The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Designing and Teaching Online Courses

reviewed by Andrew Kitchenham - August 15, 2012

coverTitle: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Designing and Teaching Online Courses
Author(s): Joan Thormann & Isa Kaftal Zimmerman
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807753092, Pages: 216, Year: 2012
Search for book at

The complete step-by-step guide to designing & teaching online courses is a contemporary, timely, and germane explanation of how to teach effectively online at all levels of education. It is an easy-to-read book that is chock full of useful suggestions, cautions, templates, and resources for the beginning instructor, and with many useful reminders for the more experienced teachers, instructors, and professors who are currently using online teaching.

The nine chapters comprise a comprehensive beginner’s guide to online teaching. The book is well written and easy to follow as the writers appear to anticipate questions from the reader. They work through real-life examples from mostly their own teaching and bring in examples from not only their colleagues but also, more importantly, from their own students. They are not afraid to point out their own mistakes and to work through their solutions.

The authors of the book have spent many hours researching and practicing effective online teaching but freely admit that many times it was trial-and-error attempts at finding the right mix of androgogy and online tools. Joan Thormann is a Technology in Education professor at Lesley University. She specializes in assistive technology and has written several books on the topic. Recently, she was the recipient of a Massachusetts Computer Using Educator’s Pathfinder award recognizing her leadership in technology in education. Isa Kaftal Zimmerman is the principal of IKZ Advisors, which specializes in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. She has served in many positions in the K-12 school system from superintendent to consultant. She has published articles, chapters, and books related to the STEM fields.

Chapter 1, “Introduction; and How to Use this Book,” is laid out nicely for the reader so that he or she knows exactly what to expect from the remaining chapters. This chapter highlights the structure of the book and points out that the book can be used for numerous purposes but its true strength is for “novice instructors in K-12 and higher education assigned the job of developing an online course or teaching it” (p. 7) rather than for more experienced instructors or administrators, as so much of the book content is at the basic level and involves a concatenation of steps. The authors present the unique features of the book that include a glossary that matches boldface text throughout the chapters, summarized examples used in their courses, and course-building activities to assist the reader in strengthening his or her online teaching. The glossary could have been more developed and there appeared to be no logic to what was included in the glossary as obvious terms such as LMS (Learning Management System), CMS (Content [Curriculum] Management System), project-based learning, and authentic learning were omitted.

The second chapter, “Course Design and Development,” begins with the importance of developing a philosophy of education accompanied by step-by-step instructions on how to get started. The authors provide a brief summary of approaches to online teaching and discuss the central tenets of constructivism, an approach adopted by many online and face-to-face professors. They go on to outline the LMS and CMS tools available to the instructor and provide examples from Blackboard (an industry standard LMS) that are reinforced throughout the book. The authors explain that this LMS is the one used by them and their institution so much content is devoted to it; however, more discussion on other LMSs such Moodle and Desire2Learn would have strengthened this chapter.

The next chapter, “Instructional Methods, Models, and Strategies,” outlines the difference between blended learning and online approaches to teaching. The authors teach totally online, therefore, the rest of the chapter discusses course examples using Skype, group discussion, authentic learning, guided practice, and professional learning communities.

Chapter 4, “Assignment Templates and Examples”, is a goldmine of resources for the beginner online instructor. The chapter is divided into 20 assignment templates with actual examples from their courses and includes such examples as online jigsawing and writing an article for publication. The remaining 10 assignment templates are outlined but not exemplified. Any instructor, whether online or face-to-face, would find these 20 templates either very useful or very reaffirming since so many of them make sense and are so easily adaptable to content areas other than learning on the worldwide web, assistive technology, or thesis writing.

The fifth chapter, “Facilitation and Building Online Community,” stresses the importance of establishing a safe and respectful online community that differs markedly from face-to-face classes since the online instructor does not have the benefit of seeing student reactions in class and has to conduct some degree of moderation rather than direction in the online environment. Interestingly, the authors do not request photos of the students, which is common practice for online teaching; however, they provide a lucid argument for doing so. Consistent with other chapters, they provide real examples of how to build an online community.

The following chapter, “Evaluation and Assessment in Online Teaching,” presents reliable and tested formative and summative methods of evaluating and assessing students and assignments in an online course. These methods include self-evaluation, observational data, pre- and post-testing, and reflection. Additionally, they discuss automated assessment tools such as Quia and Quizstar for those instructors who need to use traditional tests and quizzes as well as Web 2.0 tools (Facebook, Twitter, wikis, and so forth).

Chapter 7, “Teaching Diverse Students Online,” is unique, as few books discuss the importance of addressing the needs of diverse learners in an online course. They argue that instructors need to “allow students to complete their assignments and assessments in ways that complement their strengths and circumvent their functional challenges [which might take] extra effort for the instructor” (p. 140). Much of the chapter discusses how and why students with diverse needs need to be accommodated.

The penultimate chapter, “Dealing with Dilemmas,” outlines the recurring and ubiquitous challenges for online instructors. Common dilemmas for post-secondary instructors include resistance to online learning, lack of online skills readiness, and plagiarism. K-12 teachers often experience challenges with access to technology and school services support. Unlike other chapters, this chapter does not provide many concrete examples; however, the intention is to promote discussion about how they, as experienced instructors, deal with the dilemmas.

The final chapter, “Looking to and at, the Future; and Conclusions,” discusses the potential of online learning in the years to come. They provide a summary of predictable trends such as more K-12 students taking online courses, game-based learning environments, and diversity in learners. The discussion on mobile learning (m-learning) and its future in online learning is cursory; however, there are other books that explain its potential in much more detail (e.g., Kitchenham, 2011).

All in all, this book’s clear and step-by-step approach to online teaching is perfect for the beginner online instructor. The first six chapters are extremely beneficial; chapters on the basics of online teaching, useful and adaptable templates, and assessment and evaluation in online environments will all be so helpful to those professors who want to start the move to online and/or blended learning environments. The more seasoned instructor or teacher would certainly benefit from the content, as there is so much useful information for all levels of expertise. The chapters on teaching diverse students online and dealing with dilemmas are very reaffirming for those of us who ask many of the same questions as these authors.


Kitchenham, A. D. (Ed.). (2011). Models for interdisciplinary mobile learning: Delivering information to students. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 15, 2012 ID Number: 16849, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 1:14:14 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review