CAT+FD Online Teaching Resources logo

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.

NDLW logo

November 7-11, 2016 is National Distance Learning Week (NDLW). In association with NDLW, the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) is offering free webinars on a variety of topics related to online teaching and learning. A few other organizations are offering free webinars during NDLW as well.

For more information on the activities and to register for the webinars visit NDLW 2016.

Download Conversation #48

Jane Compson

A conversation with Dr. Jane Compson of UW-Tacoma, on implementing a contemplative pedagogy in an online course.

Dr. Compson got her PhD in Comparative Religion from the University of Bristol, and more recently got her second Masters in Philosophy, concentrating on bioethics, from Colorado State. She currently teaches classes in Comparative Religion; Philosophy, Religion and the Environment; Environmental Ethics; Biomedical Ethics and Introduction to Ethics. She’s working on projects related to self-care and stress management for healthcare professionals as well as documenting local efforts for environmental justice, as well as mindfulness theory.

Links for this episode:

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

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

two faces looking at each other with a series gears where the brains would be

Successfully moving courses online involves more than simply transferring what you are currently doing in your face-to-face class to the online class. If your aim is to create a meaningful online learning experience with long-lasting effects, you will have to rethink the way you teach.

In a recent Faculty Focus article, Rob Kelly quoted Professor Paul Caron who said,

If you simply take your face-to-face class and put it online and teach it electronically, you will fail miserably.

Rob goes on to list some challenges with moving your course online and ways you can overcome them. They are,

Communicate frequently. The online learning environment lacks the visual and auditory cues that instructors and students often take for granted in the face-to-face classroom. This lack of visual and auditory cues can hinder the ability to develop rapport, motivate, and engage students.

Use multimedia. Multimedia can stimulate more than one sense at a time, and in doing so, may be more attention-getting and attention-holding than just using text alone. You can build a community with audio and increase your presence with video.

Monitor “attendance.” Online courses require students to be self-directed learners. If students are not accessing the course regularly and keeping up with their course work they are less likely to be successful in the course.

Make the subject relevant. One of the challenges of teaching a core course is that students aren’t automatically interested in the subject. When students see how the course is relevant to them, they stay interested. Invite guest speakers to provide career specific examples or include “real world” examples to illustrate course content. Design assignments to be flexible and allow students to pursue interests.

Rather than trying to replicate the face-to-face classroom, online, you want to design an experience that engages students in learning in a way that fosters their interest and curiosity, and ultimately facilitates deep-level learning that comes to them by way of technology. (Parker, 2013).

If this blog post has piqued your interest, you can read more in the Faculty Focus article, From F2F to Online: Getting It Right as well as the following blog posts:

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by Janice Florent

Being prepared is a must for teaching online. In addition to using best practices for online course design you should be thinking about how to deliver your online course for maximum success.

globe with a computer mouse and teaching online text

In an IDDblog blog post, Alex Joppie listed a few tips for keeping your online course running smoothly. I’ve combined his tips with a few of my own to provide you with suggestions to help your online course run smoothly. Those suggestions are as follows:

Before the semester starts—touch base with your students

Send an email to your students before the first day of class. In your email,

  • Make sure students know they’re enrolled in an online class. Some students take online classes because they think it will be easy. When in fact, some students struggle in online courses because they do not have the skills to be self-directed learners. You should let the students know that online classes take time and self-discipline.
  • Inform them of technology requirements, textbooks, and other required materials. This will help them hit the ground running.
  • Let the students know when your Blackboard course will be available.
  • Let the students know you’re there. This email can also serve to ensure to students that even though the entire course is going to facilitated by computers and networks, that there is a human being involved who cares about their success.
  • Make sure they got the email (and read it). Ask students to respond to the email. You may need to pursue other means of communication if a student doesn’t seem to be getting your email.

The first week—setting the tone

Follow these steps to set a healthy culture for the course and make sure everyone gets off to a good start.

  • Make sure students log in to your course. Use the Performance Dashboard to check to make sure everyone has logged in sometime within the first few days of class.
  • Create a welcome video for your course. Using a short video clip of yourself helps the students to have a picture of you in their mind. This video will help you to become a “real” person to your students.
  • Add a profile avatar to humanize your course. Humanized learning increases the relevance of course content and improves students’ motivation to log-in to your course week-after-week. Your profile avatar will create an inviting space for your students.
  • Create a more personalized learning environment in your course by using template variables. Template variables allow you to create personalized messages for your students. A personalized welcome message, for example, will make your course feel more inviting to your students.
  • Be active in introductory discussions. Your introductory discussions will set the tone for the entire course. Make sure there’s a positive culture in your discussions by being engaging in the first one.
  • Encourage students to utilize the Global Navigation Menu, Course Calendar, and notifications to keep up with critical and timely course related information and assignments.
  • Utilize Blackboard tools to help students stay on track. Students are more likely to be successful in an online course when they check-in regularly and keep up with their coursework. If a student falls behind early, they may never catch up.

Mid-course—checking in

  • Give your students an anonymous survey to get feedback from them on how the course is going. Do this sometime after you feel your students should have gotten a sense of the rhythm of the course but you still have time to make meaningful course corrections based on the feedback. This is especially important the first time you teach a new course.

Every week—the routine

Provide students with weekly communications that recap the previous week’s activities and prime students for the following week:

  • Highlight insightful discussion posts – Draw students’ attention to important points made by their classmates. It’s positive reinforcement for students and shows that you’re engaged.
  • Respond to gaps in student learning – Did everyone miss a question on the quiz, or skip over an important point in a discussion? If so, address it.
  • Contextualize the week’s main topics – Tie the week’s activities back to the learning goals of the course. Why is what we did this week important?
  • Prime the students for the next week’s main topic – Give some context about why they should care about what’s coming up next.

Here are a few more ideas to keep your online course interesting.

End-of-semester evaluation—develop your teaching persona

  • An end-of-semester evaluation is a good opportunity to get feedback from your students to help you develop your teaching persona. Getting a “learner-sighted” view of the course-experience can add to your understanding of the learning environment, including aspects of your teaching persona that have framed it.

Studies show that students withdraw from online courses at a higher rate than in face-to-face courses. There are many reasons for students withdrawing from an online course. Some reasons are beyond the instructor’s control. Educators do not like to see students withdraw from courses for the wrong reasons. The suggestions in this blog post will help you to improve retention and reduce attrition by making sure that your students are prepared, that they get off to a good start, and that they’re engaged.