New to the higher ed digital community?

Six strategies for becoming an online instructor—plus peer resources for the newly initiated
By: and | March 24, 2020
(Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash)(Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash)
James N. Baldwin is president and John Caron is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Excelsior College.

James N. Baldwin (left) is president and John Caron is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Excelsior College.

The past few months have unfolded in a way and at a pace that many of us have planned for but hoped would never happen. COVID-19 is impacting colleges and communities in new ways almost daily. As we are all working fervently to protect the health and safety our students, faculty and staff, we are faced with new challenges.

Social distancing procedures are going into place throughout the United States and across campuses worldwide. While we may need to keep a physical distance, it is important that we come together as a community. 

Sharing resources

If your campus has made the decision to conduct classes remotely, Excelsior College is here to help. We have been delivering academically rigorous and engaging classes online for nearly two decades. We are compiling resources to share, and we hope this will ease your transition to the landscape of digital classrooms. 

These peer resource pages contain tips and best practices for building online courses and delivering remote teaching and learning. These resources are available and free to anyone who needs them. We will continue to add articles and resources throughout these next weeks or months. 

Becoming an online instructor

Remote learning is different from traditional face-to-face teaching. Each instructional method offers a unique combination of benefits to students. Your faculty and students may be anxious about the technology or struggling with self-discipline. They are not alone. They are now joining our larger digital community, and we offer our support and encouragement. Be assured, with more than 175,000 alumni, Excelsior College is proof that distance learning works. 

Let your experience in higher education be your compass as you navigate and once again become a student yourself, learning your own best methods for teaching remotely.

As the higher education community adapts to working remotely due to COVID-19, we asked our experienced faculty to share their insights. We hope these six strategies will help equip your faculty to tackle the coming weeks and months, and better serve your students as they finish this semester online. 

  1. Show up, be present and listen. Change can be difficult, and this situation is unnerving for many. Be available for your students and let the students know how to reach you. Hold virtual office hours through videoconferencing to help students feel less isolated from their instructors and campus in general. Check in on your colleagues as well to offer support and encouragement. Your connections and network will fuel you. 
  2. Slow down and reflect. Empower students to own some of their learning and have them report back what they have learned. The best way to encourage students to apply their knowledge is to give them a certain amount of freedom and flexibility in their learning. Keep in mind that the situation changed rapidly, and many students may not even have their textbooks, laptop or a convenient way to get online, so be flexible and accommodating of needs during this crisis.

    Read: How to transition (quickly) to online instruction


  3. Look for new ways to bring your material to life. Interactive content like short videos, podcasts and interviews can be useful for students to reflect on and apply the material you want them to learn. There are many free educational resources available to you and your students. Use tools that encourage communication: discussion groups, live webinars and virtual study groups so students can continue to have a sense of community and support each other and their learning.


    Read: You’ve moved your course online, but is it impactful?


  4. Consider assessment. Develop guidelines to evaluate the new online work. Written guides for assessing the work will make grading clear to both students and faculty. Rubrics are a useful tool for communicating clear goals and outcomes.

  5. Offer your discipline expertise. Some confuse an online instruction as merely grading assignments. Be sure your students continue to benefit from your vast expertise in the digital classroom. Current events may offer strong relevance and lively discussions that can be guided by your area of focus.
  6. Be inclusive. Remember that the online environment may cause students to struggle in different ways. They may be uncomfortable with the technology, shy about participating, or may not buy in to the new system. Students learn differently in both face-to-face and online classes. It is important to accommodate the learning needs of all students to ensure they are getting the most from the class. Incorporate students’ cultural and personal backgrounds into the learning experience through discussions and readings. Reach out to students individually with encouragement, feedback and questions. These gentle reminders can make a big difference for students.

Online education is a proven method to develop learning and increase one’s knowledge. The key is to use best practices and tools for online teaching and learning to maximize learning outcomes. The student-faculty relationship can overcome the challenges and offer a profound experience during this uncertain time.

Let your experience in higher education be your compass as you navigate and once again become a student yourself, learning your own best methods for teaching remotely. 

Nearly 50 years ago, Excelsior College was among the first institutions engaged in distance education, and we are proud to lead the way in this new conversation. Together we are stronger. 


James N. Baldwin is president and John Caron is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Excelsior College in Albany, New York.


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