CATL Teaching Guides

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Brief Description

Teaching online typically requires considerable planning and development before the course begins. Unlike the traditional classroom, where lecture and face-to-face interaction take center stage, online courses require students to engage more directly with content and with one another to maintain focus and stay on track. This demands a high degree of self-direction on the part of learners and instructor savvy to motivate and engage students.

Consequently, courses offered fully online differ from face-to-face and even "blended" courses, in which students engage in a variety of online activities, typically ranging from 20-80% of class time. The resources below include an assortment of guides, tips, templates and resources that can help you plan and develop an effective, efficient and engaging online course. For a smaller collection of starter templates and worksheets (some listed below), browse our Google Drive folder.

Planning resources

  1. Alignment of Objectives and Assessment

    This short paper describes a visual process, using a taxonomy table, to align objectives and assessments for a module/unit or entire course. The paper includes an annotated before and after example of a revision based on gaps discovered by the table. You might also wish to download a blank Worksheet with which to plan or improve your own course.

  2. Online Course Planning Worksheet (Word document)

    Template, with examples and instructional notes, for planning a course. Includes columns for Module Learning Objectives, Assessment, Engagement, Teacher Presence, and Resources/Technology. Use this worksheet to align objectives, assessments and content, as well as plan out strategies for maintaining teaching presence and engaging students with significant learning experiences (activities). For a worksheet for individual modules or units, see our Module-Level Planning Worksheet.

  3. UWL Online Course Evaluation Guidelines

    These guidelines, developed by CATL staff, are intended to help instructors design, deliver and improve well-designed online courses.

Tips and Templates for Developing Content

  • Creating Content Online

    One of the most effective ways to present content in an online course is through a combination of concepts, activities, and technologies. This document outlines examples of ways to help meet the objectives of each unit and to construct layers of content that meet the course objectives.

  • D2L Course Templates (Web & zip files)

    This web page provides ready-made templates for 4, 7 and 15-week courses. Templates (in zip format for one-click importation into a D2L shell) contain placeholders for instructor notes, discussions, assessments, and dropboxes. The first module includes examples and implementation notes. For instructions, view screencasts demonstrating how to import and use the templates.

  • Instructor Guide to Audio Recording

    This page-and-a-half document describes how to record audio for standalone use or as narration for a web presentation.

  • Instructor Guide to Screencasting

    This brief document discusses tips and tools for creating screencasts (narrated demos or software tours).

  • Online Syllabus Template (Word document)

    This Word document includes ready-made elements, with descriptive annotations, for an online course syllabus. The document includes placeholder text for outcomes; contact information; course description; expectations; various requirements; and recommended sections (e.g. succeeding as an online learner and access to specialized services).

Online Teaching Tips

  1. 10 Online Teaching Tips

    10 essential suggestions for teaching an awesome online course, prepared by CATL instructional designers.

  2. Sample Welcome Email (Google Doc)

    This is a sample email letter that can be sent to students before your online class starts. The letter includes ideas of what to include in a letter to ensure your students are prepared for class on the first day it starts and that students are aware of the expectations for the online course. This is particularly important to send this out before a semester break so students know to get their textbook(s) from Textbook Rental before (if) leaving La Crosse while taking the course.

  3. Time Management Tips for Teaching Online (Video)

    This narrated presentation offers valuable tips for increasing productivity and efficiency while teaching online. Ideas represent the collective experience of UWL online instructors, as shared at a CATL-hosted online workshop in December of 2013 and a face-to-face workshop in November of 2014.

  4. UWL Online Education Handbook (Google Doc)

    Reference document identifying policies and general information related to online education at UWL. The handbook is divided into two sections: Policies and Procedures, and Online Teaching Recommendations.

  5. Ways to Deter Cheating (Online Tutorial)

    This tutorial outlines various way to deter cheating in your assignment design.

Other Resources

  • Community of Inquiry (Website)

    This website serves as the semi-official, one-stop shop for the Community of Inquiry Framework (CoI). Arguably, CoI is one of the most influential approaches to designing and delivering deeply satisfying, significant learning experiences for the online classroom. The framework consists of three components:

    • Cognitive Presence
    • Social Presence
    • Teaching Presence

    This website offers research articles, discussions, best practices, and other publications, to include the official CoI Survey, by which you can gauge the effectiveness of your own online class, in terms of the three presences.

  • Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning

    Massive meta-analysis of over 1,000 studies of online learning. Undertaken by the US Dept. of Education in 2010, the study concluded that "students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction" (Abstract, p. ix).

  • Online Learning Consortium (Website)

    Formerly called Sloan-C, this national organization is dedicated to quality initiatives in online learning. Among their many resources are excellent journals, to include Online Learning (previously entitled, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks). Note that UWL has an institutional membership.

  • Quality on the Line

    Though slightly outdated, this influential report prepared for the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) details 24 essential quality benchmarks for effective online education.


Schankman, L. (2015) Teaching online. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from: https://www.uwlax.edu/catl/teaching-guides/teaching-improvement-guide/how-can-i-improve/teaching-online/.