Strategies for Managing the Online Workload

One of the foremost concerns of online instructors is that teaching online requires more time than the traditional face-to-face classroom setting. The Strategies for Managing the Online Workload (SMOW) video podcast offers a collection of short descriptions, tips, techniques, and methods developed and used by experienced online educators to manage their time more effectively in the online teaching environment. *Note – The free iTunes software is required in order to download and view the video podcast episodes.

Here’s a video introduction to the podcast by Larry Regan, Director of Instructional Design and Development, Penn State University World Campus:

Additional contributions to this collection are welcomed. If you have an idea of how to save time when teaching online, contact Larry Ragan at Penn State University at for additional information on how to add your idea to this collection.

Greener Teaching Techniques

Happy Earth Day!

Greener living has increasingly become a central issue in American life. In our personal lives, we recycle, use reusable bags at the grocery store, and light our homes with CFL bulbs. However, what can we do to make our teaching practices environmentally friendly? There are many simple changes faculty and instructors can make to decrease the impact their classroom has on the environment.

For example, use less paper by posting class documents online (in Blackboard, for those at NIU). Accept assignment submissions electronically rather than  on paper, and return grades and feedback the same way. Even something as simple as turning off classroom lights can save electricity and help make teaching more environmentally friendly.

For even more techniques, go to the new Greener Teaching Techniques resource page compiled by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center:

If you have any additional suggestions, post them in the comments or send them to!


What is microteaching?


Why wait for student evaluations to receive feedback on teaching practices? Microteaching provides an opportunity for faculty and teaching assistants to improve their teaching practices through a “teach, critique, re-teach” model. Microteaching is valuable for both new and experienced faculty to hone their teaching practices. It is often used in pre-service teacher training programs to provide additional experience before or during the clinical experiences.

Microteaching is a concentrated, focused form of peer feedback and discussion that can improve teaching strategies. It was developed in the early and mid 1960’s by Dwight Allen and his colleagues at the Stanford Teacher Education Program (Politzer, 1969). The microteaching program was designed to prepare the students for their internships in the fall. In this early version of microteaching, pre-service teachers at Stanford taught part-time to a small group of pupils (usually 4 to 5). The pupils were high school students who were paid volunteers and represented a cross-section of the types of students the pre-service teachers would be faced with during their internships.

Why use microteaching?

Microteaching has several benefits. Because the lessons are so short (usually 5 to 10 minutes), they have to focus on specific strategies. This means that someone participating in a microteaching session can get feedback on specific techniques he or she is interested in exploring. In a pre-service or training situation, participants can practice a newly learned technique in isolation rather than working that technique into an entire lesson (Vare, 1993).

Microteaching is also an opportunity to experiment with new teaching techniques. Rather than trying something new with a real class, microteaching can be a laboratory to experiment and receive feedback, first (Kuhn, 1968).

How does micro-teaching work?

In the classic Stanford model, each participant teaches a short lesson, generally 5 to 10 minutes, to a small group. The “students” may be actual students like in the original Stanford program or they may be peers playing the role of students. In the case of pre-service teachers and teaching assistants, there generally is at least one “expert”, as well. If desired, the session can be videotaped for review at a later date (Vare, 1993).

The presentation is followed by a feedback session. In some cases, the feedback session can be followed by a re-teach, so that the faculty has an opportunity to practice the improvements suggested during feedback (Vare, 1993).

Giving Feedback

Receiving criticism is difficult for everyone. Setting a tone of respect and professionalism may help participants to be tactful and to keep feedback constructive. Here is an example of ground rules used by the CASTL program at California State University (

Ground Rules

  1. Respect confidentiality concerning what we learn about each other.
  2. Respect agreed-upon time limits.  This may be hard, but please understand that it is necessary.
  3. Maintain collegiality.  We’re all in this together.
  4. Stay psychologically and physically present and on task.
  5. Respect others’ attempts to experiment and to take risks.
  6. Listen and speak in turn, so everyone can hear all comments.
  7. Enjoy and learn from the process!

Feedback should be constructive and based on observation, rather than judgments. A good example of feedback is “You fidget with your pen while talking, and that is distracting,” rather than “You seem nervous and unprepared.” The first comment is about observable behavior, while the second is a judgment about what that behavior means.

Commenting on observable behavior also leads to suggestions for improvement. Again, using our pen example, a better example of feedback would be “You fidget with your pen while talking. Perhaps it would be better to keep a hand in your pocket.”

In the Stanford model, feedback was given using a 2+2 system. Each participant started his/her feedback with two positive comments, followed by two suggestions for improvement. This gives the faculty a sense of his or her strengths as well as areas of improvement.

How can microteaching be used?

The most common application for microteaching is in pre-service teacher training, like the original Stanford model. However, that certainly isn’t the only application. Microteaching has also been used to train teaching assistants and new faculty on teaching methods. Even experienced faculty members can refine their teaching techniques using microteaching.

A similar technique, microrehearsal, has been used to train prospective music conductors (Kuhn, 1968). Like microteaching, the students conduct a 5 to 10 minute rehearsal with sample musicians. Following the rehearsal, the musicians provide feedback on the prospective conductor’s rehearsal technique.

Microteaching techniques can also be used in other fields. In business, microteaching can be used to focus on presentation skills, persuasion and negotiation techniques, and interviewing techniques. In counseling and social work, microteaching can be used to hone questioning skills as well as active listening skills. It also applies outside of the classroom. For example, departments like Career Service can use microteaching techniques to prepare students for job interviews.

Ultimately, microteaching is a useful technique for teaching soft skills, presentation skills, and interpersonal skills. This focused approach encourages growth through practice and critique. The “teach, critique, re-teach” model gives the faculty immediate feedback and increases retention by providing an opportunity for practice.


Kuhn, W. (1968). Holding a Monitor up to Life: Microteaching. Music Educators Journal, 55(4), 49-53.

Politzer, R. (1969). Microteaching: A New Approach to Teacher Training and Research. Hispania, 52(2), 244-248.

Vare, J. W. (1993). Co-Constructing the Zone: A Neo-Vygotskian View of Microteaching. Retrieved January 23, 2009, from

Teaching Through Key Questions

Teaching Through Key Questions


Asking students challenging and thought-provoking questions encourages students to tap their existing mental models and build upon previous knowledge. Faculty can ask key questions to get students to see the relevance of a topic. In turn, it is hoped that students will then ask follow-up questions, engaging in dialogue while critically analyzing viewpoints shared. Therefore, by encouraging students to ask questions faculty provide opportunities for students to become actively engaged in the learning process while also developing valuable metacognitive skills that will benefit them the rest of their lives.

This article shares tips for designing and asking effective questions, during the beginning, middle and end of class, as well as asking questions outside of class.

Tips for Designing and Asking Effective Questions

In his powerful book, The Craft of Teaching, Kenneth E. Eble (1988) shows the essential connection between “the art of asking questions” with meaningful class discussions (p. 88). Eble suggests “three cardinal principles” when forming questions:

  1. “Ask real questions even though they may seem off-hand, simple, or imprecise.” Avoid using stock questions that fail to match course content and worst of all, your teaching style. Instead, form questions that are related to course content, current and ongoing discussions, and ones that are interesting to your students. Finding students’ interests can be achieved through an early course survey and more intimate classroom discussions.
  2. Question

  3. “Be ingeniously responsive to the students’ answers and questions.” Class conversations, as Eble suggests, should be accepting of all points of view, whether or not the answer is correct, “vague, wandering, irritating, or whatever” (1988, p. 89). In other words, everyone should feel comfortable answering questions without fear of ridicule, non-acceptance, or laughter. This is especially important when asking questions in a classroom of diverse learners. Some students not educated in western cultures may not be comfortable answering questions—they learned by listening to more autocratic instructors and did not ask questions because doing so questioned the authority of the instructor. Other students could have learning disabilities or are fearful of speaking in class. It is important, then, to create a learning environment in which you welcome and encourage questions. Model your expectations at the beginning of the semester and provide examples of ways you expect questions to be asked and answered. “Never deliberately ignore a question or demean the questioner” (Eble, 1988, p. 89). If class time is coming to an end and you feel students have questions yet to ask, have them write the questions on a note card that they submit before leaving class. You can address these questions at the beginning of the next class period or comment directly on the card which you can return to the student.
  4. “Try to achieve a rhythm in a series of questions so that the group arrives at moments of larger understanding.” Prepare a series of questions that begin with less complicated content that eventually leads to more complex content. Present questions with just enough information to encourage students to think deeply and form a meaningful answer. Instead of expecting one person to answer the question, ask students to pair up and discuss the question and prepare a shared answer—this allows them to talk about and share their collective knowledge with the class.

Avoid using language that is ambiguous or not yet relevant to course content. Do not assume students know the “terminology du jour.” Asking vague questions by virtue of ambiguous or out-of-context language may elicit vague answers. Therefore, “questions should be definite and unmistakable” (Eble, 1988, p. 90, citing Fitch).

The following tips and techniques have been compiled from of a number of sources (see references) that provide ways to prepare and deliver effective questions in the classroom. Although this list is not exhaustive, the points provide a range of ways to integrate questions in the classroom. The list begins with preparing questions and ends with ways questions can be used outside the classroom.

Preparing Questions

  • First and foremost, design course goals and learning objectives to help students achieve what you want them to learn. Once course goals and objectives have been developed you can begin to prepare complementary and effective questions.
  • Get acquainted with your students so you can customize questions that challenge them to think more critically about course content to help them learn. This does not mean that you must scrap the foundations, key concepts and content that drives your course. It means, however, that you can meet your students along the way—to challenge the knowledge they bring to the classroom and to present content through questions that is useful and relevant to them.

Questions at the Beginning of Class


  • Arrive early to help students who have questions about previous lectures, readings and exam preparation.
  • Begin the semester—the very first class, by asking students the type of questions you plan to ask throughout the semester. This will set the stage for the class, and help students form more complete impressions and establish expectations.
  • Begin the class with a key question. Assume that students who come to your class are interested in being there. “Hook” students with a question based on what they know (through readings and course content, by virtue of their academic level—freshmen versus seniors, or by their major). This key question can be the foundation upon which they can “hang” further concepts (facts and content). The key question can be projected on the screen as students enter the room or asked as soon as the class begins. Here are a few key question examples:
    • “How will the proposed economic stimulus package affect you as a college student?”
    •  “Why should we be concerned about melting arctic ice?”
    • “How will your successful completion of this class prepare you to enter the work force?”
  • Ask provocative questions to energize students into saying something. Keep the topic relevant to the course and be prepared for discussions that could begin to get divergent. Know when to draw the line on discussions that veer from the question or when students dominate the discussion at the expense of others. Here are examples of provocative questions from Ken Bain’s book:
    • “Why did some societies get in boats and go bother other people while others stayed at home and tended to their own affairs?”
    • “Why are human beings occasionally willing to leave home and hearth and march off into the wilderness, desert, or jungle and kill each other in large numbers?”
    • “Why are some people poor and other people rich?”
    • “How does your brain work?”
    • “What is the chemistry of life?”
    • “Can people improve their basic intelligence?”
  • Tell stories about your life, your friends, and other people that provide meaning to the topic of the day. Stories can provide the springboard some students might need to ask questions. For example, as an instructor in a University Experience class, you could tell the story of your first experiences away at college and that you were academically dismissed for poor grades. This personal story might compel students to ask questions about study skills, time management and taking exams.

Questions During Class


  • Teach with the notion that students are naturally curious and have them “develop an intrinsic interest that guides their quest for knowledge, and an intrinsic interest…that can diminish in the face of extrinsic rewards and punishments that appear to manipulate their focus” (Bain, 2004, pp. 46-47). In other words, provide content in such a way that students can see how it can be used in their professions and the relevance of course content to job-related skills. Provide meaningful comments on graded papers and exams—show them the “why” so they can learn “how” to improve.
  • Be aware of how you present questions—do you ask questions in a friendly or authoritative manner? What is the purpose of asking questions? Do you want your students to learn from the question or are you asking the question “just because”?
  • Avoid “schooling” where “bulimic learners” (Bain, 2004, p. 40, citing Nelson) memorize facts and short-ranged information to later purge, “making room for the next feeding” (Bain, 2004, p. 41).  This “force fed” competitive-type of schooling reduces students to be mere receptors of information to compete for grades and have little interest in learning something new.
  • Incorporate relevant vocabulary when responding to a student’s question. For example, when a student asks why her computer is not operating as fast as it had been, you can tell her that she might need more ROM. The student can then ask, “What is ROM?” a question she would not have asked except in this context (the idea for this example was improvised from Bain, 2004, p. 104).
  • Ask students to bring one or two questions to class based on textbook readings or content covered in the previous class. Provide some sample questions to help students write meaningful questions. These questions can then be submitted (a good way to take attendance) and randomly addressed at the beginning of the class period or used to develop exam questions.
  • Avoid answering your own question. Once asked, give students a few seconds to form a good answer. If the first answer is not what you had expected, do not discount the effort the student has made. Instead, ask the student if they could re-phrase their answer or to elaborate a bit more. If they are still having some difficulty, ask another student to help form the correct answer. Ask questions that students can think for themselves (McComas & Abraham, 2004).
  • Engage other students by having them answer the question of one of their peers. It has been shown that students can learn from other students if given the opportunity to do so.

Questions at the End of Class

  • End the class by asking the students:
    • “What questions do you still have about today’s topic?”
    • “If you were to ask one last question, what would it be?”
    • “What was the muddiest point today?”
    • “What was the most meaningful point we covered today?”

    These questions help the students to synthesize the information and draw conclusions. Their responses to one last question and muddiest point can be submitted for your review—you can address student issues at the beginning of the next class period or review to clarify content.

  • Make notes about how students responded to questions asked during the class as well as the type of questions students asked of you. These notes can help you prepare for and modify subsequent classes (Gross Davis, 1993 citing Kasulis).

Questions Outside the Classroom

  • Questions do not have to be limited to the classroom setting. You can ask specific questions related to textbook readings, homework and study. Meyers and Jones (1993) suggest that questions should “fit into prospective classroom activities, model theories and approaches used in academic disciplines and professional careers, extend meaning to materials read or discussed previously, promote a critical analysis of the materials, and make the students think about how the text applies to their personal experiences” (p. 128).  Here is an example of such questioning:

    “Please take particular note of pages 13-14 of Kaisha’s article in which he comments on decision-making in Japanese business. Recall our discussion of decision-making in the American auto industry last week. What comparisons and contrasts can you draw between the two approaches to decision making? We will be using these two approaches in a simulated decision-making exercise Thursday” (Meyers and Jones, 1993, p. 129).

Other questions related to reading assignments can follow these examples:

What [material from] the chapter do you think we should review?
What item in the chapter surprised you?
What topic in the chapter can you apply to your own experience? (Meyers and Jones, 1993, p. 130 citing Gaede).


Using questions in the classroom can help students engage with course content, the instructor, and other students. Good instructor-generated questions can also guide students in developing better answers and help them to form questions of their own. For further information on using questions in the classroom setting, please contact Janet Giesen in Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at or 815.753.1085.


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Eble, K. E. (1988). The craft of teaching (2nd.ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. [Eble’s is a highly referenced book]

Gross Davis, B. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Meyers, C., & Jones, T. B. (1993). Promoting active learning: Strategies for the college classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McComas, W. F., & Abraham, L. (2004). Asking more effective questions.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Center for Teaching Excellence (2006). Levels and types of questions.

Online Tutorials

Online Tutorials

Online tutorials can be an effective strategy to enhance teaching, whether instruction is entirely web-based, or supplements a traditional face-to-face class. While the design of online tutorials range from passive and basic to interactive and sophisticated, many times design decisions are made by costs, resource demand, and time considerations.

Simple web-based tutorials can be designed to display content in a text and/or image format. Students passively view website material much as they would read a textbook. Indeed, these tutorials have come to be labeled ‘electronic page turners’. A related format is the ubiquitous PowerPoint Slide presentation, requiring students to view slides in either a manual or automated manner. A voice narration can be added to enhance the experience, but ultimately, this type of tutorial demands minimal interaction from users.

Other online tutorials utilize technology that record all onscreen activity. An example is tutorials created with the Sympodium Smart panel display, an increasingly common item in on-campus smart classrooms. In addition to displaying PowerPoint slides, faculty can incorporate text, images, video, audio, and Flash-animated lessons. Faculty can also draw freehand shapes, equations, and figures. Most of the content can be manipulated (magnified, cloned, hidden, etc.). Several years ago, a math instructor at NIU developed a tutorial describing Inverse Trigonometric functions. Using the Smart Notebook software ‘Record’ feature on the Sympodium Smart panel display, the instructor was able to document a session writing out lesson notes (primarily mathematical equations) with an accompanying voice narration. Figure 1 displays a screen capture of the online video tutorial that students could review, pause, and skip ahead or behind, as many times as needed.

Figure 01

More recently, another faculty member used a similar technology to recreate the ‘Intro to the Course’ lesson, one of only three planned face-to-face sessions in a primarily online course. After the initial face-to-face class meeting was cancelled due to inclement weather, the faculty member developed a tour of the course website, which contained a myriad of elements. Every aspect of the tour was recorded, along with voice narration, as it would have occurred in the face-to-face classroom session. Figures 2 and 3 exhibit how an area of the website is zoomed in upon for added emphasis.

Figure 02 Figure 03

Other tools go beyond recording online activity. The software program ‘Articulate Engage’ allows faculty to develop tutorials that require a higher degree of student/content interaction. Using pre-designed templates, content can be presented in one of 10 different interaction styles including Process (allowing users to discover the steps of a linear process), labeled graphics (identifying the key elements of an image), and a timeline (discovering the events of a timeline) [See Figure 4].

Figure 04

Other than the selection and refinement of appropriate content, most of the tutorials mentioned in this article do not require a significant time or resource commitment to develop.

However, online tutorials can be quite sophisticated and comprehensive, demanding a high degree of interactivity from students. Tutorial features can include multiple layers of content, multimedia files, hyperlinks to relevant websites, quizzes, Flash-based games/instructional modules, and case studies with decision-branching sequences. While the quality can be exceptional, these tutorials ‘projects’ can be costly and time consuming, requiring a design team made up of content experts, instructional designers, artists and programmers. An example of this type of tutorial is the NIU Responsible Conduct of Research website that allows users access to participate in a series of online tutorials ( Users can explore research integrity issues in the areas of data management, research mentoring, collaborative research, peer review, and authorship.

While there are resources on campus that can assist faculty to develop sophisticated and elegant online tutorials, staff in the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center can assist instructors on developing basic, yet fairly interactive online tutorials. For information contact Faculty Development.

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