Moving a face-to-face class to an online environment

Most face-to-face classes at SRJC are made up of two components: Classroom contact (where you meet in the same room with your students and engage in direct teaching activities) and homework (which requires your students to work on course-related assignments outside of the time they spend with you). You should have a clear understanding of that dichotomy before you begin to think about how you want to teach your familiar FTF class in an online environment.

Classroom contact

In a typical three-unit, semester-length, face-to-face SRJC lecture course, students generally spend approximately three hours per week in the room with the instructor for a rough total of 50 hours in the classroom. (The official course outline usually quotes 51 hours of total instructor contact.)

Unlike face-to-face classes, in an online environment your students won't be physically in your presence to participate in exactly the same activities that typically occur within four walls. Thus, you'll need to adjust your teaching methods accordingly while you continue to cover the same topics at the same level of detail and provide the equivalent of roughly 50 hours of being in the same building as your students.

Research clearly shows that students who feel a sense of "community" in online courses are more likely to succeed in the course, and to retain the information they learned. That sense of community comes both from feeling like they are part of a group of students that they can relate to in some way, and from knowing that their instructor is actively involved and purposefully present. That kind of presence comes from regular and effective contact with students in the form of email, forum posts, video lectures, and other forms of communication.

Most face-to-face classrooms involve some combination of the following kinds of activities

  • Lecture by the instructor
  • Audio-video presentation
  • Question-and-response
  • Class discussion
  • Quizzes, tests, and exams

Those FTF activities need to be translated into the online environment as approximately the same number of hours as classroom teaching time.

Here are some of the online equivalents of teaching in the classroom

  • Written, audio, or video versions of the lectures you would normally deliver verbally
  • Student questions and instructor responses posted on the class forums
  • Student discussion posted on the class forums
  • Interactive or "constructivist" activities such as wikis and glossaries
  • Peer review activities
  • Group projects
  • Online quizzes, test, and exams

Therefore, for a three-unit class, you should prepare sufficient Web-based materials for your students to devote approximately 50 hours to reading, watching, contributing, and/or listening to the kind of lectures and discussions that would normally occur in your classroom. (It's also worth noting that in some cases it might take students longer to read a written lecture than to listen to the same lecture delivered verbally; similarly, it will almost always take longer for a student to write and submit a contribution to a class discussion as opposed to speaking a few words in a classroom.)

(As an aside, keep in mind that once you've created your Web-based materials, in an online class you're free from the obligation of delivering a classroom lecture. For example: In a FTF course you probably show up, lecture, and lead class discussions for about three hours each week. When delivering that class in an online environment you don't need to show up or lecture, because the students will be reading your lecture and/or listening to your audio recording and/or watching your videotaped lecture. Instead of delivering the lectures, you can devote those three hours each week to communicating with students via the forums, chat rooms, private email, etc.)


For the same three-unit lecture course with three hours of weekly classroom contact, using the standard Carnegie 2:1 equation as a guide, students in addition generally need to spend six hours per week reading, studying, writing, and performing other assignments. That amounts to approximately 100 hours of work outside the classroom during the course. (You might not run your class according to the 2:1 Carnegie equation; in that case you need to plug in your own numbers for the discussion below.)

In an online environment, the "outside of the classroom" component of the equation remains the same. That is, for a three-unit course, students should continue to devote approximately 100 hours to assignments conducted outside the presence of the teacher.

For example: In your FTF course you assign homework such as reading a chapter in the textbook, doing further research on a specific topic, and writing an essay. In an online environment, you should continue to assign exactly the same kind of homework in the same amount.

Here are some typical homework assignments that work online as well as they do in a FTF class

  • Read chapters in a textbook
  • Conduct research in other books and periodicals
  • Do practice exercises
  • Interview someone
  • Write an essay
  • Memorize key facts and concepts

Here are some other kinds of homework that can work on the Web

  • Utilize the Internet for further research
  • Discuss a topic amongst each other, with the instructor weighing in as moderator and subject matter expert
  • Practice with online flashcards or practice quizzes
  • Work collaboratively on a topic-specific wiki
  • Add key chapter terms to a student-created glossary
  • Collaborate with classmates in online work groups

In sum

After you've created all your online materials and determined all your assignments, an online class should require the average student to devote the same amount of time as would be spent in a FTF section of the same course. For a three-unit course, that means roughly 50 hours of classroom work (even if the classroom is on the Internet, rather than a place where you and your students breathe the same air) plus approximately 100 hours of homework (assuming you adhere to the 2:1 Carnegie ratio).

For a Web-based class it's your responsibility to create the online materials and tools that replicate the classroom experience, and it's your responsibility to assign suitable homework in the appropriate amount. For a variety of reasons, it is also exceedingly important for you to maintain the same levels—or more!—of instructor-student contact in an online class that would be expected in a FTF environment.

Approximate numbers

Units Classroom Homework Total
3.0   50 hours 100 hours 150 hours
2.0   34 hours 66 hours 100 hours
1.0   17 hours 33 hours 50 hours
.5   8 hours 17 hours 25 hours

Thanks to everyone who contributed advice and assistance: Annette Gooch, Mary Pierce, Peg Saragina, Kathy Trafton, and Phyllis Usina.