Best Practices in Teaching Online from Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher

Brookfield (2015) claims that the key to effective online instruction is adhering to the same fundamental principles of good teaching that are applied in any environment (p. 170). These principles include:

  • setting clear expectations
  • establishing the relevance of the learning early in the course
  • chunking the content in a manageable way
  • using a range of learning modalities
  • questioning skillfully
  • providing continuous feedback to students
  • organizing learning tasks from simple to complex

All of these principles can be applied in an online or blended environment very effectively using standard Learning Management systems. I would add to this list some of Hattie’s most impactful influences on student achievement (Hattie 2013), namely:

  1. Formative evaluation (see my blog post on this)
  2. Self-report grading 

In addition, Brookfield notes that the online classroom environment is still plagued by the same classroom management problems that face to face classrooms have (see Brookfield 2015, p. 170):

  • Reluctant students not wanting to contribute
  • Highly articulate minorities wanting to dominate the class discussion
  • The needs of diverse learnings needing to be addressed
  • How to work with larger groups of students
  • Allowing students to work at different paces.

Brookfield offers some suggestions for best practices in an online environment:

  • Chunk lecture videos into 10-15 minute blocks
  • Set clear expectations (syllabus contains objectives, chief topics and content to be covered, due dates, resources, how students’ work will be assessed)
  •  Set ground rules for discussion posting
  • Providing grading rubrics
  • Create teacher presence (daily summaries, critical incident questionnaires
  • Keep online discussion focused
  • Require students to appraise and critique peer work.

A lot of these principles apply equally well to the blended classroom, and really there comes a point when a teacher needs to decide the level of “blending” they want to do: more face to face, or more online.

Reflections on my context:

I think there is a huge opportunity in a university setting to enhanced otherwise fully face-t0-face classrooms with a more blended learning approach, taking the best of both worlds. It’s important to note and Brookfield has reminded me that best practices in teaching apply equally to the online environment as well as the classroom. A teacher can’t simply put the online course on autopilot and expect good results. That teacher needs to be “present” in some way – either by weekly video posts, online synchronous collaboration, or prompt feedback to assessments and even personal messages to students. Some instructors automate a personalized email for continuous enrollment courses, so students get timely feedback based on when they began the course. So there are lots of ways to enhance the face-to-face classroom so that students can get more out of the learning outside the classroom. More blogging on that later!


Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2006). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Granada Learning.

Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2013). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.


Reflections on “Emerging Trends and Roles of the Adult Educator” in PIDP 3100

New Insights

I find that Liberating Structures posits a fascinating new approach for instructor roles in facilitating learning. I feel like I have just barely scratched the surface on this potential. Normally I am used to the familiar shift in thinking from a TTT (Teacher Talking Time) focused lesson to a more student-centred lesson, or a teacher as facilitator rather than “sage on the stage”.  But what I am not used to is really thinking through the structuring of how students will communicate with each other, discuss ideas, brainstorm problems, re-organize or self-organize, etc. I see the power in an approach such as Liberating Structures that gives some shape or intentionality to how instructors should organize students in discussion and other social learning contexts.

As a next step what I would like to do is investigate further, from an instructional design standpoint, how something like LS can be integrated into an online educational context and what that would involve on the part of the instructor/instructional designer in terms of organizing students or facilitating student behaviour/interactivity.


Mobile learning (mLearning) is definitely a huge trend, as I’ve explained in my latest blog post and also in these 21 Inspiring Quotes & Thoughts on mLearning. As a Learning Eco-systems Support and Solutions Architect at Sauder Learning Services, my challenges is to take all the innovation, discussion, hype, novelty, effectiveness and productivity-enhancing qualities of mLearning and conceptualize how to channel that into integrating with an LMS such as Blackboard Learn in a large institutional context such as UBC. In order to do one would need to engage with stakeholders in implementing a mobile solution to the various learning eco-systems present in the institution, and come up with feasible solutions for how to practically and effectively put learning in the mobile device hungry hands of 40K plus students.


In completing the webconferencing portion of this project, I interacted with Jodi who is a Sessional Instructor in the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria. Her blog for the course is at My takeaway from our discussions on mLearning is how relevant and also prevalent the use of mobile devices is in diverse fields, including hers being social work. We discussed how instructors in higher educational context can be faced with students bringing mobile devices to class and how that would effect learning. We also discussed the role of the instructor in terms of how to set boundaries or discuss effective use of mobile devices in the classroom.
Reflect on the Web-Conference experience. How was it? What was
one thing that you learned?