Each new year brings new growth, new ideas and new commitments for us to do things to make ourselves better personally and professionally. Whether we are inspired by too much turkey over the holidays or an urge to start with a clean slate, no other time of the year seems more appropriate for these determinations. Perhaps this year, we may consider some New Year’s Resolutions for our online courses!
Let’s face it, online teaching, like too much turkey, can really weigh you down. During a long semester, we can get buried in grading assignments and responding to discussion posts, and the lofty goals we started off with for engaging our students can seem dimly out of reach.
With a holiday break and a start to the new year/semester fast approaching, now is a great time to resolve to adopt a few pedagogically sound teaching and learning best practices for our online courses. While there may be several measures we can adopt to improve the overall quality of our online teaching environments, here are five easy to follow, easy to apply techniques that will make our online courses that much more engaging. Remember you don’t have to do all 5!
1. Model How the Course will go for Students with a “Getting Started” Unit
A smart move for any online instructor is to implement some kind of ‘orientation unit’ for the online student. This unit can serve the purpose of introducing the student to his or her online course environment, as well as other important course information. Expectations, rules of the road, and an operator’s manual are usually communicated within this unit.
It is important to set this unit up just like every other unit in the course. Model orientation content and activities in such a way as to reflect how the rest of the units will be structured. The student will not only gain the benefit of understanding how the online course operates, they will get the added practice of going through course units as they would normally throughout the course.
2. 2-4-6-8 it’s Time to Differentiate
We would be hard-pressed to negate the notion that are our students are not identical. Each of our learners comes to us with varying degrees of abilities, aptitude levels, interests, learning experiences and needs. While it may not be feasible to get to know each of our students on a personal basis, we can make some general deductions about the learning diversity that is present in every course we teach.
This is where Differentiated Instruction comes in. For those of us in the field, the term refers to the theory that since no two students will learn exactly the same way, instructors have the opportunity to structure and design their teaching environments using a variety of instructional methods that may reach a broader swath of the student body. The online environment really lends itself to this approach. With the advent of various technology tools, we can now choose to diversify our approach to lectures, activities and assessments and more.
If you are wondering how to add more diversity of instruction to your course, start with the following. It’s as easy as A-B-C!
a. Realize your students are unique, and discover ways to get to know them.
Realistically speaking, we may not get to know our students as well as we would like. But we can implement an activity or two to catch a glimpse into who they are and what their learning approach may be. For instance, at the beginning of your course, introduce an ice-breaker discussion forum and ask your learners what they do in their free time. You will be surprised by what you can learn!
b. Look critically at your course, and identify a few areas where you can introduce diversity of instructional methodology.
Sit back and consider your students’ learning objectives. Take a look at how you are introducing and enforcing these key concepts at the moment and select an area or two where you may introduce a different approach. Perhaps an audio lecture may be a welcomed alternative to the text-based reading. Or, perhaps you may want to spice up your course with content from the Khan Academy, Ted Talks, or NBC Learn. Often regarded as “mashups” the introduction of external collective knowledge in an online course adds variety, and piques students’ interests.
c. Consider the Context and Role of the Online Instructor.
The online environment can present us with options we may not have readily used in our face-to-face courses…so make the most it! While having lots of choices may seem daunting, starting with one or two will help keep them manageable. Online Instructors should think differently about their teaching, because in the online environment where rich, educational online resources abound, we become more of a guide on the side, than a sage on the stage.
3. Set Due Dates to Coincide with Support Desk Hours
This resolution is an easy one to keep! First, learn your Technology Support Desk hours (SHSU Online is 7am – Midnight, Mon-Sat). Once familiar with Support’s hours of operation, make sure any due dates, tests or technology oriented activities fall when the Support Desk team is available. This is important because the students will have someone to call when the technology doesn’t work or their interpretation of how the technology should work is different from actually happened.
4. Set a Schedule for Course Interactions, Be Consistent
Part of being available in a course, and establishing ever-important instructor presence, is letting your students know when you are available. A great way to do this is to establish a routine for your course interactions.
- For starters, you can let them know that you will get back to them on questions posted in your Virtual Office discussion forum a time period you establish at the beginning of the term (usually within 24 – 36 hours)
- Hold regular “office hours” with the asynchronous chat tool (Skype, Bb Chat or Collaborate, Google Hangout) where you will be available in real-time to answer your students questions if need be.
- Post an announcement and send it out via e-mail once a week summing up the previous week’s events and highlighting the important aspects of the next week.
By establishing a routine, you form a habit of being available in your course that your students can count on.
5. Have fun!
Remember the excitement of teaching? The opportunities to lead, change, inspire, and innovate? Perhaps you connect with the intrinsic motivation of knowing you are making a real and tangible difference in many impressionable minds. Whatever that original point of motivation is for you, we can all connect with what originally prompted us to teach.
Being an online instructor is the perfect chance to express your teaching philosophies in a number of diverse and effective ways. Make your course as exciting as your teaching. Personalize it. Make it your very own. Let it show your unique teaching style and at the end of the day, resolve to have fun doing what you do best…teach!