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News from Baylor School of Education

Lessons in Online Teaching and Learning from the Pros [08/19/2020]


Online teaching

Baylor SOE professors, including Dr. Brooke Blevins, are equipped to build community in online as well as in-person courses, and the SOE’s EdD Online has proven to be very successful at that.

Baylor School of Education’s EdD Online in Learning and Organizational Change (EDD-LOC), launched in 2018, has quickly become the university’s largest online program and also the university’s largest doctoral program. The program has more than 400 students, with a class of 100 expected for fall 2020, and will graduate its first students in August of 2021.

Cece Lively

Cece Lively, a doctoral student in Curriculum & Instruction, is studying online learning for her PhD while she serves as assistant program director for Baylor EdD Online.

While Baylor’s residential students are returning to campus for in-person learning for the fall semester, Baylor has moved 25 percent of courses to an online format, and it’s possible that some aspects of in-person courses may happen in virtual spaces. And in addition to learning online, students in the School of Education might also be teaching online as they serve in local preK-12 schools.

In light of this new normal, we reached out to Cece Lively, assistant program director for the EDD-LOC, for some insight. She works closely with professors in the program and with Baylor’s partner 2U to create the most enriching student experiences. Lively is also a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, which houses the EDD-LOC, and her dissertation research explores learning communities in online programs.

Q: What is the basic format of a course in Baylor’s EDD-LOC? And are all courses built on the same pattern?

A: All of our courses are built with the student experience in mind. We recognize the importance of regular and genuine student-to-faculty interaction, even in the online learning space. For that reason, each course is designed with asynchronous learning and synchronous learning components. Asynchronous work is carefully designed reading, videos, discussion groups, or project work that happens independently outside of scheduled class time. Synchronous learning is our live face-to-face class sessions that are held via Zoom one night per week. During live class sessions, students are able to collaborate with their instructor and classmates to dive deeper into course topics. Students from all across the country are grouped purposefully in small breakout rooms during class to share personal stories and perspectives, as well as learn from others.

Q: What are some of the biggest keys to successfully teaching an online course?

A: From everything we have learned, intentionality is key. For the longest time, online education has had a negative connotation thanks to large for-profit entities who became degree mills. Throw everything you think you know about online education out the window. Reimagine what it could be like to have an amazingly well thought out course with independent and group learning as well as live class session with breakout groups and engaging student discussions. All of this and more is possible with the format of online learning that combines asynchronous and synchronous learning together.

For anyone preparing to teach online, it is important to use the tools that are available. Use Canvas or your LMS to your benefit to share information with your students, post a question for thoughtful responses, and to give feedback on graded work. Use your live session learning times to their full benefit by using breakout rooms or a collaborative document to encourage participation. Show up engaged and ready to participate. Your students will follow your lead!

Q: As a former school teacher yourself, can you think of a favorite K-12 classroom trick that translates well from in person to online?

A: A lot of great K-12 teachers make a point of welcoming students into class, and that can be done online as well.

As students enter your online classroom, make them feel welcome! One great way to do that is to create an interactive start. Have a welcome message onscreen and then conduct a poll to start class. Mentimeter is a great way to conduct an interactive poll with your students. What was the best thing that happened to you this week? What was your favorite reading from class last week? What do you want out of this class? Those are some great ways to kick off class and get your students talking! (

Q: How can professors (or teachers) build community online?

A: Community is essential in learning. Research suggests that “students in distance learning programs may be more likely to experience isolation and alienation from the institution because of their physical separation from the school and its services and from other students.” (Rovai & Wightin, 2005, p. 97). So it is critical to recognize the importance of building a community among virtual learners and then act on ways to incorporate strategies to help them feel as if they belong to a tight-knit community, regardless of their proximity to each other or the brick-and-mortar campus. If students feel like their classmates and professor are invested in them, they are less likely to drop courses or fall behind in coursework. Be human with your students – let them see who you are! Start the term by sharing about yourself, your family, what you do for fun, what you hope to get out of the class, etc. Allow each student time to share too. Host office hours virtually so students know you are available for questions. Look to do a check-in every few weeks— ask how your students are feeling, how they are adjusting, if anyone has any concerns, etc. Just knowing that students can share will create a safe space for that sharing to happen.

Q: Group discussions seem to be particularly challenging online. What practices implemented in the Baylor EdD program have been particularly effective?

A:To host our live class sessions, we use Zoom. Within Zoom, we use the breakout group feature to allow small groups of students to break away, have a discussion, and then come back to the large group. Within the large group, we use hand signals and icons within the participant window to check for understanding. The chat feature is also incredibly helpful. Students can enter their questions there during a short lecture or while someone is sharing. This way, interruptions are at a minimum and the instructor can follow up with students who have questions.

Q: What other technologies does the EDD-LOC use?

A: We use an LMS (learning management system) very similar to Canvas. Here, we post our syllabus, class announcements, videos, assignments, and discussions. Students access this throughout the week and ultimately submit each assignment through the LMS. Participation in the live class session is mandatory each week on Zoom. We ask that there are no distractions during live class sessions. Students should be at a desk or worktable, not lying in bed with their head down. We use time at the beginning of each term to go through etiquette of being an online student – this definitely helps set the tone and keep our students accountable.

Q: Could these technologies translate to professors and teachers who do not have a partner such as 2U?

A: Of course! Every Baylor faculty member has access to the full features of Zoom for live class sessions. They also have access to amazing features in the Canvas platform. Teacher-education students in local schools should have access to the school’s LMS, along with their mentor teacher. Watch a few tutorials, reach out to other instructors you know who are doing great things, and ask the pros what works. Do not let pride get in the way of making your course great for your students!

Q: What has been the most challenging technology for professors? For students?

A: I think hosting live class sessions is probably the most unnerving experience for those new to online teaching. Those first-week jitters are real! Getting the hang of clicking the right buttons, successfully letting students into your Zoom room, creating breakout session and monitoring the chat is a lot to do! I think students can be incredibly forgiving, so don’t fret! This is a new experience for everyone. Be sure to test everything before your first live class — inevitably something will not work just right, so having a practice session before you go live is imperative! I think students have a lot of the same jitters as well.

Q: How can students make the most of an online class?

A: Organization is key! Be sure to create a space for learning. Your bed or sofa is not an appropriate online learning space. Set up space at a desk or table and get a comfortable chair. Have your books and binders close by so you have everything you need when class starts. Be ready and engaged; your body language on camera is restricted to what you see on screen. Smile and use facial expressions to show that you are actively participating. Use the chat feature to ask questions and feel free to stay after class to ask more specific questions. Many students will find this online space is very much like an on-the-ground class experience!

Q: Does your research address the age of the students who are engaged in online learning? If so, what have you learned?

A: My research is focused on adult online learning in professional degree programs, specifically the EdD in Learning and Organizational Change. Our students are incredibly unique and diverse — more so than any other graduate program on our campus. Despite the criticisms of online education in the past, our program is creating an environment where students feel connected to their classmates across the globe, invested in research with their dissertation, and are completing their coursework in three years!

Along the way, students are actively building community in ways we only dreamed were possible. Our faculty are incredibly skilled at encouraging and nurturing the amazing Problem of Practice dissertations our students are producing. We have created student support systems that are highly rated and regarded by our students. Our writing center within the EdD supports all of our students through coursework assignments and their dissertation work. Above all else, our students are taking these lessons immediately back to their place of work and making a real difference every day.


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For more than 100 years, Baylor educators have carried the mission and practices of the School of Education to classrooms and beyond as teachers, leaders in K12 and higher education, psychologists, academics/scholars and more. With more than 50 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice. Visit to learn more.

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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