In the age of convenience and flexibility, online courses are in a high demand. Teaching online requires a different skillset and will look very different from teaching in the traditional classroom. Online learning requires that the student be more self-motivated and have a strong work ethic. One challenge that instructors often face is that not all students who sign up for an online course are adequately prepared, either technically or motivationally, to handle the rigors for online learning.
Let’s explore some best practices to help the students bridge the unpreparedness gap, be more engaged and ultimately be more successful.
In an online environment, it can be tempting for students to remain anonymous. However, getting to know one another can strengthen personal growth and improve success in facing challenges. Be the first to reach out through an introductory email to students enrolled in the course. Students are more likely to seek out help or clarification from the instructor if there is a personal connection or establishment of a welcoming environment. Consider having an introductory discussion with clear incentives for participation and peer-to-peer discussions covering the content in an applicable and relevant way; encourage and incentivize engagement early and throughout the course for maximum success.
Frequent, Bite-Sized Chunks
Because there are no scheduled class meetings, students are not as accountable to complete their assignments at regular intervals. Due to other work, school, personal commitments, or possibly a lack of good study skills, students often wait until the due date to complete their work. Having more frequent due dates ensures that the students interact with the material evenly throughout the term and helps to keep the class moving forward. Avoid confusion by giving assignments unique names and clearly posting them in the course calendar or schedule. Publish the calendar on the first day of class, in multiple places on the site and refer to it often.
Notifications and Feedback
Let’s face it, if students are not seeing the instructor on a regular basis, they forget about the class. Whether due to procrastination or busy schedules, things get left off and students begin to show gaps in their understanding of the course material. My personal inbox is full of notifications for upcoming sales, events, news, or happenings on social media. We have come to rely on those. Look for ways to send notifications to students about upcoming due dates, tips for better success, reminders about the lesson material, and feedback on assignments. There may be features in your LMS that enable quick and easy messages. It is also important to give timely feedback on assignments, including an up-to-date status of their overall course progress in an organized grade center.
Variety is the Spice of Online Life
Just like in the classroom setting, there is a variety of students with different learning processes in each of our online courses. Adding in different assignment types will not only provide variety but will also help the students engage more deeply with the content. By revisiting the material in a different assignment type, we encourage the students to view it from a different angle and engage a different part of their brain, further solidifying their understanding.
Simple Technology with Clear Instructions
We assume that students come to college with enough technical experience that navigating an online course would be simple. But in many cases, students’ knowledge of technology is limited to entertainment (social media, Netflix, texting, etc.) and their expertise in using online resources for professional or academic means is minimal. Any technology instructors use should benefit students and be easy to navigate. Along the same lines, instructions for navigating the course, operating the technology, and completing assignments should be very clear. To avoid adding more text to an online course, consider creating short videos that can walk students through the course navigation, technology and assignment submission. Free software such as “screencast o-matic” can be very useful.
Avoid “Set It and Forget It”
There are limitless resources available to instructors from a technology standpoint and many assignments can now grade themselves and provide instant feedback to students. While this is extremely helpful from a time management perspective it also adds in the temptation to sit back and let the course run while only answering emails. Though it is necessary to have the course set up and the calendar ready to go from the beginning of the semester, instructors’ presence is still a critical element. Students will be more successful if they have an instructor to guide them. Make sure to work into your class syllabus and assignments times for you to interact with your students. This could include a discussion board, video chat, virtual office hours, live group chats, etc. Building these types of interactions into your online course will serve the dual purpose of having you check up on your students and alerting students that their instructor is monitoring and available for help.
Online courses offer many benefits to both the instructor and the students. With extra care and forethought, we can set up our courses so that students have the best chance for success.