Guidelines for Observing Online Courses

This document supplements the the SPS Teaching Effectiveness Criteria matrix developed by the SPS Assessment Committee to assess appropriately the teaching and learning environment of the particular course under review. It is designed to orient observers of online classes to the variety of online delivery formats at SPS and to provide awareness of the ways good teaching can manifest within them.

Introduction

Although only faculty who have taught online will observe online classes, it’s possible that an observer may be familiar with only one mode of online teaching. CAES has created this document to provide important information about best teaching practices in all of the online formats currently in use at SPS. It is important for observers to keep in mind that while pedagogy often drives technology in the online environment the technology will often shape best practices. The observer should always keep in mind the ways in which an instructor enhances student learning but those ways may differ depending upon the format employed. That said, all good teaching involves what we call the Three Pillars of Interaction: interactions between students and teachers, students and other students, and students and the content of the courses. Observers should be aware of these interactions regardless of the delivery system being used. How is the delivery format used to enhance these interactions?

Varieties of Online Delivery Formats

There are four modes of online instruction at SPS.

 

1) “Asynchronous” refers to courses that are faculty-led and wholly online. Such courses use an LMS (Learning Management System) for posting course materials and communicating/interacting with students. In this format, there are no regularly scheduled in-person online meetings.

 

2) “Synchronous” refers to courses that are faculty led and wholly online but they have regularly scheduled real-time sessions via a web-based meeting tool. Synchronous sessions are, in many ways, similar to in-person classes. Instructors use both a web-based meeting tool and an LMS for posting content and communicating with students.

 

3) “Hybrid” refers to courses that are a mix of both asynchronous and synchronous sessions. Hybrid courses will hold some synchronous sessions via the web-based meeting tool and will also use an LMS (Learning Management System) for posting course materials and communicating/interacting with students.

 

4) “Blended” refers to courses that are a mix of in-person and asynchronous sessions; blended courses may also hold some synchronous sessions via the web-based meeting tool. Blended courses also use an LMS (Learning Management System) for posting course materials and communicating/interacting with students.

Principles of Online Instruction

In observing an online class, regardless of the format it is useful to keep the following in mind:

 

1) Good teaching is good teaching regardless of the delivery format. So, as an observer you will look for the same pedagogical things you would look for in an in-person class. A thoughtful syllabus with clear learning outcomes, carefully planned lessons and assignments,

clear delivery of content, meaningful and varied activities, varieties of interaction between students and teacher and among the students themselves, meaningful and frequent feedback, and useful and pertinent formative and summative assessments.

 

2) It’s impossible to transfer, wholly an in-person class to the online environment. Teaching online requires particular kinds of adaptations and those adaptations will be specific to the mode of delivery employed. Each aspect of good teaching might manifest somewhat differently depending on the course design.

 

3) All of the online formats require a carefully built, coherent, and actively used course site within the Learning Management System, NYU Classes. Online courses also require the faculty to be comfortable with the technology so that it becomes a transparent tool supporting the learning environment.

 

4) Any online course, regardless of format, needs to make careful distinctions between what can be called “in class” activities and “homework” and clear delineation of that difference is part of good course design. Degree students are expected to engage in 2 hours of homework for every one hour spent in class.

 

5) Each online format has a particular advantage and disadvantage. For example a synchronous delivery format can allow for global participation around a specific time. Comment on how the instructor navigates the benefits and drawbacks of the delivery format.

Observing in Different Delivery Formats

Online Synchronous Course Observation

While observing a synchronous course, you might have two options to follow: 1) You might join an online synchronous session with the students and observe the session, 2) you might view a recorded online session that the instructor would recommend you to observe.

 

A synchronous class environment is expected to:

  • show evidence of prior preparation (such as PPTs, websites to visit, software to use, clear instructions for in session tasks, team or small group adjustments, etc.)

  • Provide a variety of opportunities and channels to learners to engage and interact with the instructor, materials and peers (such as hands-up option, chat room, Q&A, etc.)

  • Provide clear and adequate information and guidance in the course site (probably in the Syllabus, Lessons, Announcements, Messages) to communicate where, when and how the learners are expected to join the online session.

  • Provide easy navigation and up-to-date links to class related internal and/or external materials and resources.

Online Asynchronous Course Observation

Since an asynchronous course is a totally online course with no in-person or synchronous component, the way you might need to observe differs. After deciding with the instructor what week/module/lesson to observe, you should start observing all the components linked to that specific week. You might need to focus on Syllabus, Lessons, Assignments, Forums, Materials, Tests & Quizzes, etc.

 

An asynchronous course environment is expected to:

  • Provide a well-structured learning platform within which
    • topics are presented in a logical sequence;
    • expectations, outcomes and course format are clearly communicated;
    • materials are provided in Resources and other related sections where needed;
       
  • Provide a variety of means of content delivery as text, videos, audio, etc

  • Provide clear and adequate information and guidance in the course site (probably in the Syllabus, Lessons, Announcements, Messages) to communicate where, when and how the learners are expected to join the online session.

  • Provide easy navigation and up-to-date links to class related internal and/or external materials and resources.

Blended Course Observation

While observing a Blended course that has both in-person class teaching sessions and online teaching sessions whether synchronous or asynchronous or both, you may need to observe parts of both teaching formats. Depending on what you’ve agreed on with the instructor during the pre-observation meeting, you may want to observe an in-person session and an online session. In addition to the tips above, you might need to consider the following points while observing a blended course.

 

A blended course is expected to:

  • Be well-structured in the sense that all lessons whether in-person or online are interwoven and provide adequate content, activities, materials and and assessments.
  • Have a variety of activities, tasks and assessments suitable for each format within the same course.

Hybrid Course Observation

As the Hybrid course is the combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, the same tips and guidelines for those may apply for this course as well. The hybrid course environment is fully online and you may need to observe both the online synchronous and asynchronous sessions to be well-informed about each teaching mode within the course.

 

In addition to Synchronous and Asynchronous course observation tips and guidelines that may apply to Hybrid courses, you might need to consider the following points while observing such a course.

 

The hybrid course environment is expected to:

  • Be well-structured in the sense that all lessons whether synchronous or asynchronous are interwoven and provide adequate content, activities, materials and and assessments.
  • Have a variety of activities, tasks and assessments suitable for each format within the same course.

Related Policies

Online Class Observation Process and Procedures

Process for Department Reviewer Access

 

Last Updated: February 23, 2017