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Research Guides@Tufts

Supporting Online Students: Tools & Techniques

Key Concepts

Keep in mind that providing library instruction to online students can take many forms, including voice over Power Point slide shows, online tutorials, short videos, synchronous instruction via Zoom or WebEx, and many others. Remember, if you don't feel comfortable using a particular technology for library instruction, pick one or two options that work for you and proceed from there.

Below you'll find some recommended tools for providing instruction as well as suggestions for using them most effectively.

What tool should I use and in what context?

Keep in mind that, no matter the online mode of instruction, you'll want to gather as much information from your the faculty member as you can.  For synchronous instruction, you'll want to know how many students will be joining, how the material will be shared, how students will access the class, and what the faculty member's expectations are for the session. For asynchronous instruction, you'll want to know which concepts and/or resources the faculty member wants you to explain, how the students will access the content, and what the faculty member's expected outcomes are.

Following is a list of instruction modes with suggestions for using each one.

Synchronous online instruction (Zoom, WebEx)

  • You can approximate a face-to-face instruction session using online tools like Zoom, which allow you to provide real-time instruction to an entire class. 
  • If the faculty member would like you to provide instruction in this way, you will need to adapt your face-to-face instruction for an online environment, which means that many active learning techniques that you might otherwise employ will not necessarily be possible in this format.
  • You can still encourage participation and hands-on searching, as well as assess learning/understanding, using tools like PollEverywhere and Zoom's built-in survey tool.
  • If the faculty member would like you to provide synchronous instruction, schedule the session in advance and provide the access link for the faculty member to post in Canvas so that students have equitable access to the session.
  • Share any handouts or other materials with the faculty member to post in Canvas prior to the session.
  • Remember to record your session so that students who cannot attend the live session will have access to the same content at another time.
  • In general, it's always good practice to outline what you'll be covering at the beginning of the class. It's especially important to do this online so that students have a clear understanding of what to expect from the session, including any specific tools you might be using to encourage participation.
  • If the faculty agree, ask students to complete short skills-based assignments at the conclusion of the session and send you the results. Have the faculty member post the library assignment in Canvas along with instructions for sharing it with you.
  • As with consultations, remember to be patient, speak more slowly than you would in a face-to-face class, and check-in frequently to ensure that students understand the material before moving to another concept. 
  • If you like to use the whiteboard while teaching, open a Box note and share your screen or use the whiteboard function built into Zoom, which can help you to demonstrate concept mapping or document shared ideas with the class. 
  • Practice moving from screen to screen before you teach synchronously. Get comfortable switching from slides, to live demos, to Box notes!
  • Have everything you need open and active prior to the start of the session to smooth out transitions.
  • And remember, there will always be glitches! Don't get stressed out if something breaks or doesn't work perfectly--it's going to happen. Even with lots of practice, you can't expect everything to be perfect all the time. Take a deep breath and use everything as a learning experience.
  • To get started teaching synchronously, have a look at this excellent guide to Tips for teaching with Zoom, developed by a faculty member at Columbia. It's particularly helpful in pointing out what your students need to know when attending a class in Zoom.

Asynchronous online instruction

  • Asynchronous online instruction can take many forms, including (but certainly not limited to): voice-over PowerPoint slides; short instructional videos; interactive tutorials with embedded quizzes; short screen captures for discrete tasks; and many more.
  • Be sure to choose the tool that works best for you and your instructional style!
  • Keep in mind that video content and interactive tutorials should be relatively short and divided into discrete modules, which should not exceed four to five minutes of instruction at one time.
  • Each module should explain one concept or address one learning outcome.
  • If you're using voice-over narration, be sure to include closed captioning to ensure accessibility.
  • Interactive tutorials often include embedded quizzes to reinforce and assess learning. With many tools, including ActivePresenter, for example, you can design quizzes that include a set number of points, the number of attempts, the time limit for each quiz question, pass/fail limits, and quiz duration. You can also keep track of learner's activities (how many attempts) as well as final results.
  • If you do include quizzes, remember that we're not trying to trick the learners!  Keep the quiz questions short and relevant to the module's learning outcome. And remember, if you're employing multiple-choice quizzes, never include "all of the above" or "none of the above" as answer options. There should always be one clear answer to any question that you ask.
  • If you're recording voice-over narration--whether for PowerPoint slides or interactive tutorials, create a storyboard and write a script for what you want to demonstrate before you start recording. Practice timing your script with your tutorial elements and remember to read slowly and clearly
  • When you're creating any online learning objects, think about making them reusable in a variety of instructional contexts. For example, if you're creating a tutorial on how to use JumboSearch to locate Ebooks, it doesn't need to be specific to any one class or subject area. Once you've created a set of tutorials for common tasks, you'll only need to update them when an interface changes rather than recreate them for every class.
  • Check with faculty to see if you can access a class Canvas discussion board so that students can answer questions, post their own questions, and/or provide comments based on tutorial content.
  • Learning how to employ good instructional design in an asynchronous online format takes time. So be patient, explore the tools, and keep practicing. 
  • And have a look at the More Resources for Supporting Online Students page for instructional design tutorials, exemplary online modules, and more!

Flipping the classroom

Remember, you can always flip the classroom!  

  • Provide asynchronous materials in advance.
  • Review quiz questions or task-based assignments that students were asked to complete.
  • Hold a synchronous drop-in session for Q&A--either during previously scheduled class time or at another time agreed on with the faculty member.
  • Share a drop-in session link with faculty to post in Canvas.