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Online and Blended Instruction

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Online and Blended Instruction

CFE provides resources for best online and blended strategies. From basic course design to specific online teaching strategies, you will find levels of strategies that meet your needs.

Basic Guide to Online Course Design

The College of Arts and Sciences Office of Online and Academic Technology Services offers a Canvas module for online course design, the Basic Guide to Online Course Design.

Blended Course Design

Blended course design is a way to effectively use your time by leveraging in-class and outside-class activities to promote learning. A blended course also commonly referred to as a hybrid course utilizes face-to-face and online teaching. Blended courses specifically remove face-to-face time from the total time spent on class commitments to online time. Learning activities and assessments can occur both online and face-to-face.

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Four Key Components of Online and Blended Syllabus

There are four key components in an online or blended syllabus.

1. Communication Plan
Research indicates that lacking a clear and timely communication with students is one of the top reasons for student withdrawal from an online or blended course. Laying out a clear and reasonable communication plan can not only help students understand the course expectations, but also help ease students’ mind in an online or blended environment. Examples:

  • OU e-mail (and/or the course e-mail in Canvas) is the primary communication method in this course. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to send me an email. I will respond to students’ e-mails within 24 - 48 hours.
  • I also welcome a Zoom meeting with you by appointment, if needed.
  • To ensure a prompt response to your questions, I would encourage you to put “EDAH 5970” in your e-mail subject line as a prefix. For example, your subject line could be: EDAH 5970: Question about Assignment.

2. IT Tech Support
Lacking information about technical support is another top reason for student withdrawal from an online or blended course. The Communication Plan and IT Tech Support can be on the first page in your syllabus, perhaps right after the instructor’s contact information. Examples:

  • If you have technical questions such as Canvas login and OU NetID, please contact IT Help Desk at 405-325-HELP.
  • If you have any software needs for this course, chick here to download software that OU provides to students.

3. Expectations for Zoom and Online Discussions
Online discussion is the beating heart in an online or blended course. There are two types of online discussions: synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous discussions in Zoom. One certainty in these uncertain times is that students face many unexpected barriers to distance learning — unreliable Internet access, computer snafus, different time zones, a sense of separation from their learning community, just to mention a few. For this reason, it is more important than ever to create an inclusive learning environment in Zoom and stay flexible with non-critical class requirements. You can check out the  8 ways to make your zoom classrooms more inclusive.  

Additionally, instructors can prepare a backup plan for emergencies either by recording Zoom lectures for replay or providing audio or text-based information to students who might not have high speed Internet connections to join class video meetings.

Asynchronous discussions in Canvas. Research indicates that “being there with students in online discussions” sends an explicit message to students that their instructors care about the discussion topics as well as their learning. Meanwhile, it is not surprising that instructors often feel overwhelmed by a large number of responses in online discussion forums. A few general considerations for instructors include

  • How often would you like to have online discussions? Weekly, bi-weekly, or as needed?
  • Will you do a mix of synchronous and asynchronous discussions? If so, will you have q relatively consistent schedule for students (recommended), or will you do the mix when needed?
  • If you have weekly asynchronous discussions in Canvas, could you commit to facilitating the discussions throughout the semester? Appendix A provides an example of the setup of weekly asynchronous discussions in Canvas, engaging students to co-lead online discussions.
  • How will you evaluate student participation? Appendix B provides an example of a rubric to help guide and evaluate students’ participation in online discussions.

4.     Netiquette Guidelines
"Netiquette" is defined as how to interact clearly and respectfully with others in an online environment. As more and more classes have online discussions, it becomes critical to communicate the netiquette guidelines clearly – the non-verbal online communication that dictates what respectful and inclusive online behavior is. See Appendix C for an example of netiquette guidelines and learn more about netiquette here.


·      Core Rules of Netiquette. Colorado State University.
2. Hogan, K.A.& Sally, V. (2020) 8 ways to make your zoom classrooms more inclusive, Chronicle of Higher Education.

·      Geary, D. (2018). Ideas for Creating an Effective Syllabus for Online Learning, FacultyFocus.

·      Ozkara, B.D.&Cakir, H. (2018). Participation in online courses from the students’ perspectiveInteractive Learning Environment, 26(7).

Appendix A: Expectations for Online Discussions and Activities

1. Student Online Discussions

1.     Forming the groups - Students will be enrolled in different groups for each week’s discussion, so you have the opportunities to work with different peers. You are restricted to the discussion topic of your own group from Monday to Thursday. Then the restriction is removed so you can, and are encouraged to, access and contribute to other groups’ discussions.

2.     Facilitating Discussions - Students will have the opportunity to facilitate one of the weekly discussions as facilitators. The instructor will facilitate the first two weeks’ discussions to model the expectations of quality and quantity of posts as well as the process. Meanwhile, students will sign up in Google Doc to facilitate the remaining weeks. From Week 3, the assigned student facilitator is responsible for initiating the group’s discussion with two questions or ideas based on the readings, which is due in Canvas by Monday, noon. The student facilitator will work to guide and deepen the discussion through replies to other students’ posts. This may be in the form of additional thoughts or questions.

3.     Quantity of Postings - Active participation in course discussions is a major aspect of this course. For each weekly discussion, you are expected to post an initial response by Wednesday, midnight after the facilitator posts a couple of discussion topics. Your initial response to these questions is expected to reflect on your readings and is about 200 words for each question. Afterwards, you can respond to at least two (2) other students’ posts by Sunday, midnight. You are encouraged to exceed this minimum expectation. The minimum requirements are to get a conversation started.

4.     Quality of Postings - Your posts are expected to be comparable to the kinds of comments you would make in a face-to-face course. A three-page essay will not lend to a quality discussion. On the other hand, neither will only saying “I agree!” or “That is a great idea.” Please consider the quality of your participation when you post. The quality of the online discussion is contingent on the depth and richness of the posts of those in the discussion. See Appendix B for a rubric for online discussions. Also see Appendix C Netiquette Guidelines for tips on appropriate online discussion behavior.

5.     Instructor’s Role – The instructor will actively participate in the course discussions but will not interfere with the role of the student facilitator.

Appendix B: Rubric

Appendix C: Netiquette Guidelines

A modeling of the words “network” and “etiquette,” netiquette refers to the manner in which communication is conveyed in an electronic environment. Here are some guidelines for communication with this course:


• Respect. Respect other’s opinions. If you disagree with what another has said, post your
   thoughts in an objective, respectful manner. Do not make remarks that can be taken

• Writing. Reflect upon the texts you have entered before posting.

• Scope of Discussion. Keep the discussion within the scope of the course material.

• Communication. Communication should be grammatically correct. Adhere to correct
   sentence structure, grammar, and spelling conventions.

• Response. Before you respond to a threaded message, read all the messages related to that
   message to make sure you understand the background of the message.

Online Teaching Concerns and Coping Strategies

Fuller (1969) conducted a series of interviews and research studies to coin the concept of teacher concerns. He identified three developmental stages of teacher concerns across time.

1. Concern about self – concern about teaching adequacy and survival
2. Concern about task – concern about instructional duties and management 3. Concern about impact – concern about student learning
3. Concern about impact – concern about student learning

Using Fuller’s theoretical framework, Lin, Dyer, & Gu0 (2012) did a three-year longitudinal study to investigate more than 100 online instructors’ concerns across time. The study identified a number of useful online concerns as well as coping strategies.

1. Concern about Self in Online Teaching
In an online environment, self-adequacy concerns usually involve, but are not limited to, these questions: How much time does it take to prepare an online course? Am I able to engage students in online discussions? How do I assess student learning, especially team projects? What tools in a learning management system will I be able to use? What additional technological skills should I learn and update? How do I convert an activity that works well in the classroom setting to an online setting? What policies in particular do I need to set up in the syllabus? What kind of software, hardware, and operation is needed? and more.


Coping Strategies

Time and Class Preparation


1. Carefully planning one’s syllabus to include a communication plan, policies, modules, assignments, rubrics, discussion expectations, netiquette, special technical requirements, and technical support contact information. Plan, plan, plan!
2. Laying sound groundwork with a thorough and detailed syllabus will go a long way in dealing with potential stressors;
3. Keep assignments clear and simple enough so that students can complete them, yet complex enough so that they remain challenging;
4. Avoid the unrealistic hit-the-jackpot-the-first-time mentality, which causes tremendous pressure when trying to avoid errors.

Learning Management System (LMS):
Clarity and Organization

1. Take advantage of tools in a LMS; chunk content into a meaningful and friendly way for easy navigation;
2. Use a LMS to create group assignments and projects, so students do not clutter up the general conference area;
3. Use tools in a LMS to manage grades clearly.

Presentation of Content Materials: Adapting Subject Matter to an Online Format and Amount of Information

1. Diversify content delivery to include audios, videos, images, concept maps, flow charts, and more;
2. Condense video and audio lectures into 10-15 minutes, so it is easy to update in the future;
3. Include well-drafted directions about what is expected for the lectures.

Assessment Design: Haphazard Feedback and Student Learning through Assessment


1. Design grading rubrics for discussions, assignments, and individual and collaborative projects;
2. Include assessments for self-reflection such as blogs, essays, one-minute papers, and online journals;
3. Design assessments that are clear and likely to work in the online environment;
4. Diversify assessment techniques to evaluate diverse activities, such as syllabus quizzes, rubrics, peer reviews, interactive and self-evaluated quizzes, and online journals.

Instructional Technology: Overwhelmed by New Tools, Insufficient Use of Technology, and Students’ Technological Issues


1. Try one tool at the time, be good at it, and incorporate it well into teaching and learning. You want to “Wow” the students, but not at the expense of confusing students and overwhelming yourself;
2. Many Web 2.0 tools could be used to make tutorials or summations of modules. They will add some energy and personal attention to the course and hopefully make the students feel more engaged;
3. Ensure that students understand what software and tools are expected; provide tutorial links;
4. Take advantage of the technological trainings that most universities provide;
5. Practice, practice, and practice.

2. Concern about Task in Online Teaching
Online instructors’ task-related concerns primarily center on the balance of three types of interaction: content – student interaction, instructor – student interaction, and student – student interaction. The increased amount of time and effort in facilitating the three types of interaction is often compounded by constantly changing questions related to online teaching tasks. For instance: How do I facilitate and motivate online discussion? How involved should I be in online discussions? How do I show I am listening and caring online? How do I assess collaborative projects? Have I justified the grade awarded to that student? Should I give a full score to the student who failed to submit his work before the deadline but claimed a technical problem regarding the Dropbox in the learning management system?


Coping Strategies

Discussion Management: Time and Class Size


1. Have small discussion groups; facilitate the first discussion and set expectations for future discussion activities; assign roles and responsibilities to students to facilitate group discussion;
2. Prioritize responding to students;

3. Provide an explicit expectation and evaluation for both the quantity and quality of participation; model richer and reflective discussions;
4. To avoid students’ last-minute postings all on Sunday at midnight, have a pattern of two deadlines for postings, e.g., every Thursday midnight, the initial post is due, and every Sunday at midnight, the follow-up posts are due;
5. Have an explicit policy about the instructor’s facilitating role in online discussions.

Communication: Amount of E-mails from Students, Repeated Questions, and Access to Teacher


1. Create a FAQ sheet in the course site and encourage students to visit it before sending an e-mail to the instructor;
2. Make very clear the availability and response time policy for the instructor in the syllabus, e.g., an overall response time for e-mails is less than 48 hours from Monday to Friday, longer on weekends;
3. Include a tech support contact;
4. Create a course folder in the Inbox. Set up e-mail rules that students need to include the course title and number in the subject line;
5. Clear e-mails a certain number of times per day, or as regularly as possible.

: Keeping Records and Sanity Preservation


1. Set up online “class time” as if it were a face-to-face class where you don’t let yourself go over so many hours per week to read posts in discussions;
2. The syllabus and “rules of the road” need to be defined in an absolutely clear language with some of the information spelled out in more than one way. The more these matters are addressed early, the less “insanity” for the instructor;
3. Use the tracking tools in a learning management system to see whether a student has visited the course. Do that more often in the first few days of class so that the instructor can follow up with absent students if needed.

Introduction to the Class: Initial Isolation and Remoteness


1. Find icebreaking activities that are comfortable for introverts, extroverts, and other personality types, e.g., have students create a two-slide PowerPoint with a maximum of four pictures and 30 words to introduce themselves;
2. Ask all students to post a picture in their introductions.

Deadlines: Remembering Assignment Deadlines

Provide some level of redundancy e.g., assignment deadlines and exams dates can be repeated in the syllabus, course site, and weekly e-mails. Make sure that information placed in different areas is not contradictory.

Grading Scales/Rubrics: Feedback


1. Use rubrics or grading criteria; help students see the grade as something constructive not just something arbitrarily given to them;
2. Set up self-graded quizzes using tools in a learning management system or a free web-based tool like “Hot Potatoes.” This should decrease the grading load and encourage self-evaluation.

Academic Integrity: Online Cheating


1. Don’t just have quizzes and exams. Diversify activities and assessment strategies;
2. Use a tool such as Skype to actually see the student, coordinating some limited activities in real time.

3. Concern about Impact in Online Teaching
Online instructors are concerned about how to build relationships to inspire trust, performance, satisfaction, and the development of progression amongst online teams (Tseng & Ku, 2011). Example questions online instructors usually ask at this stage include: Do students understand the expectations for the assignments? Was my feedback useful? Was the rubric clear and helpful? Do students feel the sense of an online learning community in my class? Do they learn as much as they do in a traditional class? What do I need to revise for future online teaching?


Coping Strategies

Student Engagement: Interaction


1. Have a syllabus quiz to test how well students know the materials and expectations;
2. Don’t just have “cool” stuff; design content and activities that really engage students such as discussions;
3. Create attention-getters to introduce content, e.g., use YouTube videos, the talk of the nation, documentaries, case studies, digital stories, and film clips to connect students to the real world;
4. Nurture the growth. The instructor needs to have ample communication with students at the onset, including the fostering of discussions, in particular, with plenty of guidance and praise;
5. Have collaborative projects. Free web-based social networking tools such as in wikis and Google Docs are useful to engage and present group work;
6. Teach and model self-regulated skills to improve students’ online learning abilities;
7. Convey the passion. When an instructor has a passion for what they are teaching, the students can feel it.

Learning Community: Social Isolation and Disconnection


1. Send a weekly e-mail on a regular date (e.g. every Monday) to summarize the past week and welcome students to the new week to make sure the students are all on track as a whole class;
2. Effectively interact with “noisy students,” “quiet students,” and “disruptive students”; 3. Create a Virtual Lounge, Coffee Shop, Water Cooler, or Cyber Sandbox as the secondary forum to allow students to chat about non-academic topics.

Course Improvement


1. Keep a reflection journal for future revision, such as changing deadlines that don't work well in concert with each other and providing enhanced assignment descriptions as a result of student feedback;
2. Sharing ideas and experiences with other online instructors.


·      Fuller, F. (1969). Concerns of teachers: A developmental conceptualization. American Educational Research Journal,6, 207-226.

·      Lin, H., Dyer, K. & Guo, Y. (2012). Exploring online teaching: A three-year composite journal of concerns and strategies from online instructors. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 12(3).

·      Tseng, H. & Ku, H. (2011). The relationships between trust, performance, satisfaction, and development progressions among virtual teams. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 12(2).