Newsletter 28 – Teaching Online: Challenges and Solutions

Emily Ely, Assistant Professor of Education

Despite increasing popularity of online education in many U.S. higher education institutions (Allen & Seaman, 2014), educators are faced with challenges teaching online courses and such challenges can negatively influence students’ experiences and learning. In the chart below, I share a few common challenges related to online teaching and ideas to address such challenges, as outlined in a recent article (Kebritchi, Lipschuetz, & Santiague, 2017). The ideas are not discipline-specific and can translate across colleges and disciples at MBU. I hope your process of scanning this list will affirm what you are doing well and provide a new idea (or two) to try with your online courses.

Challenges Solutions / Ideas
Learners may have inappropriate expectations (e.g., expecting instant feedback)
(p. 8)
Clearly communicate expectations, policies, and routines (e.g., describe a reasonable wait-time for feedback, estimated # hours learners can anticipate needing to spend on work each week, the role of the instructor versus student in an online setting, etc.)
Learners’ readiness to participate in an online course varies
(p. 8-9)
Clarify aspects of online-class readiness, including:

  • Necessary technical skills that will be required (use computer, Internet, Google Drive, Word, Blackboard Collaborate, Google Hangout, etc.),
  • Attitude with which you expect them to approach the course (“this may be challenging, but I can do it” attitude), and
  • Time management skills they will need to rely upon and develop (e.g., give tips to help them schedule blocks of time each week when they will complete online asks as if they were meeting for an in-person class; help themdownload their Blackboard calendar to Google and add alerts to keep track of due dates).
Learners may feel isolated and disconnected
(p. 9, 21)
  • Offer peer and/or group work
  • Connect with your students in different ways throughout the semester (e.g., via a professional Twitter account, text/calls)
  • Small-group discussions or office hours in a synchronous face-to-face formats (e.g., Google Hangout, Blackboard Collaborate)
  • Check in with students on a daily or weekly basis to help build community and keep students engaged in class (e.g., announcements, Google calendar assignment alerts)
Learners need to be actively engaged
(p. 10, 13)
Include a mix of media and multiple types of learning approaches, such as:

  • Audio (e.g., podcasts)
  • Videos (e.g., Teaching channel, YouTube, TeacherTubeKhan Academy, your own videos)
  • Discussions
  • Various forms of text (e.g., articles, blogs)
  • Ongoing assessment in different ways (with clear assessment/rubric criteria)
  • Meaningful feedback
  • Reflection activities
  • Collaboration with peers
One assignment description is often not enough; clarity of assignment instructions is necessary
(p. 14)
While striving to very clearly relay assignment expectations and procedures in your syllabus and on Blackboard, send announcements before assignments are due to offer further clarification, or consider creating FAQs
The “bells and whistles” of technology tools do not necessarily provide the best outcome for student learning
(p. 18)

Start by thinking about content and students’ needs first. What do your students need to know? Then, think about the best approaches to teach the content. Strive for meaningful use of technology and tools that promote student engagement.

The SAMR Model can help you evaluate technology used with students:

Short video explaining SAMR Model:

A common criticism I hear from educators of online courses is a lack of connection with students. “The instructor’s ability to communicate, form community, and deliver the appropriate lesson effectively makes all the difference in student learning outcomes” (Kebritchi et al., 2017, p. 19). Interacting with learners on a human level­–by establishing a relationship with students, forming a classroom community, and connecting with them in various ways–can help them (and you) feel connected, and drive their engagement in class.


Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2014). Grade change: Tracking online education in the United  States. Newburyport, MA: Sloan Consortium.

Kebritchi, M., Lipschuetz, A., & Santiague, L. (2017). Issues and challenges for teaching successful online courses in higher education: A literature review. Journal of  Educational Technology Systems, 46(1), 4-29. doi: 10.1177/0047239516661713

SAMR Model. Retrieved from

SAMR Model Explained for Teachers (2013, June 6). Retrieved from

Previous Instructional Technology Newsletters are located here:

About the Committee:
The Instructional Technology Committee at Mary Baldwin College is a faculty committee made up of representatives from the faculty and Instructional Technology staff at MBC. Members of the Current Committee are:Doreen Bechtol
Paul Callo
Carol Creager
Doris Dodson
Emily Ely
George Guba
Joe JohnsonCarolyn Moore 
Reid Oechslin
Beverly Riddell
Kari Salois
Carey Usher
The charter of the committee is to:

  • Provide a forum for input to the Instructional Technology staff on the relative value of technological improvements from a pedagogical perspective.
  • Be a champion and example for technology enhanced teaching within their schools
  • Try out new technologies that seem promising
  • Develop and share best practices & rubrics for technology enhanced teaching
  • Recommend equipment and management for mixed use (instructional and non-instructional) space
  • This committee meets as necessary.