In October, we gave away a copy of Michelle Miller’s Minds Online. To enter the giveaway, we asked participants to respond to at least one of these two questions: How do you use technology in your classroom? and What is one challenge you have faced when teaching or learning in an online environment? What strategies have you tried to overcome this challenge?

We received a number of thoughtful answers and, in the spirit of building an online learning community, have compiled them in this post. Thank you to all participants for sharing your experience and expertise with us!


How do you use technology in your classroom?

Canvas has provided me with a way to have a nearly paper free class, including syllabi, assignments, and handouts. Additionally, Skype or Facetime is a great way to have more convenient office hours.” -Anonymous

“I use a YouTube series to cover basic material so I can focus on more specific things in class. I also use short videos I made for an online course in my face to face courses to do the same thing.” -Brendan McCarthy, GTA, History

“I used TopHat…to poll students on their current knowledge before jumping into topics, to test (ungraded) their recollection from the previous class session’s material, and…to gather questions that students didn’t feel comfortable sharing in class. I had an open, anonymous TopHat chat running in the background of all class sessions, and after class I would gather questions from there and discuss them in the next session. Sometimes students would even answer each other in the chat and it would spark a great discussion when I brought it up the next time.” -R. Arocho, GTA, Human Sciences Department

“Two things I’ve attempted: Getting speakers from other universities to participate in classrooms; Get students to demonstrate their Kickstarter campaign as a real-life learning on CrowdFunding.” -K Srikrishna, Fisher College of Business

“I employ iPads on education abroad experiences for students to blog about their experiences daily. This has facilitated not only a larger discussion amongst the class but also an opportunity for me to see more directly and frequently how each student is engaging on the abroad experience.”-Aimee Moore, Knowlton School of Architecture

“Much of modern statistics relies on the idea of repeatedly sampling from the same population…I use computer simulations and data visualization in my classes to give student a real picture of this process. It’s something they can see, so they don’t have to imagine it in theory.” –A. K. Montoya, Psychology Department

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What is one challenge you have faced when teaching or learning in an online environment? What strategies have you tried to overcome this challenge?

In response to this question, most people focused their answers around three main topics: Generating Discussion, Building Community and Promoting Participation, and Time Management.

Generating Discussion

“I find students naturally respond to questions or quizzes online with detailed well thought out answers. However, when I try to get them to have a coherent discussion thread, one that allows to build on one another’s input, argue or counter – I’ve largely failed – students, usually state briefly that they agree with a particular assertion, or largely ignore engaging others’ inputs and provide their own viewpoint (fortunately which mostly doesn’t repeat someone else’s input) that is mostly additive. My response (with limited attempts and success) has been to ask questions better – shorter, tighter and explicitly ask for discussion and debate. This is still a work in progress with too few experiments and fewer successes.” -K Srikrishna, Fisher College of Business

“Online discussions quickly become overwhelming in a larger class. I therefore created groups in Carmen and had students discuss in those groups.” -Mark Moritz, Department of Anthropology

“One of the biggest challenges I have faced is creating meaningful discussions with/between my students in my online classes in a way that I can measure their learning…Rather than just having students respond to a prompt, I have had them go to another student’s post leave an open-ended question and then respond to questions left for them. This seems to create better back-and-forth discussions, but takes more time to grade/give feedback. I’m still working to find that happy medium.” -R. Tatarski, GTA, Health & Rehabilitation Sciences

Building Community and Prompting Participation

“I believe one of the greatest challenges in online teaching is establishing a presence in the ‘classroom,’ both for the instructor and the students. I have seen professors overcome this by posting (short and pointed) videos, participating in small-group discussion boards, and hosting live ‘office hours’ for students to join in a chatroom and discuss the material and course in real-time.” -R. Arocho, GTA, Human Sciences Department

“[A challenge is] creating community with a very diverse population of students. I had students share and help improve resumes.” –Anonymous

“My course is hybrid in design.  The biggest challenge I face is motivating students to complete the on-line portion of the learning prior to attending lecture.  I have used low-stakes quizzes to encourage compliance with the schedule.” –Bonnie Schroeder, Senior Lecturer, FCOB

“Online environments can be very difficult, because exercises involving multiple students are more difficult. I’ve tried to overcome this by asking students to participate in online discussions, and to share material pertinent to our classes. Especially in statistics classes, students realize that statistics are all around them, and soon they are sharing news articles and fun material that gets the whole class engaged.” –A. K. Montoya, Psychology Department

“Student engagement can be pretty bad. I like to make the course really open so that students have choices as to what assignments and readings they want to do. In a huge survey like Western Civ, that means I can provide all the material for 5000 years of history but students can focus on the topics or periods that interest them the most and they can skip a couple of units that they find less interesting (sorry, Early Modern Europe). This gives students a little more ownership in what they learn and our discussions are deeper because they aren’t tasked with the entire gamut of western history.” –Brendan McCarthy, GTA, History

Time Management

“Teaching and learning in a fully online environment can be intimidating. Most often, I have trouble with time management. As a student, you hold 100% of the responsibility for your learning. So it is important to work well ahead of deadlines in case you have unforeseen issues (especially when learning new software). As an instructor, I know this, and so I expect students to be working ahead. However this is often not the case. Many students procrastinate and so I am often tempted to pull all-nighters with them right before deadlines.” –Anonymous

“I had planned to record ‘overview videos’ to connect the work students had done with emerging themes from one module to another. The videos took longer to put together than I thought, and ended up being (in my opinion) way too long for what I intended. I need to give myself more time and thinking beforehand to more carefully plan what’s in the video.”-Chris Manion, Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing


If you are interested in extending the conversation further, UCAT is offering a Course Design Institute for Online Courses beginning in January 2018. Also, please feel free to enter our November book giveaway for Small Teaching by James Lang.