Yikes, I Need to Teach Online

Teacher Editorial | By Lise Pethybridge (BOLT student)

How do we hook and keep students motivated in online programs?


You are a middle school teacher who has been hired to work at an online school. You love technology, you love using it with your students, and you feel that this new teaching environment will allow you to use your expertise and teaching strategies to serve students. However you still have so many questions.

How will you know your students and know that they are ready to learn? How will you interact with your students, how will they interact with each other and how will they know you are present and available to help? How will you motivate them to participate and complete their courses?

Though there are many elements of instructional design that can influence student motivation, I have restricted to three main themes that I feel require your consideration when as you prepare to teach and motivate your students online. They are Student Mindset, Creating and Online Presence, and Technology integration.

Students Mindset – We all have students that struggle to learn concepts, but what makes it that some individuals persist and some give up? Having a growth mindset as described by Dr. Carol Dweck (2012) is the belief that our abilities are malleable and therefore able to grow and improve. This allows for hope and promotes resilience when faced with new tasks and challenges. Many laboratory and classroom studies have shown that children’s mindsets can be changed through careful intervention [1, 3, 5]. How can we change mindsets when students aren’t in front of us? Here is a list of a few strategies that might get you started

• Introduce the growth mindset concepts in the course introduction material.

• Provide feedback that focuses on the process and not the ability. For example you might say, “I like the strategies that you used to complete this math problem” instead of “You are great at math”.

• Use growth mindset language throughout your instructional design.

To further your understanding of growth mindset, listen to Dr. Carol Dweck as she presents, Developing a Growth Mindset.

Creating an Online Presence – Current research shows that when there is a sense of presence in online learning, it can greatly enhance the instructor-learner relationship (Munro, 1998) Your students are not in front of you, this might be disconcerting for teachers who teach online for the first time. How will you learn to know your students and how will they know you? Building teacher presence is a mix of anticipating student needs to provide just in time instruction and “teacherizing’ the course so that students know you are present even when you are not. Strategies that you might use to make this happen might include

• Welcome letters that provide ‘how to get started’ information.

• Student surveys at the beginning of your course are a great way to start the conversation and get to know your students.

• Teacher introduction video, this allows students to meet you virtually.

• Use the news tool to provide student updates and just in time information.

• Create a communication plan that allows you to determine, how and when you will communication with your students.

• Consider synchronous sessions through software like Adobe Connect so that you can teach real time and record yourself for students who aren’t present.

• Forums are a great opportunity to create a social space where your students can have teacher-student and student-student interactions.

• Timely feedback on formative and summative assessments. Through student work you can get to know them well, but they can feel that you are there for them as well is you provide timely feedback.

Technology Integration – This might seem like a given, as you are working in an online environment after all, however planning and thoughtful choices based on pedagogy, content and action will allow the technology you use to be seamless and motivate your students. As Chris Lehmann said a few years ago…technology needs to be like oxygen….ubiquitous, necessary and invisible. We need not to think about it. It just needs to be.¹

tpackBy using models like TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy and Content Knowledge) or HPC (High Possibility Classrooms) you can start to define your use of technology in your own online classroom. What is most important is the time and effort you put into planning your lessons. Using the technology integration models allows you to step back and to answer the following questions:

• What is the goal of my lesson? What do I want student to know and understand? (content)

• What is my belief about the best way to teach this concept? What is my pedagogy?

• What technology can I integrate seamlessly to motivate students as they learn? What makes sense?

o Will students have the opportunity to create?

o Will student final products be shared with an audience?

o Will using this technology provide students real life skills?

o Will there be enough time to play and find flow in the learning opportunity?

Like your students you need to also allow yourself time to play and find flow with technology and using it with your students. It is not necessary that you know more than your students but you should at the very least be comfortable and confident that you can support your students as they learn and use technology to support this learning.

How do you hook and motivate your students? There are many motivational strategies to consider when you work with students at a distance and in an online environment, however just keep in mind that all of the strategies that you have for teaching in a classroom will apply to teaching online they simply need to be reconfigured to fit. Start by getting to know your students and foster a growth mindset so that they can be confident in their ability to learn. Next be present and find ways to create social spaces that allow for teacher-student and student-student interactions. Finally be thoughtful in your instructional design and consider content, pedagogy and technology as you plan lessons that allow students to build skills and knowledge for today and tomorrow.

Good luck on this new and exciting journey.


1. Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., and Dweck, C. S. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development 78, 1 (2007),246–263.

2. Hunter, J. (n.d.). (2015) Technology integration and high possibility classrooms: Building from TPACK.

3. Kamins, M. L., and Dweck, C. S. Person versus process praise and criticism: Implications for contingent self-worth and coping. Developmental Psychology 35, 3 (1999), 835–847.

4. Lehman, R. M., & Conceição, S. C. (2010). Creating a sense of presence in online teaching: How to “be there” for distance learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

5. Mueller, C. M., and Dweck, C. S. Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s Motivation and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75, 1(1998), 33–52.

6. Munro, J.S. (1998). Presence at a distance: The educator-learner relationship in distance learning. ACSDE Research Monograph 16. University Park: the Pennsylvania State University.

7. Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed.Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314.

About the Contributor

Lise has been an educator for twenty-five years. She has been involved in many aspects of the education process, from classroom instruction to teaching at a distance to coordinating and creating courseware in several formats. Currently she is Associate Principal at the Alberta Distance Learning centre and is working towards completing her Masters in Education program at the University of Alberta with a distance learning focus.

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