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The Distance Learning Committee has developed these principles focused on establishing best practices for online teaching. The principles aim to provide various resources for faculty to develop and deliver high-quality online courses. All the strategies are supported by current research and the input of experienced UNF online instructors. Part of our work is to illustrate best practices for online education through concrete examples from UNF faculty. To achieve this goal, we seek faculty to create short videos that capture aspects of each of the nine principles listed here. If you are interested in recording a video or have any questions, please contact rozy.parlette@unf.edu.

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Additional Resources

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Establish a strong presence

Presence refers to an impression of community connectedness, togetherness, and awareness created via the expression of strategic thoughts, feelings, and actions through an online medium.

To develop a strong instructor presence in an online course, there are a few areas an instructor may want to consider:

  • Prepare for how your presence will be conveyed to students
  • Invest in online teaching training
  • Set up students for success
  • Focus on communication
  • Monitor effectiveness
  • Embrace feedback.

It’s crucial to establish an early and consistent teaching presence. You can connect with your students by:

  • Sending announcements
  • Creating instructional videos
  • Joining in online discussions
  • Demonstrating your personality, enthusiasm, and knowledge

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Manage your time effectively

Create a plan to manage the time you spend on your courses both before and during the semester. There are several strategies that can be employed to save time on course management tasks, such as:

Before the semester starts:

  • Create scheduled announcements with reminders ahead of time
  • Set up groups for assignments and discussions
  • Check hyperlinks to ensure they are still functioning properly
  • Create a staggered plan for assignment due dates so that weekly assignments are not due all at the same time in all courses you teach. This can help balance the amount of time you spend providing feedback with turnaround time.

During the semester

  • Create a library of comments or feedback that you make frequently on specific assignments. For example, you could create additional prompts and discussion questions for discussion boards.

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Communicate clearly and efficiently

Announce and implement a clear communication policy that supports the course's pace and structure. To set communication expectations, include a 24-hour response time on business days and information on how to schedule “office hours” appointments. An effective communication policy establishes course expectations and a tone, and it communicates to nontraditional, online, and hybrid students that you are mindful of their needs.

Establish clear expectations

Provide students with the following resources to help them delve right into the content: comprehensive syllabus; due dates and course schedule; explicit assignment instructions; grading criteria (rubrics, checklists, etc.); student-focused learning objectives. Alignment is critical to student success! Ascertain that the content of the course is consistent and aligned with the objectives and assessments. Additional content that is not specifically correlated to the learning objectives is omitted or made voluntary.

Provide timely feedback

Educational outcomes for students can be improved by giving them relevant and prompt feedback. Critical materials, concepts, and skills should be emphasized. Provide timely feedback that students can use to improve their performance throughout the course.

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Communicate changes in schedule

Students should be informed promptly of any changes to course materials, due dates, procedures, or communication availability. If something has changed, give as much notice as possible (via email, a course announcement, or other means) as soon as possible. Illness, conference travel, or family emergencies are examples of situations where it is necessary to tell students of any variations from the previously stated communication plan.

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Set some synchronous meeting times to clarify things

Depending on your course modality, these meetings can be mandatory or optional, and the frequency depends on the instructor. But, the fact that the instructor is willing to make herself available has numerous benefits, including:

  • Students have the ability to ask questions in real time.
  • When students learn together, they feel a stronger sense of community and connection to their peers.
  • Students become more involved in their studies.
  • Students have a stronger sense of teamwork.
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Establish a course routine

One of the advantages of online teaching is its flexibility. Keep in mind that many of your students could be busy adults who have other responsibilities. Establishing and maintaining a course schedule clarifies expectations and makes the deadlines more memorable for students. As a result, it helps students manage their time better.


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Create opportunities for active learning

Students must participate in meaningful activities and think carefully about the concepts they learn to be active learners. Students are more likely to remember what they've learned when they engage in active learning, such as working collaboratively to implement a new skill. Make a connection between the classroom and the real world to motivate students. Demonstrate to students how they will put what they have learned to use.

Active Learning Methods

Active learning methods include a wide range of activities, such as:

  • Analyzing and discussing current events or topics covered in class
  • Participating in simulations or case studies
  • Providing opportunities for self-reflection
  • Developing quizzes or assignments for peers
  • Interviewing subject matter experts

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Provide resources for students to succeed

Support students by communicating in a positive and encouraging manner. Your communication with students should be positive and encouraging, with the goal of assisting students in overcoming obstacles and fostering a growth mindset. This communication may take the form of course announcements, emails, discussion board posts, and written feedback on assignments, among other formats.

Provide supporting tools

Students in online classes may need more support than face-to-face classes since they learn on their own. Providing tools such as study guides, practice questions, notes summarizing common mistakes and important concepts may help clarify confusing concepts. Tools explaining expectations in a specific course evaluation may improve their understanding of what is expected and help them get ready for the evaluation.

Connect students with academic and student support services

It is important to identify students who are struggling in the course for reasons related to their progress in the course or for issues outside the course. It may be necessary to refer students to other academic or student support services to help them succeed.

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Use course analytics tools to follow student progress

Catch students who are struggling in the course early and communicate their progress before it is too late. Canvas features course-wide and individual student analytics reports for published courses. These reports can provide a snapshot of how and when the system is being used, when submissions are taking place relative to set due dates, and what student achievement looks like in terms of scores.

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Acclimate students to online learning

Divide the learning content and process into manageable chunks. Establish and post a schedule of activities and deadlines. Describe your expectations for online participation, communication, and netiquette. Provide students with helpful and supportive information.

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Acclimate students to online tools

Students may not have prior knowledge of the tools that will be used. A short video that goes over the tools used during the semester helps students be more comfortable and confident.


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Stay current

Ensure that the course content is up to date, operational, and published before the first day of class. The course site should have an updated syllabus, instructor information section, and communication policy; Canvas due dates and times should be double-checked; any external tools should be fully set up, and the course site should be made open to students the night before the first day of class.

Engage in professional development

Effective online teachers recognize the importance of seeking professional development opportunities to enhance their teaching practices further. These can be participating in teaching conferences and workshops, collaborating with others to develop new course activities, engaging in teaching-related research, etc.

Seek High-Quality Course Design designation

The Florida Board of Governor’s Online Education 2025 Strategic Plan, identifies several strategic goals for online education focused on Quality, Access, and Affordability. One of the goals related to Quality states that “The State University System will create a culture of quality for online education.” Faculty can work towards meeting this goal by working with CIRT to achieve quality course design designations. Once a course earns the Quality (Q) or High Quality (HQ) designation, it is tagged in the FloridaShines course catalog.


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Promote inclusivity

Establish inclusive instructor-student communications

Provide students with opportunities to engage with you during office hours. Open up lines of communication with students through personalized feedback in the SpeedGrader. Plan to connect with students often and reach out to students that have not completed assignments or are missing from synchronous meetings. Build opportunities for students to engage with you and offer their feelings about the course and their progress. Surveys are practical tools to gain insights into students’ preferences for online learning and see how students are doing and how they feel about the class.


Let students know that you believe in their ability to succeed in the course. Be aware of casual comments that can unintentionally impact students negatively. Express your concern for the well-being of your students outside of the classroom and regularly disseminate information about university services available to assist them.


Establish and implement course policies that are inclusive of nontraditional students' needs. Develop consistency with repeating assignment due dates. Students will often be more successful with turning in assignments if they are given at least one weekend day to complete more significant projects and exams. If possible, give students the option to work ahead. It can be helpful to divide larger assignments into smaller assignments that can be turned in over a longer period of time. Provide flexibility by allowing students to turn in late work (for partial credit, if appropriate). Show empathy.

Build an inclusive classroom community

Since face-to-face interactions are missing in online courses, it’s essential to construct a supportive online community to decrease feelings of isolation. To communicate a sense of interest and caring, ask students how they are doing at the beginning of each communication. Each week, engage students in a quick icebreaker: Tell us something good that happened to you this week; share an unknown fact about yourself; if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go; and so on. Utilize Zoom's whiteboard tool, polling software, or a conversation thread to inquire about students’ feelings. Create open-ended, optional discussion boards that encourage students to communicate and support each other throughout the course.


Establishing and adhering to clear guidelines for how students are expected to participate in the class community will set students up for success in your course. Early in the semester survey students’ comfortability with using microphones and webcameras. Explain to students what active participation entails in your online course. If students are expected to have their webcameras on during class, let them know ahead of time. Set aside time to discuss standards and expectations for synchronous and asynchronous student communications. When a student's comments denigrate or debase another student's or group's viewpoint or experience, confront them sensitively.

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Create a course that is inclusive to all learners

Consider the accessibility concerns that may arise when asynchronous content is used: Are students experiencing internet or computer challenges that make watching videos difficult? Are the materials you post usable (do the images contain alt-text and headings, and is the font legible?)?


Include captions on all recordings. You can self-caption course videos using the auto-generated captions feature in Canvas Studio. CIRT also provides captioning services.


Make sure that your pages and modules adhere to accessibility requirements by using the Canvas accessibility diagnostic tool. Utilize headers (rather than simply increasing the font size) to ensure that screen readers can read the page correctly. Use alt text for any images that are not purely aesthetic. Ascertain that any color contrast used on pages or slides is sufficient.


Visit CIRT’s Canvas Accessibility page for more information about making your course accessible to all students. CIRT can provide one-on-one consultations for Document Accessibility Reviews, Course Reviews, and individualized training.


Schedule a meeting with Wendy Poag, the Coordinator of Accessibility Training, for in-depth information.


CIRT also offers training on accessibility in Canvas and on creating accessible documents. Register for sessions on CIRT’s Event page.


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Be accessible

Encourage students to meet with you via ‘office hours’, ‘coffee breaks’, or any other planned interactions that facilitate student access to you.


Set an example for students by responding to their emails in a timely fashion.


Reach out to students who are struggling. Make a habit of sending periodic emails after every graded work. If personal emails are not possible use tools such as Canvas’s “Message Students Who”. This tool is perfect for communicating with students who miss deadlines or whose grade is lower than a certain threshold.


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Reflect on your teaching

Incorporate teaching reflections as part of your teaching practice. Reflections can help you learn more about yourself as an educator and shift your focus from how you view yourself as a teacher to how your students view you as a teacher. Reflections may also help you face your own biases and values to create a nurturing learning environment for diverse students. Some ways you can incorporate reflections into your teaching practices are to set a regular schedule to reflect on your teaching, such as at the end of each semester, and to use open-ended questions that relate to a specific purpose, such as identifying biases, increasing student engagement, meeting the needs of diverse learners, etc. For more strategies on how to be a more reflective teacher, read 10 ways to be a more reflective teacher by Teach Thought University.

Use data for continuous improvement

Learning analytics can provide you with a wealth of knowledge to assist you improve the efficiency of your online course. Some critical areas to consider are as follows:

  • Observe the learning process
  • Analyzing student data
  • Addressing issues
  • Identifying student patterns
  • Identifying early predictors of student success or failure
  • Evaluating the efficacy of instructional content
  • Raising student awareness and encouraging reflection
  • Getting involved, supervising, advising, and assisting
  • Improving the course environment, resources, and teaching.

Canvas New Analytics collects important data about students' activities as they interact with online course material, complete assignments, and take quizzes. This data can be used to understand how students learn best and where they struggle the most.


The better you understand your students, the better equipped you will be to tailor your course design to meet the needs of your students.

Conduct mid-semester course surveys

ISQ's do not allow the instructor to make changes along the way. Make sure to conduct your own survey so you can make timely changes. We know that frequent and useful feedback to students can serve to reinforce learning goals and foster a positive learning community, but that’s just one side of the coin. On the other side, students also need opportunities to provide feedback to their instructors. Anonymous student surveys serve this purpose very effectively. Ultimately, if your goal for teaching online is to provide students with a valuable learning environment, then you should consider implementing student surveys in your course to solicit feedback, and then you should also have some plan for utilizing that feedback. For sample questions you could include in a midterm survey, view the Midterm Survey section of CIRT’s Instructional Design Process page.

For assistance implementing any of these principles, schedule a consultation with one of CIRT’s instructional designers.