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Getting Started with Teaching Online: UHD-Supported Technology Tools and a Few Best Practices for Each

Are you new to teaching online? Here in the CTLE, we are not only happy to assist you with starting off right, but we’re also there for you every step of the way as you grow as an online educator. You will first want to get some basic technology training under your belt. Technology assistance is offered through our neighbors, the Technology Teaching & Learning Center (TTLC). We recommend that you work with them first to get trained on the following instructional technology. Contact the TTLC by emailing, or by calling 713-221-8200. You can also use this form to request technology training. Once you have a working knowledge of the tools, we are happy to help you leverage them all in sound pedagogical ways to create meaningful learning experiences for your students. Make an appointment with us at for pedagogical, course design, and course redesign consultations. Remember also that at UHD, it is university policy that standards and best practices with regards to online instruction are set by the departments, so check with your chair about your area's specific technological training and pedagogical training required to be qualified to teach online courses. 

Blackboard Learn (learning management system)

Blackboard is the LMS we use at UHD. You may already have experience using Blackboard for posting your syllabus (or perhaps even other content) and/or keeping records of students’ grades. In online courses, Blackboard is where students do most or all of their work for the course. Here, you will present content, assess your learners, have them collaborate and communicate with one another, and much more. It is recommended that you take and complete the Blackboard Foundations for Faculty training, either in-person or on-demand, through the TTLC.

As you organize and post your content into Blackboard, remember to think about accessibility issues (creating a learning environment for all students), and always start with your learning outcomes and objectives to be certain that the assessments, activities, and content you provide address them. Choose a convention for organizing content, and stick to it so that your learners will quickly get a sense for how your course is organized. Also, don’t overload your modules with too much content. It’s better to have fewer, more concise items that target the outcomes and objectives directly than to overwhelm your learners with too many things to click on and do. Finally, remember that the LMS is just as much for your learners to engage with the content and with one another as it is for you to present information to them, so have them demonstrate knowledge and skills in collaborative tasks such as discussions and wikis where possible. Try to vary the way content is presented (images, audio, video, etc.) so that your course isn't text heavy. 

Zoom (web conferencing and screencasting for making videos)

You have probably already used Zoom to attend web meetings. However, another very useful feature of Zoom is that you can use it to create videos for your online courses to break up the monotony of what may otherwise be a text-heavy online course. You can record mini-lectures, you can choose to use slides, art from your textbook, a website, or anything that you can share on your screen. You can choose to have a thumbnail window of yourself as you speak or not. Zoom will produce an MP4 video file once you finish your recording. Instead of posting that file directly into your course, we recommend you use Mediasite to stream the video. Online instructors also use Zoom for real-time meetings with students (either in groups for study/review sessions or 1:1 for virtual office hours, for example). Zoom is an excellent way to boost instructor presence in your courses: it’s important for your students to see and hear you to feel a greater connection to the course and the content. When you encourage your students to use Zoom, you’re helping to boost their social presence and interaction in the course. 

A major difference between online courses and face-to-face courses is often adjusting to the amount of time you spend lecturing (whatever lecturing means to you). Try to keep all videos short: we tend to remember the first five minutes and the last five minutes of what we see and hear in videos, so the less “middle” you have in your videos, the better. If you can break up (what would otherwise be) an in-person lecture into parts, and outline it on paper, you can just as easily break up your videos into smaller, more digestible, memorable, and engaging “chunks” for your online learners.

Mediasite (streaming server for hosting and sharing videos)

Once you’ve created instructional videos (welcome messages, module introductions, mini-lectures, exam follow-ups, feedback to the class, etc.), upload your MP4 into Mediasite. There, you’ll get a link to share the video with your learners. You can also get an embed code (HTML text) to insert directly in your Blackboard. Embedding content can make your modules a “one stop shop” so that students don’t have to leave Blackboard to access the video content.

Try to provide an outline and/or a transcript of your videos as well. If a student presents with a documented disability that requires accommodation, UHD will only pay to caption and/or transcribe videos that are in Mediasite, so set yourself up for success from the get-go by using it (instead of some other streaming service like Vimeo or YouTube). When sharing videos in Blackboard, provide the hyperlink and embed the video. Providing both is a sure-fire way of making sure videos appear for your learners as they access your course content. 

Turnitin (plagiarism checker and feedback studio)

Courses that involve writing can benefit from using Turnitin for several reasons. One use of this tool that you may already know about is its plagiarism check feature. When a student submits written work, Turnitin compares it to other written works from billions of sources across the Internet and generates a similarity report. From the similarity report, you can investigate and infer if plagiarism has occurred. It will also link you to any sources it finds with similar language. Another excellent feature of Turnitin is its feedback studio. With it, you can mark up a student’s writing assignment with feedback using a robust menu of tools, allowing your learners to consider your feedback for the next version or step in the writing assignment. Many instructors also use the feedback studio by putting students in pairs or groups to have them give peer feedback to one another.

Try to frame your use of Turnitin as a way to help your learners instead of a tool that lets you catch them doing something wrong. Formal writing is best deployed when done as a process with multiple stages along the way throughout the course of the semester. The work of a learner who has been guided carefully from beginning to finished product (with multiple checkpoints, deliverables, and feedback opportunities) is far less likely to be plagiarized than a one-off assignment they may have been told about early in the semester but only turn in at the end of the semester (when it’s too late to do anything about it). 

Respondus (lockdown browser and monitor)

In face to face courses, you are able to proctor your exams in person. In online courses, this is not an option. For milestone exams (chapter tests, mid-terms, and finals), you may choose to require that your students take the exam in a testing center (like the one here on campus or some other institution’s testing center). Other instructors use third-party proctoring services (like ProctorU, where students pay to have an exam proctored remotely in real time). Another option is to use Respondus tools when deploying an exam, which is available at no additional cost. Respondus Lockdown Browser was a powerful tool in the days when we only had one computer at home. Alone, it prevents the user from opening up other browsers or tabs to search for answers on the Internet. Nowadays, phones, tablets, and laptops are pervasive, rendering this tool somewhat useless on its own. However, when used in conjunction with Respondus Monitor, once the student launches an exam, s/he will be photographed, asked to hold up an ID, asked to film the testing environment, and snapshots are taken intermittently of their activity during the exam. Monitor documents the test taking experience and automatically flags suspicious activity. But unlike with some live, human proctoring options, you will need to review these recordings yourself (after the fact) to make the case for cheating.

Of course, you will want to list a built-in or external webcam as a required course item (just like a textbook or other course materials) should you decide to use Monitor in your online courses. What’s more, since your students already have webcams (because they are required in your course), you may also want to have them do other things with their camera (use them in Zoom meetings, record and share presentations, etc.). In general, it is a best practice to have a very diversified gradebook so that no one grade item impacts the course grade too heavily. However, if you must use high-stakes tests in your courses, try not to use publisher-provided test banks, as those are often freely available to students online (not to mention they are not written in your own voice and, therefore, very unsettling to the learner). Limit your general testing window to only a few days (three days, for example), and limit the allowed duration of your tests. Configure your tests in Blackboard to pull from a pool of questions, and randomize the questions, answers, and sections of the exam so that no two instances of the test are exactly the same. Write questions that test for higher-order thinking (as opposed to memorization), and only use plausible detractors.


A great way to boost instructor and learner presence in your online course is by using Voicethread, a multimedia-rich, asynchronous, online discussion tool. UHD has a campus license for this product, and it's a feature of Blackboard (insert a Voicethread in the 'tools' menu from any content area of your course). Too often, online courses can be very text-heavy, and instructors and learners can obscured and supplanted by the course content. Voicethread boosts instructor and learner presence in the course, putting you and them front and center again. Course videos (mini-lectures, screencasts, PPT presentations, etc.) can easily be inserted into a Voicethread (instead of MediaSite) to encourage students to post questions and comment. Participants can contribute in a variety of ways (text, audio, video, etc.), and Voicethreads can be set up as assessable items (with a gradebook column) in the course. 

Just as with some of the other UHD-supported tools, you'll want to require the necessary equipment to use it (a microphone, a webcam, etc.) as one of your required course materials (just like a textbook). Try using Voicethread as an introductory ice-breaker activity at the beginning of the semester. You can also use it to discuss an infographic or textbook art, dig deeper into a case study, share a mini-lecture, answer student questions, give feedback on student work, work on math problems (with a touch screen), facilitate student presentations (students can add their own pages/slides to a Voicethread), conduct oral assessments, use comment moderation to evaluate/reply, and promote reflection, critiques, and critical thinking. Voicethreads can be shared and copied between instructors, so feel free to work with colleagues in your department to share the work of creating engaging Voicethreads that everyone can use. 

Next Steps

Once you have learned the technological basics and features of these tools, you will have a better idea of how those capabilities might help you address your teaching goals in your online courses. Your next step will be to look at your course description, course outcomes, and learning objectives to create a course plan. Additionally, you'll want to consider the UHD Rubric for Online Instruction to determine where you are most and least comfortable in its 21 different subcategories. With that information, we can meet with you in person and/or recommend additional learning opportunities (OLC workshops, QM workshops, 1:1 consultations, certificate programs, etc.). 

Last updated 10/23/2019 3:15 AM