Back to school tips for accounting educators: Best practices for online teaching

tips for virtual learning

In the 25+ years that I have been an educator, I’ve witnessed the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom evolve immensely. When I first began teaching for Becker, education was presented only in the live classroom format. However, as technology advanced, so did the opportunity to provide new and enhanced instruction modes. Over the past eighteen months, majorly due to the global health crisis, the virtual classroom has been in heightened use. And, as COVID effects still linger this fall, many instructors will begin implementing hybrid teaching strategies, combining in-person and virtual learning, when returning back to school this year. Educators will have to quickly adapt to the new hybrid virtual teaching environment in this new school year. However, there are certain tried and true methods that accounting educators can use to their advantage to help ease the transition back into the classroom this year. In this article, we’ll explore some best practices for online teaching to reach our students and make the classroom successful this fall. Let’s get started!

1. Keep it simple with good communication

One of my first tips for virtual learning is communicating expectations and giving clear directions. It’s important to create predictable expectations and give step-by-step instructions on how to achieve each learning expectation from day one. Teachers should start the first week of courses by providing a syllabus or outline that makes learning goals crystal clear from the get-go. It’s especially important to create a syllabus that incorporates flexibility and considers the multiple paths students might take to meet a specific learning goal. This year more than ever, it’s also critical to outline how the pandemic will affect classroom policies.

As today’s student population tends to have a limited attention span, it may be beneficial to dole out information in shorter sessions so students can digest what is presented before moving on to new content. For example, if you’re teaching a beginning accounting textbook with 10 chapters, it would be wise to break the 10 chapters into 20 smaller presentations. These presentations could be in different formats, which could be a mix of live teaching and pre-recorded videos. Separating out more in-depth material into more manageable chunks is ideal for virtual teaching sessions, as students can easily become disengaged or distracted.  

Creating a social media account to keep the lines of communication open is also a great idea. Educators can use BAND, GroupMe, Facebook groups, or a number of other platforms to post announcements, reminders, answers to frequently asked questions, “shout outs” and encouragement for students.

When integrating the virtual element of the classroom, it is important to present information using one single platform and one that is mobile optimized, as many students exclusively use mobile devices to study. Keep it simple by choosing one source, like Google Classroom, and streamlining content in an all-in-one place. This ensures students have easy access to learning resources and will help make the transition into a hybrid classroom smoother. 

2. Be flexible

Another one of many best practices for online teaching is being flexible. Unfortunately, not every student has access to technical resources, which makes a virtual environment especially challenging for some. For this reason, it is important to give students different avenues to complete assignments. For example, one student may choose to write a paper while another may choose to create a PowerPoint presentation for the same assignment. Both options demonstrate the student’s ability to understand the material presented, and give the student flexibility to choose what means works best for their personal circumstance. In your syllabus, make sure to point out the different options students have to earn credit for assignments.

3. Make participation a habit

Another one of my tips for virtual learning is to make participation a habit. The hybrid classroom environment gives educators the opportunity to employ both synchronous and asynchronous learning styles. Asynchronous learning options should use pre-recorded lessons and opportunities for students to comprehend the material at their own pace. However, educators can still offer avenues for participation, even in asynchronous courses. For example, educators can start a discussion forum or dole out interactive group assignments so students can interact with one another and process material in an engaging way.

In synchronous courses, teachers should encourage participation in a live interaction format, whether face-to-face or virtually. Students should get credit for both “showing up” for class and for engaging in active discussion. During live online courses, educators can use a number of different platforms to give real-time quizzes or polls to get immediate results and present the results to the class.

When teaching distance learning, educators should also make sure to provide the opportunity for students to have one on one contact by offering regular office hours, whether these are held in-person or online. Office hours give students the individual assistance they need to grasp more difficult concepts or just touch base on a personal level, which can further overall course participation and understanding. Make sure to establish a regular office schedule at the beginning of the school year and keep hours updated so students can schedule time or drop in as needed.

4. Encourage creativity and collaboration

One of my final tips for virtual learning is to constantly encourage creativity and collaboration amongst your students. Building community in the classroom is beneficial to any learning environment but can be somewhat challenging in a virtual teaching situation. Within the hybrid teaching setting, you can foster strong student relationships by creating smaller study groups, as there’s a general belief that if students can explain a concept to a peer, then they have mastered it. You can encourage students to communicate concepts to their peer group to reinforce the material. For example, assign students sections of a chapter to present to their peers as a review of material before an exam. This could be in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, outline or even a quiz designed by the students. 

Group projects can also encourage collaboration and creativity, as asking students to interpret information collectively helps with critical thinking and engagement. Although group projects encourage collaboration, there is a risk of one member in the group doing more work than the other members. To combat this, make sure to structure group projects to assign equal efforts among group members. You might even allow each member of the group to give the other members a participation grade. 

In order to have an effective online teaching experience, I have found that using real-world examples and events captures students’ interests and encourages collaboration. Today’s generation of students is especially intrigued by the current global issues, such as air pollution, climate change, waste, and recycling, just to name a few.  As students want to address current issues that impact their universe, tying in real-world examples can give meaning to otherwise abstract course concepts.

As a new school year begins and the COVID virus lingers, we as educators should be ready to adapt and be flexible in the classroom. Over the past 25 years of teaching both live and online instruction, I have had to find new ways to engage students and keep them attentive in the classroom, whether in-person or virtually. Showing your students that you truly care about their personal and educational lives is key, and starting off the new school year strong can set the foundation for a successful semester. I hope that these tips for virtual learning are helpful as you begin to prepare for a new school year.


Keep reading the Becker Educator blog to learn about the newest accounting and CPA information that all accounting instructors should know about.


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  2. “7 Tips for Educators Returning to School During COVID-19.” The Young Vision - UAE's Leading Higher Education Magazine, 27 Aug. 2020,
  3. “21 Strategies for Teaching Online: The Ultimate Guide.” Albert Resources, 10 Aug. 2021,
  4. Ralph, Michael. “Teaching Strategies of Award-Winning Online Instructors.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 17 Apr. 2020,
  5. The TFA Editorial Team. “7 Tips for Being a Great Virtual Teacher.” Teach For America, AmeriCorps, 24 Mar. 2020,

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