Best Practices and Expectations for Online Teaching

Adapted from "Online Instructor Performance Best Practices and Expectations," Penn State World Campus

The online learning environment presents a unique set of challenges that require clear definition of instructor performance. The following Instructor Performance Expectations are considered best practices. They identify the minimum level of interaction and management needed between students and instructors to maintain a quality online learning environment.

As a course instructor, it is anticipated that you will…

  1. Follow the established course start and end dates. When students register for your course, they expect that it will start and end as stated in the Schedule of Courses. Schedule adjustments may, however, be needed to meet deadlines for graduating students and others with special circumstances.
  2. Follow our guidelines for managing your course throughout the semester. That document outlines things that should be done on a daily, weekly, or semester basis.
  3. Monitor assignment submissions and communicate and remind students of missed and/or upcoming deadlines. You can help insure a successful learning experience by practicing proactive course management strategies. We suggest posting a note to your class at least once a week, telling students what you will be covering in the coming week and reminding them of any due dates.
  4. Establish and communicate to students, early in the course, a regular schedule for when you will be logging in to the course. Normally this is once per business day. Many of the students studying via the World Campus are adult learners who have work and family responsibilities. These students tend to be more active in courses on weekends, so you may wish to also include in your schedule time to monitor courses at least once on weekends.
  5. Give prior notice to your students and to the administrative unit overseeing your course (e.g., your academic department for resident courses or World Campus Student Services, at, for World Campus courses) in the event that you will be unable to log into the course for several days or more (e.g., during professional travel). This will help to forestall many student inquiries!

    You also should consider finding coverage for your online course if you are going to be out of contact with students for more than a couple of days, especially if they are to be working on assignments while you are gone. In cases of personal emergency, you are asked to notify students and the administrative unit overseeing your course as soon as possible if you will be away from the course.
  6. Provide feedback to student inquiries within one business day. Because online learners must manage their time carefully, timely instructor feedback is especially important to them. Many times, they may not be able to continue with their studies until they hear back from their instructor with an answer to a question or a clarification of course materials! If you cannot provide a detailed response within one business day, we suggest that you respond to the student within one business day to simply let them know when a more detailed response will be provided.
  7. Provide meaningful feedback on student work using clear and concise language. When providing feedback on student work, you have an ideal "teachable moment"! Simply telling a student "good job" or "needs work" doesn't give them the information they need to succeed. They need (and want!) more specifics. What was it that made the work good? (So they can do it again!) What needs work and how can they improve? (Specifically!)
  8. Communicate to your students, in advance, when you will grade and return all assignments and exams. If you don't tell them this information, you will definitely be asked! How long it will take to grade assignments and send meaningful feedback to students depends, of course, on the nature of the assignment. However, students may not be able to proceed in your course until they get your feedback on how they are doing. Please strive to get graded assignments, complete with meaningful feedback, to your students as promptly as possible. As a general rule of thumb, it seems reasonable to expect students to receive their grades, including feedback, within one week of submitting an assignment. If one anticipates that it will take longer than that to return students' work, it is best to inform them in advance when their grades and feedback will be available. Doing so will forestall a lot of questions from students...which often end up coming to the folks in our main office! It also is best to grade assignments in sequence (i.e., assignment 1, then assignment 2, and so on) so students can apply the feedback from one assignment to the subsequent assignment.

    Note that the end of the semester poses a particular challenge, when University policy stipulates that "Grades are to be posted 48 hours after the final exam or final assessment of the course." (Office of the Registrat: Obtaining Grades). Your learning designer can assist you with any questions you might have with how to accomplish these grading goals.
  9. Provide a teaching and learning environment that supports academic freedom, as outlined in University policy HR64. Penn State faculty are entitled to freedom in the online classroom in discussing their subjects. Students must also be free to express their opinions without fear of ridicule, intimidation, or retaliation by any instructor. Faculty should be mindful of their relationship to students, as well as their Penn State peers, and, consistent with HR64, avoid political or philosophical statements or appearances that may be interpreted by students as biases or proselytizing.
  10. Make sure you have immediate and predicable access to the same technology that is required for students in your course. Your course syllabus is an excellent place to communicate to your students the technology they must have in place to effectively participate in your online courses. You will want to make sure you are using a computer system and network that can meet those technology requirements, too! World Campus courses typically list that information in the course catalog listing for the course, as well. General World Campus technical requirements are also posted online as part of the World Campus website.
  11. Post final course grades to eLion within two business days of the course end date and/or receipt of the final assignment/exam, in accordance with University policy.
  12. Encourage your students to complete your end-of-course survey (typically the SRTE). Penn State uses an online version of the SRTE. Students access their SRTEs through their profile page in ANGEL. At the end of the semester, the SRTE system generates an email to students to announce the availability of their SRTEs. This message includes instructions on where to complete and how long they are available. Automated email reminder messages are sent to students who have outstanding forms to complete. (For more information, see “Frequently asked questions about online SRTEs.”

    Research has shown that the biggest influence on whether a student completes an end-of-course survey is you, the instructor! Please send your students a note encouraging them to complete the survey and assuring them that the information that will be used to improve the course is important.