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.
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.
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.
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.
Robert Crow, Ph. D., is an assistant professor of educational research. Before joining the faculty in the College of Education and Allied Professions, Dr. Crow served as Coordinator of Instructional Development & Assessment for WCU's Coulter Faculty Commons, working primarily in faculty professional development. Dr. Crow's expertise in assessment and evaluation has led to collaborations with other 4-year institutions, community colleges, PK-12 schools, and institutional accreditation agencies such as SACS-COC. Dr. Crow's research interests include assessment and evaluation of student learning and of learning environments.
In a recent eLearning Industry article, Dr. Amy Thornton, Director of the Center of Online Learning at Columbus State University, listed multiple strategies to engage students online. Dr. Thornton wrote that it is important to allow students to engage with content in different ways to ensure learning transfer. The engagement strategies suggested by Dr. Thornton are:
Keep it interactive
Interaction keeps students at their computer and engaged in the content. Not being able to see your students means that you have to keep them on their toes throughout the session. A few ways you can do this are:
Feedback - invite students to share their comments about the content.
Polling - asking polling questions can initiate discussion.
Brainstorming - invite students to assist with brainstorming on how a particular topic can be applied or used in the “real world.”
Scavenger Hunt - send students on a virtual scavenger hunt to find something and come back with their findings to share with the class.
Graphics - use graphics to create visuals. Students could be allowed to use electronic whiteboard tools to mark up the graphics or identify parts of an image.
Variety is the spice of life. Providing different types of learning experiences can help engage different types of learners. This can also keep your students on their toes because they don’t know what is going to happen next. A few ways to accomplish this are:
Multimedia - use video and/or music clips to add something for your visual and auditory learners.
Polling - give students a chance to think about the content that was covered and apply it.
Electronic Whiteboard - get students involved by asking them to write on the electronic whiteboard.
Allowing your students to work in smaller groups can give them more opportunity to interact with each other and be part of the discussion. Managing this in an online environment can be challenging, but with some planning can add a lot of value to your session. Here are a few ways to approach group work:
Discussion - assign a topic and have the groups discuss and report back to the class.
Brainstorming - allow the class to break into groups to brainstorm ideas.
Project - allow time for groups to work on a group project together.
Case Studies - allow your students to practice their problem-solving skills.
Role-play - similar to case study; give students a scenario they must work through where each group member must take on a role.
Use authentic materials - use real materials that give students an inside look, for example, online museum exhibits, scientific simulations, and scanned manuscripts.
Give students a task
Giving students some of the responsibility in facilitating synchronous class sessions will keep them engaged and help them create their own learning experience. A few ways to do this are:
Give students the opportunity to facilitate an activity.
One decision to be made when developing an online course is the method of delivery. The method of delivery can be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous learning takes place in a real-time environment, while asynchronous learning takes place at the convenience of the learner.
In a recent Architela blog post, the author wrote,
It seems like a logical progression to turn traditional classroom learning into online learning by simply replicating the experience through the use of an online classroom. However reliance on synchronous delivery has advantages but also many limitations and disadvantages.
The author went on to list advantages and disadvantages of both synchronous and asynchronous course delivery and concluded with,
Choosing which mode of delivery to use should be based on the most efficacious activities for promoting learning, which in turn depend on the learning goals and objectives.
Ideally, online courses should include both synchronous and asynchronous learning activities. This allows students to benefit from the different delivery formats regardless of their schedules or preferred learning methods. This approach provides students with access to immediate help if needed, while still giving them the ability to learn at their own pace.
Dr. Robin M. Smith, Director of eLearning at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is typically asked the same questions each time a new instructor begins teaching online. Some of the questions first-time online instructors ask Dr. Smith are:
How do I know it’s the learner doing the work?
How do I know it’s the learner taking the test?
How do I know they aren’t looking at their books during the test?
How do I balance effort and points?
How do I see the lightbulb turning on or the blank stare?
How can I teach online and still have a balanced life?
Time is of the essence in getting a course online, but it's important that pedagogy not get lost in the crush of new content. Course design is just as critical as course content when it comes to distance learning outcomes, and Conquering the Content provides a holistic and practical approach to effective online course development.
If you are new to teaching online you may find this book a great resource to help you with your online course. Even if you have taught online before you may find some useful information in this book.
We have this book in our CAT library. Contact Ms. Carla Simmons, if you are interested in borrowing this book or any other book in the CAT library.
Taking an online course can be an isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several key techniques you can employ to humanize your online courses and thus improve the learning experience as well as success and retention rates.
Rob suggests the following as ways to humanize your online courses:
Create an inviting space
Include your personality
Personalize the discussion forum
Provide ways for students to make the course their own
Are you thinking about moving a face-to-face course to online? A recent Faculty Focus article suggests five steps to quickly transition your in-person curriculum into a creative and successful online course. Those steps are:
Start by Chunking: Simplify your content by breaking it up into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Decide on Overall Structure: Course design is a critical element to any course. A consistent and clear structure allows students to successfully engage with the material and meet expectations.
Select your tools: Face-to-face content can easily transition to the online classroom if you select the right tools.
Trades and Edits: Another colleague may have developed content that they are willing to share with you. Additionally, have another pair of eyes look at your online course. Feedback about your online course can prove to be invaluable.
Stay Current and Journal: Keep a journal as the class progresses. Journaling can help you to see where changes need to be made. For example, if there are a lot of student questions on the same topic or assignment, your directions probably need to be expanded or redefined.
An online course with clear structure and considered content will go a long way to support your students.
Faculty readiness to teach online and student readiness to take online courses are key to success in online education. In a Campus Technology article, Paul Beaudoin writes,
Teaching in the blended or online learning environment is not a direct transfer of the traditional face-to-face class. The challenges of online learning often require a different set of skills that may not come easily to brick-and-mortar instructors.
Paul suggests six things instructors can do to be better online teachers. They are:
I had planned to submit my blog post while at the conference but I was so busy learning and networking that I'm back in the office now. So here's a quick summary of my experiences. The Quality Matters organization is comprised of many dedicated professionals and the member institutions are equally concerned with developing and teaching quality online or hybrid courses (QM uses "blended"; we at Xavier use "hybrid") in order to have positive student outcomes. They're also big on "takeaways" so I have literally hundreds of resources now, and will be posting several key ones to CAT's Online Faculty Resource Center (debuting soon). For your information, here are a number of the actual presentations that were posted as well.
My takeaways from the conference are
we can offer workshops for faculty on actually teaching online, which is entirely separate from developing the course
we need to do more to make our courses accessible from the beginning rather than create accommodations after the fact (I also learned that numbers are better than bullets for screen readers so I'll be using numbers from now on)
we don't need to reinvent the wheel--we can partner with other institutions to offer more for our students
size does matter, especially in online language courses
faculty preparation and skills are necessary components for SACS approval of online and hybrid courses/programs
and I could continue, but I think having begun and ended with faculty concerns really shows how important they are to student success and therefore why CAT is dedicated to assisting our faculty in developing and teaching online and hybrid courses for our students at Xavier.