Village Voice. He now teaches journalism at Randolph College, and occasionally writes a column for the Central Virginia weekly The Burg.