Published Date

May 25, 2022

Resource Type

For the Classroom


Teaching Methods

AHA Topics

Academic Departmental Affairs, Professional Life, Teaching & Learning

This resource is part of the AHA’s Guidelines for Online Teaching.

Whether they’re held online or in person, history classes should have the same learning objective: teaching students to “think like a historian.” This requires building the skills that distinguish history as a discipline, including the ability to read closely, think critically, weigh evidence, contextualize events and decisions, view issues from multiple perspectives, and make persuasive evidence-based arguments orally, in writing, and in other formats.

It is especially important that online classes be well-organized, inclusive, interactive, and participatory. Because they must also be fully accessible to students with disabilities, it is essential that all online instructional materials be rigorously evaluated for universal accessibility and clarity.

History instructors who teach online are encouraged to draw on the insights of the learning sciences: articulating their objectives and expectations clearly, aligning instructional activities and assessments with those objectives, and creating an active learning environment. Strategies for engaging students include connecting content to current issues or students’ interests, emphasizing inquiry and problem solving, building in opportunities for collaboration, having students lead discussions or make presentations, and exploring the content’s immediate relevance as well as its historical significance.

Though history courses held online or in person share many of the same goals, effective online teaching has own distinctive methods. We offer the following starting points for approaching online courses:


Maximize Instructor Presence

It is even more important in an online setting to make clear that you care about the students and are there to help.

  • Build connections.
  • Memorize students’ names.
  • Learn something about students’ interests.
  • Be accessible before, after, and outside of class.

Create a Supportive Community

Take steps to make certain that all students feel a sense of belonging and connection.

  • Respond in a timely manner to students’ questions and messages.
  • Find opportunities to interact with students one-on-one or in small groups.
  • Check in regularly with students about their concerns and challenges.
  • Make it clear that your class offers a safe, open, welcoming, and respectful environment where diverse opinions and perspectives are appreciated.
  • Be welcoming and accessible: encourage students to reach out for help as needed.
  • Monitor students’ discomfort, confusion, anxieties, and learning needs.
  • Be responsive when students feel slighted, disrespected, or treated insensitively.

Strive for the Course to Be Fully Accessible to All Students

The Principles of Universal Design for Learning require faculty to confirm that all students have the technologies and internet connection to access all course materials. The following actions can further ensure accessibility.

  • Run an accessibility checker to ensure all materials are accessible to all students.
  • Use automated formatting features (such as headings, bullet points, and numbered lists) to make documents accessible on screen readers.
  • Remove unneeded blank text and problematic fonts.
  • Recognize that color can affect accessibility for students who are visually impaired, color blind, or have other special needs.
  • Check Excel spreadsheets for problematic text (such as merged or split cells and nested tables).
  • Avoid underlining text, which can be confused with a web address.
  • Describe hyperlinks and images, and employ descriptive text such as “use this link” to signal hyperlinks.
  • Transcribe video and audio recordings.
  • Provide alternatives to PDFs (such as Word or Google Doc files) when possible, as PDFs can be less accessible to screen readers.

Create a Course That Is Inclusive, Welcoming, and Respectful of Diverse Perspectives

Consider providing opportunities for students to share their identities, interests, and perspectives via open educational resources and mobile-friendly formats that make course content available to low-income students who may not have access to a personal device or who rely on smartphones as their only way to access the internet. Other steps can also create a more inclusive online class.

  • Use diverse examples to illustrate course themes and arguments.
  • Invite students to share material that reflects a wide range of experiences and points of view.
  • Use syllabi to promote different perspectives, show leaders in the field from a range of backgrounds, and provide explicit guidance for students unfamiliar with the unwritten rules, values, and expectations of higher education.

Nurture an Interactive, Participatory, and Accommodating Class

The following teaching strategies can help to ensure that students actively process course content and build the skills that define history as a discipline.

  • Direct small-group discussion, analysis, or annotation of primary sources.
  • Use polls and surveys.
  • Encourage brainstorming and collaborative inquiry, problem-solving activities, concept mapping, and creation of charts, graphs, infographics, timelines, and word clouds.
  • Facilitate debates, role playing activities, student-led discussions, and peer assessment (in which classmates evaluate and provide feedback on their peers’ work).
  • Regularly gauge student confusion and monitoring student learning (e.g., via a student survey mechanism that allows the instructor to collect feedback from students mid-term, leaving time to amend or adjust the pedagogy and curriculum before the course ends).

Leverage the Online Environment

Take advantage of the wealth of primary and secondary sources and other historically valuable resources available online, including audio and video clips, digitized maps, and online databases.

Provide Regular and Substantive Feedback

Prompt and meaningful feedback allows students to monitor their own learning, identify areas of confusion, and improve their performance. Giving students an approximate date to expect feedback (e.g., “grades are released every Tuesday”), using a grading rubric, and telling students how and where to find feedback communicates the expectation that students are responsible for their own development and puts them on the right track for self-correction and reflection.