Information for Online Instructors


Welcome to the resource page for School of Communication online teachers. This page is intended to provide helpful information to both new and experienced online instructors.

Teaching online is a highly rewarding experience that incorporates many of the valuable pedagogical ideas that we bring to the face-to-face classroom. At the same time, the online class presents unique challenges for teaching assistants, lead instructors, and students alike. This page will present you with the dynamics of the online classroom in order to better prepare you for your role as an online lead instructor.

Misconception about Online Teaching

Many people think that the online class simply teaches itself. This mistaken belief is in part due to the fact that many online courses are passed down from instructor to instructor. While you may be teaching a class that you have not designed yourself, there are several important ways in which you can personalize your course. At the same time, there are many simple ways to go beyond the minimal instruction of passed down courses and to instead use cutting edge pedagogical resources that can aid you in both your face-to-face class and put you at the forefront of online teaching technology.

Personalizing your Course

A great way to take ownership of your online course is to create a video introduction of yourself to be posted on your Blackboard course site. Students like to see and hear their instructor and get to know a little about them. An introductory video will allow them to have a better idea of who their instructor is and can also help with the formation of your online course community. FSU’s Office of Distance Learning creates these videos for all online faculty. For more information, please see:

In addition, you can add anecdotes and humor to your discussions and lectures in order to help students get to know you better. Since being an anonymous, phantasmal presence is a risk for online lead instructors and teaching assistants alike, video introductions and personal stories go a long way in helping to connect with your online students.

For more ideas about how to personalize your online course and to take advantage of the wide-ranging pedagogical tools available, please continue reading.

Creating an Online Community

The number one action that you can take to build an online course community is to be in regular contact with your students and teaching assistants. The most common complaint that we get from online students and mentors is that the lead instructor is neglecting to send consistent announcements or emails. All online learners should feel free to ask questions, and they should feel confident that their instructor will respond in a timely fashion. In addition, students and teaching assistants need regular guidance, clarification, and support. They also thrive with the knowledge that you care about their success and the course in general. At a bare minimum, you should email your students and TAs once a week, though twice per week is our minimum recommendation. Most face-to-face classes, for instance, provide deadline reminders and other relevant information during class meetings two or three times per week. By sending weekly updates to students, you can remind them of upcoming deadlines and relevant on-campus events while also maintaining a visible online presence.

Another step for creating an online community is to reach out to students for course feedback before formal end-of-semester evaluations. One-third of the way through the semester, send students a short anonymous evaluation with questions such as: What do you like about this class? What is helping you to learn in this class? What would you change about this class? Students like to know that you value their feedback, and their input can allow you to make any necessary changes prior to the real course evaluation weeks later.

Useful Blackboard Tools

Activity and Usage Reports

There are many preemptive course management tactics that online instructors can employ to make sure that students are thriving in their course. For example, in the Evaluation section on the left column of your course site, there is a Course Retention feature that allows you to track and flag students with missed deadlines, extended inactivity on Blackboard, grade alerts, etc. It is a great, customizable feature that provides valuable information and simultaneously (through optional corresponding messages to flagged individuals) shows your students that you’re paying attention and care about their success.

Additionally, in the Gradebook, there is also an item analysis feature that analyzes recent test content and results.

Library Collaboration

Another under-utilized resource for online courses is FSU’s library system. Librarians can scan and upload selected texts and videos to create an e-reserves collection on your Blackboard site. They can also add an “Ask a Librarian” widget to your Blackboard course site for help with research papers and essays. For more information on collaboration with the libraries, please see:

Course Deadlines

While online classes offer great flexibility, it is very important to set course patterns of work. One recommendation is to not set deadlines on the weekends. Lead instructors and/or the mentors will likely not be as available on the weekends to answer the questions that often pour in as a deadline nears. Also, Blackboard/IT support is not

available on the weekends. For that reason, it is a good idea to have due dates/times be set during the week during regular business hours (i.e. Wednesday at 4pm). It is also important to try to be as consistent as possible with due dates (i.e. always have discussion posts due on Wednesdays at 4pm).

A different approach which has worked well looks like this: Weeks run from Monday – Sunday. Quiz windows close Sunday night at midnight so that working students can study up during the weekend. Papers and major assignments are due by midnight Friday. Discussions have two deadlines: you must respond to the prompt by Wednesday midnight and then respond to two classmates’ posts by midnight Friday — the Wednesday deadline means everyone is not looking for someone to respond to at the very last minute.

Regardless of which method you choose, mentors and/or lead instructors should be sending lots of reminders about deadlines to students.

Settings for Online Evaluations

With regards to settings for online quizzes, we recommend that the “Force Completion” option not be selected because if there is a brief hiccup in the students’ Internet connection, it can boot them out and require the lead instructor to clear their attempt. Remind students that they should take quizzes/tests from a secure, wired connection to the Internet. If they experience any problems, a good idea is for students to immediately contact Blackboard support and CC both the lead instructor and their mentor.

Responsibilities with regards to TAs

Online teaching assistants (aka mentors) rely on lead instructors to mentor them as future instructors themselves. Mentors should continue to develop as instructors with each teaching experience, and lead instructors have a responsibility to aid in that pedagogical growth.

It is important that you guide mentors in terms of grading guidelines and timeliness, and that you provide them with grading rubrics well before assignments are due. At the same time, be sure to remind students early on and mid-semester of mentor versus lead instructor responsibilities. There is an extremely helpful breakdown of these responsibilities offered by the Office of Distance Learning at this site:

Consider encouraging your mentors to use Blackboard’s Collaborate video feature throughout the semester. Collaborate is a video resource that can be very helpful in online courses in terms of virtual office hours, exam reviews, and other related areas. It is similar to Skype, but in terms of the online classroom, it goes way beyond by simultaneously allowing, for example, virtual whiteboards (i.e. for notes or PowerPoint) and polling of students. It is a wonderful tool and one that aid in creating a more enriching pedagogical experiences for the mentors and students alike.

With respect to mentor workload, we encourage you to review and sign the mentor / lead instructor contract that the department can provide. This contract can help with the delineation of course responsibilities. At the same time, it offers ideas for additional responsibilities to give your mentors so that their workload more closely resembles that of face-to-face TAs. For more information on this contract, please email Dr. Toby Graves at

Please note that lead instructors, and not mentors, should deal with plagiarism, and with making arrangements for students who need to use the Student Disability Resource Center.

Discussion Boards

Discussion boards are often a necessary and large component of online classes and there are always areas in which to improve and make them a more effective pedagogical tool.

The following are several ideas to invigorate discussion boards in order to engage students (and mentors) more with course content:

  • Consider having mentors respond to each student’s post with follow-up question (making mentors more visible and also promoting critical thinking)
  • Consider asking students to write and post their own discussion questions and have those questions be a part of the grade; provide model questions at the start of the semester. Then have students respond to five students’ questions (students are graded on questions and answers)
  • Mentors can also be responsible for generating a couple of the discussion prompts throughout the semester
  • Make sure that the rubrics and questions incorporate critical thinking, and perhaps require responses to be informed by outside readings/articles that students must individually seek out
  • Debates within discussion boards can be structured by requiring students to post a position, to which others respond with pro or con supporting arguments, followed by a critique of the arguments
  • Additional ideas for improving discussion boards can be found here:

Please keep in mind that there is a feature in Blackboard (under the viewing thread option in the discussion board) that only allows students to view other students’ discussion posts after they have posted something themselves. This is a good feature to activate in order to level the playing field a bit for discussion posts.

The Office of Distance Learning also has several sample rubrics that faculty can use for grading discussion posts. If you are not currently providing your mentor with a rubric for grading those posts, this is a good resource to take advantage of in order to help him or her with grading, and to provide students with specific feedback. For more information, please see:

Course Evaluations

Online course evaluations are available for students during the last couple weeks of the semester. Students receive notification from the assessment office and a link to the evaluations when the window is open, a week before it closes, and the day before it closes. Instructors can check once the window is open to following the percentages of responses, and send out their own reminders as necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I be sure that students in different sections are not collaborating on individual submissions?

With Turn It In, you can set up an assignment so that the originality report only runs on the due date, which ensures that all papers — in all sections of a course—are available to be checked before the report runs. It is also advisable to disallow submissions after the due date (or you can set up a separate TII assignment for late papers with an automatic late penalty).

Can I change the course textbook?

Student and Adjunct lead instructors cannot change textbooks. If they recommend changes of text or course content for future classes, they need to consult with the department first.

How do I set up new Blackboard course site?

Please see:

What does effective grading in the online classroom look like?

Timeliness and detailed feedback are essential components of effective grading in the online classroom. When grading, be as specific as possible in the feedback that you offer. Suggest particular ways to improve or highlight concrete areas in which a student is excelling. Offer study tips and encouragement as often as possible. Monitor students’ grades for signs of problems and check in with them when such problems occur. It is also very important that you contact students who are not participating adequately in the course.

How can I best utilize Blackboard?

Familiarize yourself with Blackboard as much and as soon as possible. A useful tutorial can be found here:

How can I best assess the current state of my online learning community?

Ask yourself the following questions and make any necessary adjustments: Is there a high level of student participation beyond the level that is required? Are student discussion postings of high quality, reflecting mastery of the material, or are they uneven in quality, indicating that you have students who are having difficulty grasping the concepts or expressing themselves?

What rules of netiquette should I practice?

Recommended netiquette protocols include: signing your email messages with your full name; avoid using all caps; use spell check; make messages clear and succinct; do not assume that recipients will know the intended tone of your message; ask yourself whether you would be comfortable if someone other than the intended receiver were to read your message; maintain professionalism by steering clear of using emoticons.

How can I continue to improve online teaching throughout the semester?

Consider attending the extremely useful workshops offered regularly through the Office of Distance Learning. Current schedules are posted on their website:

For more information and any questions related to School of Communication online teaching, please contact Dr. Toby Graves at