Award-Winning Online Practices

As the semester comes to a close and the pandemic crisis continues, I know that many teachers are still in “triage mode.” Despite their best efforts, they’re maybe a day or two ahead of their students. They’re working long days grading papers and providing feedback. They’re finding creative ways to create lessons and assessments. They’re working overtime on behalf of their students.

If these observations resonate with you, I want you to know that I see you! I see your work! I know that you’re probably working harder than you’ve ever had before as a teacher. Remote and online learning is new territory for so many teachers and you’re feeling your way through it. And I know that many of you are closing your eyes at night and wondering if you’re doing enough. Or whether you’re doing the right stuff. Let me provide some comfort.

I came across a research article that was published in Online Learning in December 2019. The researchers examined the instructional practices of eight online teachers who had won awards from different distance education entities (Online Learning Consortium, Association for Educational Communications and Technology, etc.) since 2015. Through interviews with these award-winning online teachers, the researchers found five practices that were consistently employed. As you review these practices, I’m sure you’ll see a lot of overlap with the strategies you’re employing in your classes.

Authentic and relevant course materials that connect to practice.
The researchers found that the award-winning online teachers intentionally made connections between their course content and their students’ lives. The online instructors also chose materials that were appropriate for the online environments in which students were learning.

Use of multimedia resources.
In their interviews with award-winning online teachers, the researchers found that various multimedia resources (videos, podcast, infographics, etc.) were used to help students build their understanding of course content. This variety of resources helps attend to the multiple modalities of learning that online students’ needs.

Student creation of digital content individually and collaboratively.
With the variety of tools available to online students, award-winning online teachers saw opportunities for their students to create content and collaborate with their peers. Whether it was through creating digital stories to document their learning or it was through communicating with peers in FlipGrids and Voicethreads, the award-winning teachers found opportunities for their students to be create content in their online classes.

Students’ reflection on learning.
Beyond the creation of digital content, award-winning online teachers also provided opportunities for students to reflect on their learning journeys in their classes. Writing about this, the researchers write that this practice helps students:

understand ‘their own value of learning and how far that they have come’ and help them ‘assess their learning and helping (the teacher) understand the degree to which they have achieved learning outcomes in the class.’” (Kumar et al., 2019, p. 169)

Explanation of purpose.
While different instructional strategies can support students’ success online, the award-winning online teachers felt that providing clear explanations that outline the purpose of assignments, activities and assessments helped to make the learning process more transparent for students. Some of the online teachers reported that they recorded introductory videos for each module to introduce students “to the work, why it’s included, what are we going to with it.” (Kumar et al., 2019, p. 169)

As you review these award-winning practices, I don’t want you to worry about the strategies you haven’t incorporated yet. That’s a conversation for another day when we’ve returned to calmer times. Instead, I want you to focus on the strategies you have employed. Considering the academic situation within we’re all working, I consider incorporating any of these practices to be award worthy.

Kumar, S., Martin, F., Budhrani, K., & Ritzhaupt, A. (2019). Award-winning faculty online teaching practices: Elements of award-winning courses. Online Learning, 23(4). doi:

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