Best Practices for Online Teaching

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when developing and teaching an online course:

Look and feel of the course
When designing the course in Blackboard Learn 9, keeping the look and feel of the menu bar simple and easy to understand will provide students with an easily accessible experience regardless of whether they access their course through a computer or a mobile device.

Image of Course Navigation in Blackboard with 12 links

Guidelines and Expectations
Setting up guidelines and expectations for the course can be an important way to alleviate student anxiety. Among the guidelines and expectations to set are:

  • Netiquette: what are the behavioral expectations in discussion boards and communications with other students and the faculty? No bullying, all caps, no inappropriate behaviors/images, proper attire if the course has a video based synchronous component are all components of a netiquette policy.
  • Time on course work: Because online courses require more independent work, students sometimes are unaware of the time investment required. Specifying what the expectations are can go a long way to ensuring student success.
  • Forms of communication: all communications with students should be done through the university approved modalities: university email (no personal email use should be allowed), WebEx for synchronous online communications, university telephone (when applicable). 
  • Time to respond: Best practices indicate that all student communications should be replied to within 24-48 hours and informing students of your policy is important. Even if a response requires more than the time frame specified, informing students that you received their communication and will reply at a later date is important.
  • Due dates: due dates should be clear and stated in the syllabus and throughout the course.
  • Time to grade: Best practices indicate that providing feedback to assignments within 7 days is recommended. 

All online and hybrid courses should be accessible to all students, including those with disabilities. Courses should follow the guidelines established by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. That includes providing alternative text to all images, closed captioning for all videos, and making sure that documents are accessible to text-to-speech programs. For help in creating accessible materials please contact the Center for Educational and Assistive Technology at

Instructor Presence
Establishing instructor presence in the course is recommended. This can be done by posting announcements, contacting students, and replying to discussion boards. One of the best ways to establish instructor presence early is through the faculty introduction. Creating a video to introduce yourself can create a better personal connection than through text. Best practices also recommend that introductions should not be just professional introductions, but rather provide students with some details of your personality and interests.

Engagement opportunities
Providing students with opportunities to engage with their peers diminishes the sense of isolation that can arise from working in an online environment and reduce course dropout rates. Discussion boards and group work can increase students’ social presence in the course.

Use Blackboard Learn 9 for assignments

Collect all assignments in Blackboard Learn 9 rather than by email. This will help manage your email inbox and assure that you receive all assignments submitted by students.

File Types: Because a lot of students will access their online courses using their mobile devices, consider using PDF files as the default format for anything that you upload. While popular formats such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint will open on most mobile devices, formatting may be changed and may render some materials unreadable. All popular programs allow users to "save as" PDF. 

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Tools

Because students lives will be disrupted by the current crisis, they may not be able to attend synchronous (real-time) course activities. Additionally, not all students may have access to an internet connection that can handle live video meetings. Consider using more asynchronous tools. Consider recording synchronous sessions and uploading them to Blackboard for students who cannot attend live.


Use Blackboard to provide exams online. Exams can be timed and many types of questions can be auto-graded (e.g., multiple choice).

Online tools

As much as possible, use the University supported tools for all online learning activities. These include Blackboard Learn 9 as the learning management system, WebEx as the video conferencing tool for synchronous class meetings, and Teams for synchronous and asynchronous chat. This reduces the learning curve for students, provides faculty with support, and provides a uniform experience for all courses.

Best Practices Resources
Arizona State University - Best Practices for Teaching online

Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences - Best Practices and Expectations for Online Teaching

Stanford University Teach Anywhere Best Practices