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Online pedagogy

Online learning presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for instructors and students. Linfield’s Online and Continuing Education (OCE) has adopted the following pedagogical principles based in research and practice. Beneath each principle you will find a brief explanation and best practices related to the principle.

Alignment - between course objectives, learning activities and assessment

In an effective online course learning objectives are clear and measurable and they are mapped (aligned) directly to the learning activities and assessments. Best practice for ensuring alignment include:

  • The instructor identifies meaningful and measurable learning objectives.

  • Each module addresses one or more of the objectives.

  • All learning activities lead to the achievement of the objectives.

  • Assessments accurately measure student achievement of the learning objectives.

  • The instructor provides many ways for students to see the connection between objectives, activities, assessments and their own achievement.

Teaching presence

In an effective online course, students do not teach themselves. The instructor is an active partner in the teaching and learning relationship and is frequently visible in the course. Initially the instructor organizes the learning activities in a way that will promote learning. They then provide their expert understanding, share their excitement, anticipate difficult concepts, correct misconceptions and encourage students to think more deeply. Best practices that indicate teaching presence include the following:

  • Course design is clear and learner centered

  • Instructor content is present in each module (Concept highlights, a mini lecture, summative notes…)

  • Personal contact from the instructor occurs in the first week

  • Instructor ensures that student questions get answered promptly

  • The instructor moderates discussions

  • The instructor adds information, clarification or supplemental material as the course progresses

  • Instructor provides prompt and formative feedback


In an effective online course students are not passive recipients of information. They are actively engaged in learning. Best practices for promoting engagement include learning activities that:

  • Are collaborative

  • Involve choice

  • Involve problem solving

  • Require field research

  • Involve personal reflection

  • Involve peer and expert feedback

  • Connected to and challenge personal experience

  • Involve multiple forms of expression

  • Result in higher order thinking such as analysis, synthesis, creation


In an effective online course students are not alone with their teacher. Online students benefit from the diverse experiences of their classmates. More skilled peers serve as role models for good writing and thinking. The diverse perspectives presented by peers confront and expand a student’s own ideas. The answer to a peer’s question is the answer to a question the student didn’t know they had. Interaction among students and instructors can be achieved through:

  • The Help forum

  • Introductory activities

  • Weekly topical discussions

  • Peer commenting or assessment activities

  • Group projects

Formative Feedback

In an effective online course, instructors provide clear expectations and frequent constructive feedback. Students know where they stand and how they can improve. Best practices for feedback include:

  • Just-in-time feedback in the first two weeks.
  • Use of rubrics to highlight expectations and achievements

  • Grades with comments within one week of submission deadline

  • Comments on student work made privately – not in the discussion forum

  • Active use of the Blackboard grade book

Universal design

An effective online instructor addresses the needs of learners with a wide range of knowledge, experience, and ability (including but not limited to disability). Universal design for learning proposes that instructors meet varied learner needs by providing multiple means for students to: a) engage with content and b) demonstrate their learning. Best practices associated with universal design include:

  • Easy course navigation with multiple ways to get to course components

  • Multiple forms of media used to present content (text, image, audio, video)

  • Text that is fully accessible and screen readable (This helps learners with visual and cognitive impairments and busy learners who “read” while making dinner.)

  • Audio and video that is fully accessible with closed captioning (This helps learners with auditory impairments and those who are “listening” while their kids are sleeping.)

  • Instruction and support for different ways of knowing

  • Choice

  • Multiple options for assessment

One more important consideration

Digital Copyright

Linfield University holds a high standard for academic integrity including adhering to a strict interpretation of intellectual property and copyright. Because digital files are easily shared our common conception of educational “fair use” often does not apply online. Best practice for adhering to digital copyright includes:

  • Provide purchase/rental information about copyrighted texts and videos prominently in syllabi

  • Embed directly into your course only resources that are in the public domain or shared through creative commons license. This includes books, images, videos

  • Review your use of small segments of copyrighted works with a Linfield librarian to determine “fair use” access

  • Seek permission from copyright holders when the above don’t apply