Deeper Learning through Online Teaching

At a recent IMC Online Program’s Lunch & Learn, faculty member Stephen Hersh presented on his journey as an online instructor.  His presentation, titled “What I've Learned So Far about Deeper Learning through Online Teaching,” shared highlights from his early days in the classroom to today. From his first student survey which included a one-word review – "Trainwreck!" – to today’s much more favorable feedback, Hersh has had quite the journey learning to be an effective online instructor.

Though he wanted to quit, he was told by a colleague that “teaching is a skill that improves with experience.” Hersh has used that experience to now create exemplary online classes. To get there, he decided to throw out the old rulebook and make a new one:

1. Asking often for feedback from students...

And making lots of fixes to his course. For Hersh, implementing quick solutions is a fast path to audience feedback and content improvement.

Example problem: Students overwhelmed by too many Canvas Announcements at the start of a course. 
Solution: A single hyperlinked Announcement with a list to guide students through the course. I.e.: 

Welcome to Consumer Insight!

  • Setting expectations (link)
  • The Course Calendar (link)
  • Sync Session schedule (link)
  • Give us your contact information (link)
  • About this list of Announcements (link)
  • When technology fails (link)
  • When to do the readings (link)


2. Trying different ways to explain a concept

Students often don’t “get” what he is saying the first time, but will understand it when said a different way.

Example concept: The concepts of social capital, cultural capital, and habitus are regularly misunderstood.
Solution: Create a sound bite to provide a summary understanding of each concept. Then provide additional layers of meaning with readings. 

3. Acknowledging human memory works in predictable ways...

And there are research-based approaches that can help student learning go deeper and last longer. The book that he referenced was Make It Stick. Hersh has applied the Make It Stick theories to his Canvas courses in the following ways:

  • Give an ungraded quiz on the subject matter *before* students read and watch the related materials.
  • Ask students to re-state concepts in their own words on the Discussion Board and correct them (nicely) if they are wrong.
  • Ask for examples when students have experienced the concept to make the idea more vivid for their classmates.
4. Utilizing the “See One, Do One, Teach One” process...

To achieve deeper engagement through active learning techniques. 

ExampleOne assignement in Hersh's course requires students to read some dense academic journal articles and key concepts of those articles are being lost on some students. 
Solution: To address this, Hersh requires each student to conduct library research to find new or better articles on the topic that could replace those currently listed on the syllabus. This not only requires them to engage with the ideas in the articles, it forces them to learn how to do a literature search, which some have never done. He positions this exercise as a game: “if I decide to put the article they unearth on the curriculum the following quarter, they 'win.'"

5. Gamifying concepts... 

Using the book Mindstorms

Example: A simple change to an essay assignment can make it much more engaging.
Solution: Instead of using the "Behavior Mod" concepts to analyze a brand's loyalty program, Hersh asks students to design a program for modifying their own behavior in a way that motivates them.


Stephen has come a long way from those early comments and now consistently sees high CTEC ratings for his online course, Consumer Insight.  His explanation: “It’s probably a mistake.”  That’s hardly the case.

One of the authors of Make It Stick, Mark McDaniel, will be a featured TEACHxpert speaker on campus October 24th at noon.  Register now to attend his presentation!