Part 1: What’s the Difference?

Myth Busting

New online instructors often have ideas about what an online class should be based on what they have heard and seen from colleagues here at IU or at other schools. One of the biggest myths about online classes is that they are just “correspondence courses online” where an instructor puts something together before the semester starts and then walks away for a few months before coming back to submit final grades. Successful online courses are more than a textbook, slide decks or lecture notes, and automatically scored quizzes. They include instructors actively teaching and supporting student learning, providing helpful and timely feedback, designing opportunities for students to learn and work together, and challenging students to be better communicators, problem solvers, innovators, and community contributors.

Other myths about online classes include:

Click on the statements in the presentation below to learn more.


For some faculty coming from a face-to-face teaching environment, it’s easy to think of online courses as “correspondence courses online” where you put something together before the semester starts and then walk away for a few months before coming back to submit final grades. Online courses require active teaching, including regular and substantive interaction and frequent feedback to students on their progress. Other misconceptions about online classes include:

You don’t get to know your students. Because you don’t meet in person, many faculty believe that you can’t get to know your students in an online class. Experienced faculty report that they often feel they know their online students better than the students in their in-person classes. This is because students who would never speak up in a classroom can feel much more comfortable participating in an online discussion forum, where they have more time to think about what they want to say.

Everybody goes at their own pace. A standard “everyone progresses together” course is much more efficient and enjoyable for both students and faculty. This is due to the need for ongoing interaction between students, the nature of collaborative work, and the simple issue of logistics. While go-at-your-own-pace online courses exist, they require more work on the part of the instructor to remain engaged with all students and make sure it does not follow a correspondence model.

I have to be available 24/7. Just because students may email you in the middle of the night does not mean you need to respond to them in the middle of the night. While student questions should be replied to in a timely manner, an immediate response is an unreasonable expectation for both students and faculty. Your syllabus should explain your availability and turn-around time for messages (replying within a 24 hour period is recommended) and your preferred contact method.

Everything has to be written. Online courses are different from paper correspondence courses in many ways, one of which is the use of audio and video, by both instructors and students. Using phones, tablets, and webcams, faculty can interact with students (asynchronously or synchronously) including activities ranging from video introductions and video-based feedback to interactive group presentations.

Adapting to asynchronous

In an article in the magazine eLearn, Michelle Everson, a statistics instructor, shares 10 things that she learned about teaching online over the course of 5 years. Following are a few points from the article and some general differences that can cause dissonance for new online instructors.

Communication takes longer. One issue that new online instructors may not consider is the impact of the time delay that is inherent in asynchronous communication. Writing a clear explanation often takes longer than simply saying it verbally. In Canvas, it’s easy to use video or audio to explain things, but, for most faculty, writing will come more naturally.

The workload is more diffuse. With an in-person class, your teaching activity tends to be concentrated around your class meetings. The first thing many faculty note when teaching online is that activity is continuous. Communication happens when students have questions, which may be any day of the week. The need to check in with students frequently is something that it can take time to get used to.

Students really do want to hear from you. When Everson first started teaching online, she didn’t participate much in student discussions. She, like many new online instructors, didn’t want to stifle the students’ voices. Student feedback consistently shows that they want to hear from the instructor. Whether you use discussions, announcements, or the inbox, being visible in the course is important for both student learning and retention.

You don’t have to think of your class in MWF 10:00-10:50 blocks. In an in-person class, you may regularly run out of time to finish discussing or explaining something. You may choose to start the next class by finishing the previous class session or you may choose to let it go and move on to what you had planned for the next class. In an online class, all of your explanations and examples are there in a module for your students so you won’t run out of time. While this isn’t an open invitation to put an unlimited amount of content into the course, it does mean your students have a better chance to not miss out on things that “drop off” the end of the course for lack of time.


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