Hidden TreasureSo, you want to know how to help facilitate student success in your online courses huh?  The good news is that it isn’t like the search for the holy grail or an Indiana Jones-like adventure to find a hidden treasure. It is simply a matter of systemically and uniformly taking certain steps when deploying course activities/assignments throughout your course.

So take comfort in the knowledge that their are no rooms full of snakes or other dangers involved.  The secret to student success in your online course revolves around these three things being given with each graded activity:

  1. Provide Assignment Instructions (Context)
  2. Provide Technical Instructions (How to use assignment/activity/submission tool)
  3. Demonstrate what success will look like for the particular assignment/activity (Rubric)


InstructionsThis one seems like a no-brainer, right?  We all provide assignment instructions don’t we?  At first glance you might think that you have this taken care of because you put all of your assignment instructions in your syllabus.  However, we know that a student who is in the middle of a unit in your online course looks for the instructions to be chunked along with the course activities.   So to give context to your students; to let them know why they where they are and what they need to be doing there, place instructions at the unit and individual assignment/activity level.

Whether you are deploying a discussion board, a electronic submission assignment or a collaborate wiki, providing contextual instruction for what the activity is the first step in steering your students toward success.


how-to-logoAs has been stated before in this blog, your students may be living in a digital age, but that does not mean that they are all digital natives.  Keeping that in mind, it is never wise to assume that they already know how to use every tool you will employ in your online course.  This is the case when dealing with clicking on a link so a folder will open, replying to a post in a discussion forum, or creating a blog post for a reflection assignment.

To ease student anxiety and cut down on late night e-mails or phone call to the helpdesk, place technical instructions for how to use the activity tool directly inside the assignment or activity.  This would be for example, letting students know how to create discussion board posts and how to reply to them as part of the instructions for the activity.


Success If a student knows what it takes to succeed at a particular assignment, they are far more likely to be successful themselves. You can give your students this path to success with a few easy keystrokes.  This could be something as simple as you demonstrating a successful discussion post in an introductory discussion forum, or you providing a good example of APA formatting for citations in a paper.  One of the best ways for you to demonstrate what success looks like is to use a rubric.

Merriam-Webster describe a rubric as:

a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests

Using a Rubric tool or providing a Rubric document along with assignments and activities lets the student know what kinds of steps they need to take to be successful in completion of that particular activity.  It also provides the added benefit of communicating to students how they did or did not measure up to the expectations of the assignment after it is graded.

These three steps when applied systematically and uniformly throughout an online course can be the difference between success and failure for an online student.  These concepts are not really that new or paradigm shifting in that teachers have been doing these things for years, but leveraging them together will be putting another tool in your teaching tool belt that helps you equip your students to succeed in their online courses.