What steps can I take for a successful online teaching experience?

Select topics below for tips and suggested resources. If you would like further tips to improve your online teaching, please contact us at odl@gmu.edu to arrange a consultation.

Before class begins…


Use our Syllabus Checklist to ensure that your final syllabus is clear and has all necessary details. At least one week before class begins, email students the final syllabus and instructions for accessing the course.

Course Access

Make the course site available to students within one week of the class starting, but no later than the first day of class. See instructions here. At least one week before class begins, email students the final syllabus and instructions for accessing the course.

During class…


Make introductory contact with all enrolled students when the class begins, perhaps through a welcome email, announcement, or video. Be sure to do the same for any new students who register after the start date.

Office Hours

Post and observe your office hours, whether online or face-to-face. For any changes, send your students an email or post an announcement. If holding virtual office hours, include access instructions and user names (if needed) for the tool you use (Blackboard Collaborate, Skype, Google Hangout, and so on).


Be available and responsive to students at least five days per week. Respond to student inquiries within 24-48 hours during the days that you are available.

Be sure that students know what to expect, including any days or hours that you are not available. Being “available” includes: responding to student email, confirming receipt of assignments, logging into Blackboard to monitor and participate in discussion forums, and grading assignments.


Maintain active involvement in the course throughout the semester. This might include the following:

  • Make regular, proactive contact with each class. Aim to post regular announcements during the semester, keeping students aware of upcoming deadlines and course updates.
  • Participate in course discussion forums in a way you deem appropriate, intervening to clarify, refocus, provide correction, or add new information.
  • Provide and monitor an “Ask the Instructor” discussion forum, responding to queries during your available days.

Instructor Presence

Establish a social presence, working to develop a rapport with your students like you would in a classroom. Share information about yourself so your students can get to know you, and use a friendly tone in your communications. Learn about your students’ backgrounds and interests, using them to tailor feedback. Other steps include:

  • Deal promptly with disruptive students to restore order and a safe environment for the class.
  • Encourage students to communicate with you, share ideas, and cooperate with each other.
  • Contact, encourage, and follow up with students who are not participating or making progress in the course.

Grades and Feedback

Post grades with qualitative feedback in the Blackboard Grade Center. Try to do this in a timely manner, or within one week of the assignment due date. Let students know what time frame to expect for receiving grades and feedback.

Student Concerns

Recognize student problems early. Work with students to diagnose the problem, and provide appropriate assistance or referral, such as assisting the student in finding campus or online resources.

Online Communication

Keep best practices in mind for effective online communication. This includes:

  • Be aware of challenges in conveying information by email. Word your messages carefully, use language that students will understand, use humor judiciously, and consider using phone calls or voicemails instead of text emails for complicated matters.
  • Avoid terse communications. Include a greeting and make your messages and announcements friendly.
  • Model and encourage respectful and constructive communication in the discussion forums, in your email messages, and through your feedback.

Inactive Students

If students are administratively deleted, make them inactive in the Blackboard course. Do the same if they are withdrawn for lack of progress in the course or disappear from your roster in Banner. This prevents students from continuing to work when they are no longer authorized to do so.

After class ends…

Course Copies and Archives

Archive your Blackboard course at the end of each semester. This ensures that student participation and grades are maintained for future reference. Make the whole course unavailable once all students have completed the course. Otherwise, it will continue to appear in students’ Blackboard accounts.

Also, complete the course copy process in a timely manner. This ensures that your Blackboard courses are ready for the new semester. Carefully check to identify and fix any errors that may occur during the copy (folder order, loss of exam questions, and so on). See course copy steps here.

Records and Documentation

Save paper exams and other course records according to your program or department policies.

Save student emails for at least one year for future reference, in case of grade disputes or other questions.

Final Grades

Before the Registrar’s deadline, enter course grades into Banner or import grades into PatriotWeb from Blackboard. See import instructions here.


Review your student evaluations every semester. Contact us at odl@gmu.edu if you would like assistance making improvements based on student feedback.


Plan to revise the course, either individually or with a group of faculty members. Contact us at odl@gmu.edu if you would like help addressing issues, adding new elements, updating course content, or making other changes as needed.

Learn more about teaching online

Designing or teaching an online course? See our list of best practices.

Seeking fresh ideas or chances to network? Attend an event.

Looking for feedback or have questions about online teaching?

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