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In a US News and World Report article, Ian Quillen identified six signs of a bad online instructor. The list included things like a syllabus that is unclear, no set timetable for responding to emails, and simply converting print resources used in the face-to-face class. Ian’s article was intended to help students access the quality of an online class and be able to withdraw if necessary. However, this list can also be used to help online/hybrid instructors recognize where their course may be in need of improvement.

Additionally, we have developed an online teaching resource to help faculty develop or improve their online and hybrid courses. Check out our new CAT+FD Online Teaching Resources and let us know what you think.

by Janice Florent

laptop computer and cup of coffee on the top of a desk

Are you thinking about how to deliver your online course for maximum success? In an Inside Higher Ed blog post, Andrea Zellner provided some strategies to make your online teaching better. Andrea's strategies are:

Technology should help and not hinder.

Expect things to go wrong, and do as much as you can to help your students help themselves. For example, provide links to help and how-to documents so that students do not have to go on a wild goose chase to find this information. You can minimize your time answering student questions by using the “three-before-me” rule, which pushes the responsibility of locating an answer to frequently asked questions to the student.

Anticipate difficulties.

Learning in an online environment can be a lot more difficult than learning it in a face-to-face class. Students report that taking an online course can be an isolating experience. Avoid straight lecturing as lectures can be dull when delivered online. Here are a few ideas to keep your online course interesting.

Incorporate synchronous opportunities.

This follows directly from anticipating difficulties. You should find the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning activities. Additionally, be sure to include well-timed synchronous virtual office hours. Include the virtual office hours during weeks when you know the content is likely to be confusing.

Don’t be stingy with your feedback.

Students want detailed feedback and the feedback needs to be timely. You should give students feedback that helps them learn and you should be as effective as a fitness band.

Humanize your course.

Humanize your course by adding a little personality. This can go a long way in making students feel comfortable approaching you for help and can make them feel more engaged with the course.

Encourage self-directed learning.

Research on self-directed learning has shown that people who take the initiative in learning, learn more things and learn better than people who sit at the feet of teachers passively waiting to be taught.

Use gamification in your course.

Gamification is making a boring process interesting by using fun elements from games. Gamification is a motivation tool. Here is some information on using gamification in your courses.

If this has piqued your interest, you can read more in Andrea's Strategies to Make Your Online Teaching Better and my Seven Deadly Sins of Online Course Design blog posts.

Photo credit: computer and coffee | Creative Commons CC0

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by Janice Florent

pile of letters with two feet sticking out and you've got mail on computer monitor in the background

Unlike face-to-face instructors, online instructors are generally inundated with questions from students by way of email messages. It doesn’t take long for an online instructor to feel like they are drowning in student emails.

In a recent eLearning Industry article, Dr. Liz Hardy provided five tips to help you manage student email to avoid a flood of student email. Those tips are:

1. Make communication time frames clear.

Tell your students what to expect when communicating with you. When your students understand your communication rules, they are more likely to work within those rules.

2. Prevent unnecessary student emails in the first place.

Set up your Blackboard course to be as learner-friendly as possible. If your students can find the information they need without extensive searching, they’re less likely to email you for help with simple questions. By encouraging self-directed learning, you find that student email more often relates to valid questions - rather than multiple queries about when the next assignment is due.

Consider using the “three before me” rule, which pushes the responsibility of locating an answer to frequently asked questions to the student. The student must prove to the professor that he/she has attempted to obtain the answer from three different sources prior to contacting the professor.

Additionally, you can minimize emails by utilizing Blackboard for assignment collection. The Blackboard assignment tool is an efficient way to manage and collect your student’s individual and group assignments digitally and can help to unclutter your inbox.

3. Scan your inbox before you answer even one student email.

Scan your inbox first. Are there messages from colleagues or administrators you need to answer first? Is there a reply from a student you’ve been waiting to hear from on an urgent issue? Deal with those messages first. Then you can look for patterns – are there any students who have sent you several emails since you last checked? Try reading email in reverse date order. You may find the student has answered their own question. In this case you can send one email back to the student with a single-line response.

4. Don’t multi-task.

It’s actually more efficient to deal with each student query in full, completely, and then move onto the next. What seems like saved time through multi-tasking can actually lead to a lot of backtracking and cross-checking, as you try to make sure you’re matching the right answer to the right student.

5. Answer student email in blocks.

Check your email messages two or three times a day, in blocks. Avoid checking at other times. Mute your speakers so you won’t hear that demanding bleep every time email arrives in your inbox.

These practical approaches will help you take control of your inbox, and get on with your teaching day. If you would like more information, read Dr. Hardy’s article "5 Ways To Survive A Student Email Avalanche."

by Janice Florent

silhouette of a head with numerous educational images within it

Research on self-directed learning has shown that people who take the initiative in learning, learn more things and learn better than people who sit at the feet of teachers passively waiting to be taught.

Self-directed learning is especially important for student success in online classes.

Educators have an important role to play in assisting students to acquire the skills for self-directed learning. So how can educators help students develop their ability to direct their own learning, while ensuring that they develop the skills and integrate the knowledge they need to be successful?

In a YardStick blog post, Dr. Tai Munro provided a few suggestions that educators can do to help students to become self-directed learners. Those suggestions are:

  • Give learners control
  • Make the course relevant
  • Focus on actual problems and scenarios
  • Recognize what they already know
  • Help learners reflect

If you are interested in getting more information you should read Dr. Munro’s blog post, But how do I help learners be self-directed?

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by Janice Florent

Sorry game board

Gamification is making a boring process interesting by using fun elements from games. Gamification is not the same as playing a game. Educators have been using gamification even before there was an official term for it.

Yu-kai Chou (2015) defines gamification as:

The craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to real-world or productive activities.

Why Use Gamification?

Clearly gamification is a motivation tool. So why would you take the time to set-up a gamification component to your courses? In an LearnDash blog post Justin Ferriman lists some benefits of gamification to consider. Those benefits are:

  • Provides Instant Feedback – learners instantly receive feedback on their understanding of the course content which in turn highlights what they need to spend more time reviewing.
  • Prompts Change in Behavior – Certain behaviors are reinforced by granting learners the ability to earn points and badges. This is even more true if these points and badges can be “cashed in” for something tangible or real.
  • Better Learning Experience – Gamification offers the opportunity for learners to engage with the content in various ways.
  • Safe To Fail – Gamification isn’t always about rewards but can also incorporate the “loss” of a reward. This makes it safe for people to fail and to learn from those mistakes.

What is considered as fun in games?

Winning or beating an opponent is an obvious answer. However, pleasure is also derived from activities such as:

  • problem-solving
  • exploring
  • creating
  • imagining
  • collecting
  • role-playing
  • collaborating
  • simply chilling out

What gaming elements can be used in the learning process?

Gamification strategies include elements such as gamifying grading, incentivizing students with rewards and adding competitive elements such as leaderboards. From the non-exhaustive list of gaming components and mechanics, here are a few from a Bright Classroom Ideas blog post by Savas Savides, which can be particularly useful to educators:

  • Narrative - Nothing can beat a well-told captivating story, whether you are a child or an adult. Text, audio, video, cartoon, they all have the same denominator: a storyline.
  • Progression - Learners need to know they are acquiring skills and getting better. Student portfolios and ‘can-do’ statements help them reflect on their own learning.
  • Challenges - Tasks should be easy enough to tackle, but hard enough to challenge and motivate. And, following the previous point on progression, they should have a gradually rising level of difficulty.
  • Competition - Motivates students to perform better. Through competition, students not only do what is required to accomplish the required goals, but also do the best they can do. Competition allows the students to come forward with better ideas and clearly highlight their skills in front of their teacher and classmates. Competition is closely linked to rewards.
  • Cooperation - Apart from competing against each other, students also like working together. Never miss an opportunity to form pairs or groups to work on a project. It is more fun than working alone.
  • Rewards - With tangible rewards there is always the danger that they may substitute for the intrinsic motivation. It is better to use intangible rewards (e.g. points). Remember that the game is ultimately its own reward.
  • Win States - When the outcome is a winner.
  • Achievements - Create tangible things that serve as proof of student achievement. They can be certificates, posters, photos, videos etc.
  • Badges - Another tangible proof of individual achievement. They can be stickers, stamps, even your own drawings on the board.
  • Leaderboards - A classification of all learners-participants according to their performance. A really powerful motivational tool.
  • Points - Instant intangible rewards that help create leaderboards.
  • Teams - Either working with each other in a team or cooperating to beat another team, students can overcome shyness and benefit immensely.

A well-designed gamified course can grab and keep students’ attention, improve students’ knowledge retention, and improve students’ overall success in the course. Gamification may not suit everyone. But for those who use it, the benefits of gamification can be substantial.

by Janice Florent

hourglass in the foreground and a clock in the background

Managing your time when teaching an online class can be a bit of a challenge. How do you manage time when there are no set course hours and when the classroom is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? Online instructors need to develop effective time management behaviors to be efficient and not just busy.

In a Faculty Focus article, Dr. Deborah A. Raines shared ten strategies she uses to manage her time. Those strategies are:

  1. Roll call – Take attendance on the first day. A simple discussion board with a response of “I’m here” alerts you to who has not found the classroom site.
  2. Syllabus quiz – Give a syllabus quiz during the first week. This quiz provides an opportunity for students to experience the online testing environment and provides an incentive for students to read the syllabus and other important information.
  3. Ask the class – Create an “ask the class” discussion area where students can ask general questions and encourages students to respond to each other.
  4. To-do list – Create a to-do list as the first item in each module. This item provides an introduction to and guidelines on how to approach the material in the module.
  5. Establish rules and expectations – Disseminate clear and consistent rules and expectations such as when to turn in assignments, the beginning and ending date of units, turn-around time for responses to questions or feedback on assignments.
  6. Private office – Create a dropbox or private journal function for students to communicate with you on confidential matters.
  7. Roadmap to success – Write a clear and concise document of student expectations, responsibilities and accountability for learning.
  8. Take advantage of tools and technology – Use online tools within the learning management system such as student tracking, testing automation, self-grading or rubrics added to assignment dropboxes, to increase your efficiency. In general, handle each item only once—if you open an item, do something with it, don’t just peek and plan to come back later.
  9. Establish a routine – Set your schedule. Get in the habit of going to your online courses at consistent times and know what you are going to do while at the course site.
  10. Don’t re-invent – Use existing resources. There are a number of quality learning activities available on the web. Using existing resources can reduce the time needed to develop similar materials.

For more information you can read Dr. Raines’ blog post Be Efficient, Not Busy: Time Management Strategies for Online Teaching.

Photo credit: time is money by ewvasquez2001 | CC BY 2.0

by Janice Florent

arrow going around the outside of a maze

Course designs that are not user-friendly can make it very difficult for students to be successful in a course.

Undoubtedly you spent a great deal of time crafting your course content and perfecting your layout, which is why it's crucial to focus on usability. Students have a lot going on in their lives and don’t want to go through a maze-like course; click on dead-end links; have to use too many mouse clicks to get to the content; or scroll through long pages of information.

If you want students to be successful in your online/hybrid course, the course should be intuitive, well organized, and easy to navigate.

In a recent eLearning Industry blog post, Christopher Pappas shared eight tips that can help you create a user-friendly eLearning course for your students. Christopher’s tips are:

  • Provide detailed instructions
  • Keep text short and succinct
  • Opt for brief bursts of information
  • Create an effective course menu
  • Test out your course navigation
  • Integrate supplemental links
  • Include optional tips and tricks that can help students to complete the course

If this has piqued your interest, you can read more in Christopher’s 8 Tips Towards Α User-Friendly eLearning Course blog post for more information.

by Janice Florent

students putting together puzzle pieces leading toward success as a goal

Many students enroll in online classes because of the convenience and flexibility. Some students mistakenly believe taking an online course is going to be easier than a face-to-face class. It is important that students understand online courses require greater responsibility/ownership for their own learning.

In a recent Faculty Focus article, Poonam Kumar, EdD and Marilyn Skrocki, listed a few simple strategies and techniques instructors can do at the course level to support students’ success in online classes. Those strategies and techniques are:

  • Clearly communicate expectations
  • Prepare students
  • Course organization and layout
  • Chunk the content and scaffold instruction
  • Humanize the course

Following these strategies and techniques can help students to succeed in online courses. If this has piqued your interest, you can read more in the Ensuring Student Success in Online Courses article.

by Janice Florent

engaging students in eLearning infographic

Engaging students in eLearning can be more challenging than in a face-to-face class. Follow the 5 do's presented in the Engaging Students in eLearning Infographic to create an engaging online course for your students.

5 Tips To Engage Your Students in eLearning

  1. Stay Relevant - All content, heading, and subheading should be relevant to the course.
  2. Stay Organized - Keep the screen neat and clutter-free. You never want to distract the student from your content.
  3. Keep it Interesting - Both your content and your design should be interesting to the student.
  4. Remain Up-To-Date - Update your course often to ensure your content is always accurate.
  5. Add Interactions - Only add interactions that are necessary, such as links, videos, or file downloads.

by Karen Nichols with contributions by Jeremy Tuman

Jeremy Tuman, our faculty-in-residence for service learning, recently collaborated with me on a presentation about adding service learning to online courses. I'd like to share our presentation with you and invite you to provide any feedback you may have. Thank you!