putting my class online

So… I’m thinking of putting my Intro class online this year. Two questions: 

1.) Any resources I should look into for doing this? Things you’d recommend and/or avoid? 

2.) Any words of wisdom to push me over the edge one way or the other? Is this the greatest thing I’ll ever do, or the worst? Likely in between, of course. But experiential lessons would be most appreciated. 


16 thoughts on “putting my class online”

  1. Shamus, I’m not sure what you mean by putting the course online. Detailed lecture slides? Audio podcast? Video? Something else?

    I think it depends a lot on what your goals are. If your goal is to have students who take the class 100% online and never show up in person, that’s a lot different than putting things online for students who happen to miss a lecture or two.

    My experience TAing for a class with all lectures podcast has been decidedly mixed. Good students use the podcast well to fill in for the few things they didn’t quite get in lecture. Bad students assume they can just skip lecture, listen to the podcast, but they don’t pay attention to it. There was only one student who took the entire class online. He was highly motivated – needed to telecommute to finish his degree that quarter – and it was an excellent experience for both of us.


  2. I have taught intro 100% online as a summer class. If you care about student learning, teaching online (at least the first time you run the class online) is A LOT more work than teaching in person.


  3. Sorry, should have been clearer. I’m teaching a class that will be a butts-in-seats class. But I was trying to think through what it would mean to put my lectures online, course material where possible, etc…


  4. My syllabi, lecture notes etc have been posted for a long time. I don’t mess with podcasts. I require attendance but the on-line notes are for make-ups. Also I tell people I don’t want them to spend time in lecture coping the slides, if they want the slides, they should download them.

    It is DEFINITELY convenient to have all the handouts etc available on line. Definitely convenient to be available to respond to inquiries from prospective students about your class with a url to the previous semester’s materials. Readings can be available on line behind a gate like our learning system.

    Regarding resources, you have to decide whether it should be on a public web page linked from your home page, which you control, or in your school’s gated online learning system. On the public web page means it becomes part of your public identity, which can be good or bad depending.


  5. Career-advice-wise, Shakha, I would recommend against anything more than putting syllabus, slides, etc. online (which you are probably already doing via CW, but which you could just switch to ‘global’ for WWW access). It’s going to take a lot of time, which as you know could and should be devoted to other things that are going to get you the security you want/need. Shorter: it’s not going to get you tenure, and will likely detract from it – just as a straight-up time calculation.

    That said, you clearly have some special sauce with regard to your intro course. My advisees almost uniformly raved about it. Raved. If you could make some of that more visible and widely distributed, convey some of that magic online, you would be doing a really great service to people outside the CU/BC community.

    In an ideal world, this would be a public website / CMS. Supposedly you can do this through Sakai now, but I’m skeptical. I once set up a website (actually, once via wordpress, and once via my own personally-hosted site). It ended up, predictably, having a handful of ‘regular’ posters, and some comments. A more aggressive way would be to require postings and comments as part of discussion – maybe as an alternative to participation, or in lieu of some of the daily quizzes?

    I think Gabriel does/did video podcasting, and so does/did Tina. They may have insight in that direction. But whatever you do, it’s going to require either more infrastructure (I hired an RA to do some of the work of managing the teaching site), or more time/attention on your part. It would probably be a wash or maybe a net negative to set up something, and then allow it to lay fallow due to neglect or insufficient attention.


  6. I’d co-sign what Peter said (including the rave reviews from your former students). I often post slides through the online course management system, but they compliment the discussion–they do not replace it. Since I’m often posting graphs, figures, and data tables, many students appreciate being able to take a closer look after class. I had an intro class run a blog in the past, with reasonably good results (sociologicalimagination.wordpress.com) but this is a different sort of use of the web than what I think you suggest in your comment. Good luck and let us know what you decide!


  7. Hi,
    I’ve been podcasting for a few years now and it works well, though the attendance does take a hit. I see the attendance issue as a problem since I think it’s too easy for them to multitask inattentively and so I incentivize attendance with pop quizzes on the readings.
    I also post slides but my slides are supplements to the talk not an essay in bullet point form. In theory I could use iMovie to make an enhanced AAC podcast (where the slides show syncs w the audio) but that’s very time intensive.
    As for the technical infrastructure, UCLA has a system that automatically records lectures directly from the room’s mic. That’s in theory. In practice you have to remember to change the wireless mic batteries twice a term and even then there can be problems. This quarter there was a lot of static on my first few lectures. For these reasons I like to take a personal digital voice recorder as a backup in case anything goes wrong with the universities system.
    I’ve put my course up on iTunes U once, which I consider more “service” than “teaching” since I figure my UCLA students will get it through the universities internal system. Note that you can also put PDFs in an iTunes U feed, which is nice if you want to post the syllabus, slides, etc.
    Finally, remember that the “digital natives” thing is bullshit. Don’t count on your students to know how to do things like subscribe to the RSS of a podcast.


    1. I’d like to amplify Gabriel’s last comments. Students. Do. Not. Know. How. To. Use. Computers. If you do go to look at my blog experiment (see above), the first post you’ll see will be my semester wrap up in which I mention our frustration with how many times we needed to hand hold students through the process of posting to wordpress. Which, trust me when I say this, couldn’t possibly be any easier than it is. On the level of operating an iron.


  8. I have always put slides online, though only after the lecture. One semester with 300 students I also posted audio recordings of each lecture. The students loved it, and I don’t think it hurt attendance (since I also took attendance with clickers that semester). I made sure to stress that these materials were not guaranteed to be made available (so not to complain if they count on them and then fail an exam.)

    I have noticed my slides showing up on some cheating websites over the years. But that doesn’t bother me too much.


    1. I make my slides available online before class, though my slides are not a transcript of the lecture. Most of my best students now print them out and take notes directly on them, which I think helps them stay more engaged with the discussion rather than trying to transcribe the lecture. A few students have suggested on course evaluations that having the slides available is a disincentive to attendance, but I do unannounced graded group assignments in class frequently, so they should have plenty of incentive to come anyway. I have recorded lectures for online/hybrid classes–it’s fairly easy to record the audio for each slide and then save the whole thing as a movie–but it is quite time-intensive without an institutional lecture capture system. The slides (with creative commons tag) go on our LMS; videos sometimes have to be posted elsewhere for file size reasons, but I’ve never done so in a way that makes them likely to be found by others.


      1. Well, if my slides were ready the day before class, that would be one thing. But I still wouldn’t make them available. I think learning how to take notes starting with a blank page is a good skill to learn; knowing the slides will be online reduces the pressure to get it all down. Plus, I think having the slides in advance makes the lecture more boring for a lot of students — “Oh God, I see where this is going. Get to the next point already!”


  9. I used to record my own podcasts, but now my university automatically records both sound and all projected images. In my large lecture class, this definitely affects attendance, but I am happy to allow my students this flexibility.


  10. Thanks for the thoughts, everyone. I don’t use any visual aids when I teach. It’s just me an chalk. So maybe the online thing won’t really work, since there are no slides. I was considering videoing my lectures, and selecting readings in the public domain to augment the syllabus for those who don’t have access to articles. I worried a bit about having my lectures out there for the world to see. But I doubt many people would watch it outside my class. I worry about attendance, but not that much, since the class is twice a week and every other class students have to be there to take a quiz (on the previous two lectures). I guess part of what I have to think about is (1) the time, and (2) who is it for? Is it for the students, is it service, or service to my ego? As for the worries about having people be able to see my lectures: if i get something wrong, I should be corrected. If people have good ideas of how to better convey something, I’m happy to hear. And if I’m worried that some of my snarky asides might be public, maybe I should cut down on the sass. We’ll see. A few people have asked to see my syllabus. It’s here, along with all my other syallabi:


    The intro course is “The social world”. I should probably update all of those, since they’re a little old and not exactly what’s on the syllabi now, but the structures are mostly the same.


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