Center for Teaching Excellence
Georgia Southern University

Face-to-Face to Online

Understanding the differences between traditional face-to-face and online learning environments will help you to better make the transition from one context to the other.


Assessment of learning is too often treated as a grade, but assessment should also inform the student if they are “getting it” and self-regulate. We need to provide opportunities for self-assessment and regular feedback from the instructor. Feedback to students during the learning phase is crucial. To fully assess the scope and breadth of what students have learned, studies indicate  that multiple modalities of assessment are necessary, especially for online courses.

Assessing online students

  • Use multiple modes of assessment in order to fairly judge the scope and depth of their knowledge and understanding of course topics.
  • Provide students with study guides, rubrics, or other guidelines to cut out the extraneous noise and help them focus on essential information.
  • Assessing student progress at regular intervals helps students build upon prior knowledge step-by-step, and provides feedback to the instructor and students as to whether the instructional strategies are working or not.
  • Provide opportunities for self-assessment so that can monitor their progress and correct if necessary.
  • Use short quizzes (low weight) or practice tests (no grade) to provide instant feedback; think of them as learning opportunities rather than for the sole purpose of a grade.
  • Provide timely feedback on written work or discussion activities.
  • Apply Bloom’s Taxonomy to write objective statements and align them with appropriate types of assessments.


Online courses benefit from the advantages of asynchronous communication. Tools like discussions boards allow students time to research and develop responses to questions at deeper levels than a face-to-face classroom discussion. While chat and Web conferencing tools for synchronous communication are available online, the instructor may have to schedule multiple sessions to accommodate the schedules of all students.

Modes and styles of online communication

  • Use multiple modes of communication in order to support a balanced set of dialogues between the instructor and students, and between the students as well.
  • Use synchronous communication tools — Web conferencing and chat sessions — to enrich interaction between participants and build a cooperative learning environment by promoting real-time brain storming and problem solving.
  • Use asynchronous — announcements, news, discussions, assessment feedback, and email — to keep the course up-to-date, manage student activities, and stimulate student interest.
  • Emphasize that the rules of netiquette — acceptable use of language and online interaction — are followed by the course community.


In face-to-face learning environments, the learning experience is often enhanced by the camaraderie that develops between students in the classroom. Online classes may lack direct engagement opportunities, but students of the digital age are adept at using technology to build peer-to-peer relationships and enable cooperative learning.

Ideas for building online communities

  • Create a forum for student introductions during the first week of class.
  • Maintain a teaching presence by asking the class how things are going; provide a “heads-up” for material about to be covered; provide weekly summaries of material just covered.
  • Encourage students to share personal experiences about course topics.
  • Create group activities and assignments.
  • Use Web conferencing software to enhance student-to-student engagement.

Course Design

The process of designing an online course is similar to conventional course design, except that the design should embrace and support asynchronous types of activities in a digital environment. Since online students may not be on campus–or even in the same state–learning activities should accommodate students in any time zone. In order to meet accreditation standards, online courses must provide students with the equivalent instruction and learning outcomes as face-to-face courses.

Key elements of successful course design

  • Use the ADDIE process of course design as well as other design strategies to help you develop your online course.
  • Online courses and their face-to-face equivalents should be equivalent in learning outcomes in order to meet accreditation standards.
  • Divide the course into modules by topic in order to accommodate the ability to alter the course structure and schedule–if desired–from term to term.
  • Implement a consistent pattern or rhythm of instruction, activities, and assessment from module to module so that online students can manage their own schedules to better fit with and meet the demands of the course.
  • Provide clear instruction, a course schedule, appropriate resources, and grading rubrics so that students are prepared to complete assessment activities successfully.
  • Minimize dependency on links to external resources for course content since their accessibility is beyond the control of the instructor or Georgia Southern University.
  • Evaluate your course design using the Quality Matters rubric — a set of 8 general standards and 41 specific standards used to evaluate the design of online and blended courses.

Instructor Presence

Students can feel disconnected from online courses because the instructor is not physically present. Instructors can enhance the perception of their presence with timely and personal feedback that shows an awareness of the students’ efforts. Instructors can also time-release announcements and course content to enhance the perception that they are actively managing the course.

Enhancing online instructor presence

  • Establish and provide clear guidelines that define response times for email, feedback, and grading so that students will feel secure that the instructor is actively reviewing and evaluating student performance.
  • Include a Welcome page that describes who you are, your experience, and your interests.
  • Maintain an active role in moderating student interactions on discussion boards.
  • Maintain a teaching presence by asking the class how things are going; provide a “heads-up” for material about to be covered; provide weekly summaries of material just covered.
  • Use audio/visual tools to personalize instruction.
  • Release content selectively by date to enhance the perception that you are actively involved in managing the course content.
  • Refer to students by name whenever possible to personalize each student’s experience in the course.

Plagiarism and Cheating

Because instructors cannot directly observe student behavior in online classrooms, it is essential to use tools and strategies to minimize cheating. Some techniques include: using Turnitin to screen written documents for plagiarism; reducing the grade weights for tests; using multiple modes of assessment–including group assignments, discussions, and project descriptions that reward originality.


  • Create quizzes with random questions pulled from larger question libraries.
  • Minimize the grade weight for test with questions that can be answered from text books or the Web; alternately, create practice tests with no weight.
  • Use Turnitin to check written documents for plagiarism.
  • Use multiple types of assessments in order to evaluate student performance from multiple perspectives.
  • Write assignment descriptions that reward synthesis and originality.

Student Expectations

Students typically sign up for online courses for two reasons, convenience, and sometimes the perception that an online course will be easier than a face-to-face class. While convenience is a legitimate consideration that should be taken into account when designing a course, online courses must provide students with the equivalent learning experience as the face-to-face counterpart, which is a concern for accreditation purposes. To counteract expectations that an online course will be easier, be sure to provide students with a thorough description and schedule of all course events, as well as grading rubrics for each assessment activity. Knowing in advance the structure and pace of a course, will also help them plan their schedules online and offline in order to fulfill expectations.

How to manage expectations and satisfaction

  • Include a course syllabus that explains–in detail–the expectations for the course.
  • Include a schedule for all course content and due dates to keep students on task.
  • Be certain that the course and module objectives are in alignment with assessments, and that learning activities provide students with the knowledge and means to complete the objectives successfully.
  • Keep in mind that online students may not be located near the college campus or even in the same time zone. Be certain they have access to resources and learning opportunities regardless of their location.
  • Follow the guidelines for establishing instructor presence (above).


Technology can be leveraged as a means to enrich the online learning experience. However, when the technology becomes an obstruction to teaching and learning, the morale of the instructor and the students can be affected adversely. By providing clear instructions and time for the students to learn how to use the technology, frustration can be avoided.

Using online technologies

  • Provide clear instructions or demonstrations on technology-driven tasks.
  • Provide opportunities to practice using technology prior to assessments.
  • Provide a link to Help Desk support for students.

Time Management for Instructors

Although an online class is open to students 24-hours-a-day and seven-days-a-week, it is unreasonable to expect the instructor to be available to all students at all times. In face-to-face environments, instructors meet with students a few times each week. However, teaching an online class can require instructors to visit the online classroom multiple times per day, but for much shorter periods of time. In order to avoid online burnout, it’s important to set for yourself a schedule of how often you will engage the students and respond to their queries.

How to avoid burnout online

  • Keep scheduled virtual office hours so that students can communicate via telephone, online chat, or virtual meeting room.
  • Provide students with response times for e-mail, feedback, and grading in order to manage their expectations and your schedule.
  • Check your course using a pre-flight checklist prior to the start of the term in order to ensure that all content and technology is available and functional.
  • As you teach your course term to term, make note of specific questions students ask and problems they encounter and make necessary updates to the course prior to the next term to reduce the amount of time you spend responding redundantly.

Writing for the Web

The nature of online courses generally requires students to read more often than in face-to-face classrooms. When writing for the Web, it’s important to be as clear and concise as possible because the instructor may not be immediately accessible to clarify instructions. Because Web users typically scan Web pages for information instead of reading the text, it’s important to use headers, sub-headers, and lists as well as “chunk” your text into short paragraphs.

Tips for writing great online content

  • Instructions should be as explicit as possible.
  • Use lists instead of a narrative format to provide step-by-step instructions to students.
  • Use headers and sub-headers to help organize information and help students scan documents for the information they seek.
  • Break text into paragraphs, and begin each paragraph with a topic sentence. This Web page is an excellent example of using headers, sub-headers, paragraphs and lists in order to make content easy to scan and read.
  • Instead of text, use images, slideshows, and multimedia presentations to facilitate different learning styles.


Last updated: 7/16/2018

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