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3 tips for getting started with online teaching: Teach Online Toolkit Week 1

Posted by Becky Hartnup on 15 April, 2020

Educational establishments across the globe are rapidly responding to the current situation. The sudden shift to online teaching and learning is challenging for both staff and students. Each week, VitalSource will be posting regular written sessions that provide insights into best practice, tips on how to be an effective online teacher and practical activities to get you started. We’ve drawn from the experience of staff and students who have already made the transition to digital, and from wider research and industry reports into online teaching pedagogy and learning outcomes.

Download your Week One Toolkit now!

Week 1: Getting Started

Taking the first steps into online teaching can feel hard.  You won’t necessarily feel you’ve got everything sorted from day one, but like most things in life, good preparation can make a big difference. 

If you’ve been teaching online for a while, you’ll know that pedagogy remains the priority - the technology is there to support you. 

Let us know if these points are a useful reminder – and do add your own tips in the comments section below.

Here are 3 important things to think about before you begin.


Tip 1: Look after yourself 

However innovative, engaging and effective online teaching can be, creating the perfect lesson can feel like a struggle, particularly when the transition is sudden and forced by events. As an academic, you may be apprehensive about changing your teaching approach, adopting new technologies, and keeping your students focused. Plus, you may be missing the support of your own. 


  1. Identify: It can be helpful to work out what your specific worries are, in order to find solutions.  Make a list of your concerns – then break them down further into smaller, more manageable chunks. This can help you to prioritise the immediate issues and progress faster.
  2. Collaborate: Don’t struggle alone – start to build your own support network. Connect with experts in your institution and in your wider network who you can turn to for advice and ideas.  Your EdTech or eLearning team should be able to provide training and direct you to academics who are digital champions in your institution. Reach out to colleagues, at your own institution or elsewhere, to discuss your concerns and share success stories. You’ll find it useful to practice new techniques with them.
  3. Research: From tips on creating your first video lecture to designing an effective online course, there is plenty of guidance available online.  And we’ll also be covering this topic in a later session. 

Remember, effective online teaching is about finding ways of taking your usual teaching style and making it work online. Later in this series, we’ll be giving you some useful tips on online teaching including video lectures, asynchronous approaches, student engagement and peer learning. 


Tip 2: Look after your students

Higher education studies can be stressful, even without the unexpected change to teaching that is being introduced at many campuses across the world right now.  These new methods are being rolled out quickly and many students are worried about how they will be learning and being assessed in the future. They may find this uncertainty even more difficult to manage if they feel isolated.  This is a common issue for students studying remotely, and is likely to be more so for those who would prefer to be studying on campus, alongside like minded friends. 


  1. Support: Remind students of the support that is in place for them through the IT team, their tutor and your institutions’ student support team. Send them a list with all the relevant contact details collated in one place. Students find it hard to ask for help, so let them know you’d rather they reached out than struggled alone.  Online mental health and wellbeing tools can be of variable quality, but services recommended by reputable organisations offer anytime-anywhere support.
  2. Communicate: When students are stressed, they find it more difficult to process messages. So it is more important to communicate frequently and use multiple channels to reach them.  As well as lectures, smaller workgroups or seminars and self-study, introduce additional scaffolding, perhaps using asymmetric tools such as forums.
    Set some clear expectations for your students at the outset:
    • Tell your students that they will need to actively participate online.
    • Let them know how they can contact you for support and an estimated response time. Be realistic - don’t commit to something you can’t stick to.
  3. Connect: Encourage your students to set up course or class-wide communication channels, such as a WhatsApp group, so that no-one is isolated or left behind. Some students like to use Facebook groups as these offer a private space for sharing ideas and problems.  As well as discussing course content, students can use these channels to provide social and emotional support to one another. Check with your IT team to find out if they recommend specific channels and ask whether they have best practice guidelines that you can circulate to your students.

Tip 3: Get involved

There are many reasons why students might fail to engage with online learning. In a live lecture or on a forum, participation can feel very visible and permanent, making it high risk. They fear failure, whether academic, social or due to inexperience with technology. Some students may hold back because they have negative perceptions of online learning based on previous experience of poorly delivered, free online courses. 

Research shows that a key influence on students’ behaviour is their lecturer.   If you enthusiastically engage with online teaching, through your attitude and behaviour, your students are far more likely to follow your lead.


  1. Model the behaviour you want to see: The best way to ensure your students get the most from remote learning is to model the behaviour you want to see.  Implemented well, digital teaching and learning can be inspirational. It can open up new ways of communicating with your students, increase their communication with one another, and prepare them for their next steps in a digital, global world. 
  2. Participate: Even if you are only able to engage for a one-off-lecture, a single module, or simply by trying out an eTextbook, it would be useful to try some online learning yourself.  By participating, you’ll develop your understanding of the student experience and you may even identify approaches that you want to adopt – or avoid.
  3. Celebrate success: The transition to digital learning can feel challenging so look out for small successes and celebrate them with your students. Find online ways to mark achievements. By highlighting the positives, you remind them that they are resilient and can still succeed despite their new learning environment. 

Download your Week One Toolkit now!

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Find next week's session:

Week Two



Martin, F. Wang, C and Sadaf, A. (2018) Student perception of helpfulness of facilitation strategies that enhance instructor presence, connectedness, engagement and learning in online courses, The Internet and Higher Education, 37, 52-65. DOI:10.1016/j.iheduc.2018.01.003

Ma, J. Et al (2015) Examining the necessary condition for engagement in an online learning environment based on learning analytics approach: The role of the instructor, The Internet and Higher Education, 24, 26-34. DOI:10.1016/j.iheduc.2014.09.005

Boling, E. C. et al. (2014) Using online tools for communication and collaboration: Understanding educators' experiences in an online course, The Internet and Higher Education, 23, 2014. DOI:10.1016/j.iheduc.2014.07.002


Useful links

Online wellbeing services for students

Online courses and resources


Topics: digital learning, higher education, edtech, wellbeing, eLearning, teaching online, teach online toolkit, how to be an effective online teacher, student engagement, pedagogy, video lectures, asynchronous, peer learning

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