Best Practices for Online Teaching: Expanded Version

Welcome to Vol State. This guide expands upon the steps outlined in the “Online Teaching Best Practices Checklist.” Please, print out this checklist and use it in conjunction with this guide.

The Adjunct Faculty Handbook and the Faculty Handbook are resources that provide you with key information. This semester guide supplements these Handbooks; it is designed to help online instructors navigate Vol State’s learning management system, eLearn.

Please use the name eLearn when you are communicating with students. You may also see the names Brightspace, D2L, or Desire to Learn in various places. The company that created eLearn and hosts our information uses these names/terms.

You can access eLearn a few different ways; we strongly recommend logging in directly at:

eLearn Support

Here are two resources to help you navigate and use eLearn.

Preparing for Students

Complete eLearn Essentials training if you are new to online teaching at Vol State.

Faculty members and instructional designers designed this training course to introduce you to the essential tools of eLearn, our course management system. Successful completion of this training is required of all instructors who teach online or hybrid courses. 

The eLearn Essentials training course is offered monthly throughout the year. Visit our online professional development system to register for eLearn Essentials. Distributed Education will email you instructions for accessing this training.

Add content to course from the model course or approved shell.

When a new section of a course is created in eLearn, it is empty. New “shells” contain no content, assignments, gradebook items, or anything else. Each department does course copying a little differently. Check with your department chair or someone in Distributed Education to find out if a Model Course of your course(s) exists. If you are responsible for copying the content into your shell, you will need to request “copy/view” access to the model course. You will also find these instructions helpful: Copying, Importing or Exporting a Course.

Review all course materials and links from a student view - fix or remove broken links.

To view your course as a student, click your name and select “View as Student.” In this view, you are limited by the date restrictions and release conditions that you have set for the course. Using the student view helps you ensure that students will have access to everything they will need. Once you are done with the student view, click on the student view icon and then click the X next to Viewing as Student. This will return you to your instructor view and allow you to edit the course.

Update and post your accessible syllabus. Submit copy to department admin.

Create your online course Syllabi in HTML. This format makes it easy to edit each semester and makes it easy for students to view on any device. Follow these instructions for editing a page of content in eLearn: Content Editing.

Once your syllabus is updated, you will need to submit a copy of it to your division admin. Follow these steps to download your eLearn syllabus.

Add your contact info and personalize your course.

There will be several places in your course where you will need to add your personal information. Each course is set-up differently; look around for pages that you need to update. Be sure to look for the announcements, the syllabus, and the instructor information page. Follow these instructions for editing a page of content in eLearn: Content Editing.

Add/update course announcements.

At the beginning and throughout the course, you may find it helpful to add announcements to the course homepage. It is a great way to update students in a central location. Follow these steps to add an announcement to your course. If you are reusing old announcements copied from another course, be sure to update the start and end dates for the current term, or remove the dates altogether.

Connect to Publisher/Third-Party Materials.

Some courses use publisher materials to accompany your textbooks. You will need to connect your course to these resources each semester. Each publisher platform works a little bit differently. Check your course for an instructor only module. It may include instructions for connecting your eLearn section to your publisher resources. Review these support articles for more information about publisher materials:

Check (and update if necessary) all open, close, and due dates.

Setting dates in eLearn can be labor intensive. Start by checking/updating the course schedule. This schedule is sometimes found in the syllabus. Other times, it is a standalone page in the orientation/getting started module. Once the schedule reflects the correct dates, update all your course dates. Consider using the Manage Dates tool to speed up this process. If you prefer, you can also look at each item in eLearn and individually update the open, close/end, and due dates.

Familiarize yourself with the weekly routine and major assignments.

Each class has its own rhythm. As the instructor, you help reinforce this rhythm with regular announcements, emails, discussion posts and student feedback. You will want to read every document in the instructor only module (if there is one) and the orientation module. These pages help you understand the course structure. Some key pages or sections to look for are the syllabus, the course schedule, the course overview or about this course page, and the course expectations. If you have questions about the course, contact your department chair or the course developer.

Check the grade book.

The grade book should be set up for the entire semester. You should ensure that all assignments are in the Manage Grades page list and, if needed, organized by category. Add up your points and ensure that it matches the syllabus. If you are new to eLearn, please read the Grades Introduction and Navigation tips article. If you need help organizing or understanding your grades area, please contact Distributed Education (

Compare your eLearn Classlist to Banner.

Student enrollment changes that occur in Banner (i.e., the portal) are automatically updated in eLearn. Sometimes, students drop a course in Banner and eLearn does not get the update. Compare your two class rosters (eLearn and Banner) notify of discrepancies.

You may want to look ahead to the week 1 tasks listed below.

Maintaining Presence

Instructors are expected to provide “Regular and Substantive Interaction” as part of the course. Many of the tasks that you will complete each week help to establish this regular and substantive interaction.

Login to the class at least 5 days each week.

 Instructors login to their online classes regularly to interact with students through email, discussions, grading, and announcements. Your interaction should be proactive and encouraging. Send/post replies to student inquiries within 24-48 hours. The tips below give additional guidance on how to use your online time effectively to build a strong instructor presence.

Provide students with an overview for the week (via email, announcements, and/or discussions).

Regular announcements can be text or video based. Use My Media to create a short video announcement. If you choose to add a video, remember to get the video captioned.

Post and hold online office hours using video conferencing.

Zoom video conferencing is integrated into eLearn and as a stand-alone tool. Learn more about using Zoom to connect with students.

Respond to ALL email (course mail and VSCC email) within 24 to 48 hours (or sooner).

Instructors should check their Vol State email and Course Mail regularly. Respond to emails within 48 hours (or sooner).

Your VSCC email address has some limitations sending and receiving email attachments when you are off-site. Follow these steps for the best experience with attachments.

Grade assignments promptly and provide formative feedback.

Follow these instructions for grading in eLearn:

Create and post mini-lectures (text or video based) to reinforce difficult course concepts.

Help students grasp key concepts by posting mini lectures. You can post content by creating a new page in eLearn or use My Media to create a short (5-6 min) video where you explain the concept. If you choose to add a video, remember to get the video captioned.

Facilitate discussion boards.

  • Respond to some student posts: Make a point to respond to every student at least two times in the course of the semester.
  • Correct misconceptions: If you see students missing the point, be sure to help get them back on track. As the instructor, you are the expert. They need your guidance.
  • Ask probing questions: Sometimes students keep discussion posts at the surface of the issue. Ask questions that really help them go deeper into the discussion topic.

Use the Class Engagement tool to monitor student activity. Send individual emails regularly to offer help or kudos as needed.

The class engagement tool is a great way to see some important metrics about the students in your class.

Make notes about course updates that you’ve made or should make next semester. Send critical updates to the course developer immediately.

The course developer contact information can be found in your instructor only module. By working together, we can improve courses and improve the student experience.

Timely Highlights

Day 1

Week 1, 2 & 3

  • Watch for late-adds. Forward important emails to them.
  • Continue to Submit Banner attendance reporting as needed.
  • Send Early Alerts for students who have not engaged in the class (especially for students who MUST improve or will need to withdraw by the deadline).

Semester 40% Complete: Nearing Midterms

Semester 60% Complete: Just after Midterms

  • Communicate with at-risk students about withdrawal deadline.

Crossing the Finish Line

Semester 80%+ Complete

  • Remind students to complete course evaluations.
  • Remind students of final exam parameters, such as proctoring and important dates.
  • Send encouraging emails.
  • Send a farewell email.
  • Wish students well in their future endeavors.
  • Post final grades in Banner by due date.

Course Updates

  • Refer to your weekly notes; notify the course developer of any changes or updates that you think would benefit the course.

  • If you are the course developer, update the model course using the instructor suggestions as a guide.


Article ID: 69468
Wed 1/2/19 4:09 PM
Tue 10/6/20 10:19 AM

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