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Tips and Secrets for Online Teaching and Learning: An Inside View

Robert. M. Corderoy and Geraldine Lefoe ,

University of Wollongong



An understanding of the techniques and protocols of online teaching and learning has become essential for academics as universities throughout the world embrace alternative delivery methods in response to the globalization of education. In recent times numerous tertiary institutions have experimented with the use of on-line delivery with the purpose of increasing access to education to a wider audience. Flexible modes of delivery can provide an effective means of addressing the problems of increasing student demands, decreasing funds, the need to establish a presence in the international market place and rapid technological change.

In April 1997, the second Annual Teaching in the Community College Online Conference took place online as a Virtual Conference from the University of Hawaii. The theme for this years' conference was "Trends and Issues in Online Instruction". As part of the conference, a number of discussion forums using listservs were available to participants. One of the forums had as its theme, "Secrets of Online Teaching" and the authors of this paper acted as co-moderators of this discussion forum.

The purpose of this paper is three fold. Firstly, we will provide a background to online delivery.

Secondly, we will outline and discuss some of the issues and concerns associated with online teaching and learning raised by "practitioners in the field".

Finally, an analysis of the discussion forum will provide some clear guidelines for the utilisation of on-line teaching and learning and a valuable insight for all those using and interested in using online technologies for the delivery of course materials.

Key Words:

On-line, Teaching and learning, Flexible Delivery, World Wide Web, Internet, Computer Mediated Communication, Interaction


Web based computer conferencing combines the various aspects of telecommunications, computers, and the world wide web providing the participants with an asynchronous forum in which the free exchange of ideas can take place. In many instances, potential participants are unable to attend 'live' conferences for geographic and economic reasons and must rely on publications and the like to be informed of current trends and practice. The use of the web for such conferences is gaining in popularity and acceptance amongst academics as a legitimate alternative to the more traditional conference. Lefoe, Corderoy and Wills (1996) identified some of the issues confronting organisers and attendees of such conferences in the evaluation of Teleteaching '96, a conference which included both on site and off-site participants.

The logistics of setting up and running such conferences mirror the issues that need to be addressed in setting up any on-line courses. The key recommendations from this conference identified very similar issues to those experienced in online learning environments which included technical support, pedagogical and equity issues.


The rapid rise in the development of sophisticated and improved technologies has been the driving force behind the widespread embracing of the concept of flexible delivery and the application of the many and varied tools upon which it is based in the field of education.

A number of papers, conference proceedings and reports, Simbandumwe (1997), Bannan & Milheim (1996) and Parson (1997), suggest that there has been widespread increase in the level of interest and use by academics of on-line, particularly Web based, instructional systems in the last few years. Fyvie (1997) identified fifty-one institutions (forty-four from US, four Australian and two from UK) which offered either undergraduate or post graduate online courses.

Such assertions would seem to reinforce the observation that on-line systems in general and particularly those which are Web based are rapidly being accepted as a legitimate alternative to the more traditional methods of teaching. Further, suggests Burnett (1997), the use of the Web will continue to expand as it becomes more stable, easier to use and more accessible to everyone. What we are learning from using the Web today will provide the confidence and expertise to take advantage of the advances in its technology. Now is the time, according to Alexander (1995), to stop focussing on the technology itself and to start focussing on what students are to learn, and the best way for them to achieve these learning objectives. This indeed was one of the key issues of "Secrets of Online Teaching".

Berge (1995) points out that one of the key underlying assumptions must be that the use of such methods should create an environment that will promote individual and social interactions involving higher order cognitive processes for the students during their construction of knowledge.

At the same time it is essential that the process/method used is seated firmly on thoroughly developed learning objectives and instructional paradigms.

Jones & Buchanan (1996) suggest that these traditional methods are proving "ineffective and inefficient for the diverse student population" which institutions must contend with today.

Flexible modes of delivery such as Web based instruction can provide an effective means of addressing the problems of increasing student demands, decreasing funds, the need to establish a presence in the international market place and rapid technological change.

Many still see web based instruction in the narrow context of distance learning, in that it is capable of providing a workable solution to the problems encountered by students who have no other means of gaining access to education.

Increasingly institutions, and the students and staff working in them, are discovering the value of the techniques of resource based learning and the Web is being utilised to provide materials for students who are at a distance as well as those who are on campus.

In recent times numerous tertiary institutions have experimented with the use of on-line delivery, particularly those which are Web based with the purpose of increasing access to education to a wider audience. The boundaries for what is possible change almost daily.

An understanding of the techniques and protocols of on-line teaching and learning and the processes of both the design of new and the conversion of old courses has become essential for academics, as universities throughout the world embrace alternative delivery methods in response to the globalization of education.

Guidelines and Tools

The Web is being used effectively to provide a resource base for support, discussion and illustration of on-line teaching and learning techniques as well as the methodologies for their successful creation, application and use.

There are numerous sites which provide potential developers with practical, working examples of Web based courses for interaction and examination. Some examples include: New York University - The Virtual College' [HREF 1], The Castle Project [HREF 2], and The World Lecture Hall [HREF 3]. Similarly, detailed guidelines for the construction of new courses and/or the conversion of pre-existing courses for Web based delivery abound. Some of these sites include: Learning on-line [HREF 4], Learning on the Web '97 [HREF 5], and Teaching and Learning on the Internet [HREF 6].

Tools for the development of Web based courses vary in complexity from simple HTML Page making tools to complex ones which allow the developer to produce fully interactive course sites which involve a high degree of instructor based management and student/student and student/instructor interaction. A description of many of the commonly available tool packages, together with some basic guidelines for developing Web sites is available at the site 'Tools for Developing Interactive Academic Web Courses" [HREF 7].

Example of an Online Subject

At the University of Wollongong, NSW, several pilot studies have been undertaken to trial alternative delivery methods to the expanding range of students, both within Australia and overseas. One such subject, Implementation and Evaluation of Technology Based Learning (EDGA957) is a post graduate course offered by the Graduate School of Education.

This subject involved two groups of students. One group was located in Wollongong, and the other approximately 80 kilometres from the main campus in Sydney. In the Spring session of 1996, this course was implemented using World Wide Web and video conferencing technologies. Students were required to physically attend class. There were eight students and a participant observer in the Wollongong class and six students in the Sydney class. The instructor physically attended each class on alternate weeks. The two sites communicated through the use of World Wide Web asynchronous and synchronous chat and collaboration spaces, and video conferencing (Agostinho, Lefoe & Hedberg, 1997).One of the assessment tasks involved students providing a learning experience for the groups which involved producing an online document about a specified topic and then facilitating discussion about this topic between the two groups.

Similar issues to the IFIP conference were identified in this subject. These included organisational, technological and pedagogical issues (Agostinho, Lefoe & Hedberg, 1997).

Issues, Concerns, Tips and Suggestions

A number of authors including, Parson (1996), Aloia et al (1996), Kearsley (1997) and Berge (1996) address the major issues and concerns in detail and provide exhaustive lists of tips and suggestions which are designed to direct the potential Web based course developer.

The listserv discussion "Secrets of On-line Teaching" [HREF 10] is a rich source and has been archived at the site of the Annual Teaching in the Community College Online Conference held in April 1997. The discussion highlighted a number of issues which generally represented the most often quoted concerns academics have in moving their courses from traditional delivery modes to an on-line environment. This particular discussion group was the most active of the conference, resulting in well in excess of 300 communications between its participants. Consequently, the issues listed below are those which the authors felt most important and drew the most comment.

Online Testing

The methods which can be used are as varied as those used in any teaching and learning environment however some concerns were raised concerning aspects of collaborative work, the nature of the assessment task used and the issue of security.


This represented a central issue to many of the participants in the success or otherwise of online teaching and learning environments. Determining the authenticity of each student's work was suggested by several participants as a major stumbling block to the legitimisation of the delivery of courses online and further expansion of online teaching and learning. Others provided positive suggestions which overcome the majority of problems including: building a 'picture' of each student through the use of many and varied tasks, providing students with customised and/or time limited tests and asking students to sign honour codes. The use of assessment tasks which required the students to process information and apply it to new situations rather than testing the recall of information was often quoted as a successful counter measure to 'cheating'. One participant suggested that the security was not an issue because, he actually got to know his online students better than the 'in the flesh' students through the more intense 'one to one' exchange involved in email communication.

Technology Problems:

The most common suggestion for overcoming or alleviating technology based problems included ensuring that all students have access to first class technology support provided by people who know more than just what buttons to press. It was suggested that support personnel needed to have an understanding of how the technology works and how it can be best utilised in online learning environments.

The students need to be 'trained' in the basic use and operation of the technology before they start and this is often best achieved by 'face to face' instruction at the start of session. As a good rule of thumb, it was suggested by many that problems are minimised by designing the web interface to the 'lowest common denominator' in terms of available technology.

Related to this aspect is the equity issue of student access. Some universities have dial-in access for students but most students will need access to a private Internet Service Provider. Students may also require access to a computer. Wollongong University has a bank of laptops and modems available for off-campus students who require them for subjects. On-campus students have access to a variety of computer labs within faculties and general access labs.


Participants were pointed to web sites which had attempted to address this issue utilising alternative delivery formats and there were many participants who were willing to share their experiences, triumphs and disappointments having followed the pathway of providing 'standard' hardware configurations to the registered students in their courses.

Interaction/Student Participation and Enthusiasm

One of the most significant challenges for those running online courses is the 'silent student'. Ensuring that the students engage in the learning is closely related to the degree of interactivity fostered between students and their peers as well as between the students and the instructor. Success in the latter is dependent upon an instructors commitment to providing 'rapid feedback' to submitted tasks and posed questions as well as regular personal 'checking in' online. Such commitment provides an incentive for all students to be active and enthusiastic. There will however always be a proportion of students who for one reason or another, do not regularly 'check in' or take active roles in the online environment. Participants in the discussion provided many suggestions to help overcome the 'drop-out' problem ranging from a 'quiet email message' to those concerned, to personal phone calls when the situation became more serious. Active participation however is a function of how well the environment is structured and the need to provide well structured courses in which the style and mode of presentation is varied was emphasised in many postings.

The subject should also provide activities that will help the 'doubters' accept and use the medium, promote interdependence amongst students and convince them that a community of learners is important because they can learn from other students, not just the instructor.

Resources/Time and Workload

A common theme throughout the posting was the recognition of the need to consider carefully the design and structuring of online courses, particularly those which already existed in a traditional format. Content cannot be simply 'placed on the web'. Time and effort must be spent in considering the resources and structure needed to best present the course in the 'new environment'. Re-developing a course for online delivery is not an easy or short process. Likewise managing such courses once they are up and running is not easy. More students means more time online which means more of the instructors time is spent communicating with individuals and groups. A number of participants in the discussion related the success of such mechanisms as subject mailing lists, web-based archives, announcement spaces and the like at reducing their overall workload.

An analysis of these points identifies the following key areas of concern:


The design, development, implementation and management of online teaching and learning environments is costly and time consuming. The number of courses being offered online is expanding rapidly and at the same time the knowledge base of what determines an effective online subject is also expanding rapidly. Several issues recognised as critical to success have not changed since the earliest 'experiments'. It cannot be presumed that online subjects will take less time to teach. Considerable planning and organisation is required and support teams are necessary for successful implementation. An online environment can provide a more flexible learning environment for many students and teachers, however many issues need to be addressed by institutions if courses are to be successful .

Success in online teaching and learning environments will only come with clear and well defined instructional objectives, thorough preparation of content and an infrastructure which offers support for both students and staff.


Agostinho, S., Lefoe, G,. & Hedberg, J. (1997) Online Collaboration and Problem Solving for Effective Learning: A Case Study of a Post Graduate University Course, Proceedings of AUSWEB97 The Third Australian World Wide Web Conference, Southern Cross University, Lismore

Alexander, S. (1995) Teaching and learning on the World Wide Web, Proceedings of AUSWEB95 The First Australian World Wide Web Conference, Southern Cross University, Lismore

Aloia, G.F., Riegle, R.P., & Schoon, P.L. (1996) Converting an Large Introductory Course into an Internet Course : Process, Problems and Solutions. WebNet Conference 96, San Francisco. CA. October 15-19 [ http://curry.edschool.Virginia.EDU/aace/conf/webnet/html/467.htm]

Bannan, B. & Milheim, W.D. (1996) Design, Development and Delivery of Instructional Materials over the Internet. WebNet Conference 96, San Francisco. CA. October 15-19
URL: http://curry.edschool.Virginia.EDU/aace/conf/webnet/html/117.htm

Berge, Z. L. (1996). The Role of the Online Instructor/Facilitator.

URL: (URL sourced: October 1997).

Berge, Z. L. (1995) Facilitating Computer Conferencing: Recommendations from the Field. Educational Technology (Jan-Feb)

Burnett, D. (1997) TiLT Seminar Series - Confessions of an Online Teacher. []

Fyvie, C. G., Lee, Dr Kar-Tin, Clark, T. (1997) Review of online education and training materials - are we better off? in Osbourne, J., Roberts, D,. and Walker, J., Open, Flexible and Distance Learning: Education and Training in the 21st Century 13th Biennial Forum of Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia pp 174 - 178

Jones, D & Buchanan, R. (1996) The Design of an Integrated Online Learning Environment. ASCILITE 96 Conference Proceedings. University of Adelaide. pp 331

Kearsley, G. (1997) A Guide to Online Education []

Lefoe, G., Corderoy, R. M. & Wills, S. (1996) 'How Well Do We Practise What We Preach? An Evaluation of Teleteaching '96' in Wills, S, Fritze, P & Cavallari, B (eds) Practising What we Preach, proceedings of Teleteaching 96, Australian Computer Society.

Parson, R. (1997) An Investigation into Instruction Available on the World Wide Web. Master of Education Research Project. []

Parson, R. (1996) Ways of Learning on the World Wide Web.

Simbandumwe, J. P. (1997) Tools for developing Interactive Academic Web Courses - The Emerging Model. []

Hypertext references


New York University - The Virtual College

URL: (visited October, 1997)


The Castle Project">URL: (visited October, 1997)


The World Lecture Hall

URL: (visited October, 1997)


Learning on-line

URL: http://www. (visited October, 1997)


Learning on the Web '97

URL: (visited October, 1997)


Teaching and Learning on the Internet

URL: (visited October, 1997)


Tools for Developing Interactive Academic Web Courses

URL (visited October, 1997)


WEBSTAR homepage

URL: http:/ (visited October, 1997)


Interaction homepage

URL: (visited October, 1997)


Secrets of Successful Online Teaching

URL: (visited October, 1997)


(c) Robert. M. Corderoy and Geraldine Lefoe


The author(s) assign to ASCILITE and educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author(s) also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 97 conference papers, and for the documents to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.


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