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eLearning is like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

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Teaching Online – The Middle Distance

Long Road Ahead PhotoWhen running a race, it is easy to think of it in three parts. First, there is the start, where you build slowly all the while being excited about the journey you are on. Then, there is the finish, where your goal is in sight and you race to the end of your journey. The bulk of the time of your race is spent in the middle distance, where you are trying to put one foot in front of the other and keep your eyes on the prize.

If you think about it, teaching an online course can be broken up into the same three categories. The start builds slowly as the students and instructor develop the routines they will follow as they move through the course. The finish is completed in a mad frenzy as students race to deliver classwork and submit end-of-course assessments. The majority of the course is handled in the middle distance, where students work to meet weekly objectives and make their way through the course.

For a runner, the middle distance can be the toughest part of the race. For an online instructor, the middle distance of a course can be just as challenging. However there are some strategies/practices you can put into place to make this part of the online course easier to handle.

Keep the Pace

paceIn order to stay on track for a strong finish it is important to pace yourself when running any race. Going too slow can dramatically affect your finishing time and going too fast can burn you out so that you don’t finish strong or for that matter, finish at all.

Pacing yourself as you teach an online course is just as important. Going too slow for your students can disengage them from the course and from meeting learning objectives. Conversely, blowing through course materials is also detrimental for your students’ comprehension and retention. Establishing a pace that keeps all parties engaged and involved while not leaving folks behind is a great best practice when teaching an online course.

Stay Engaged

Student EngagementAs you move through the long stretch of any race it is easy to lose focus, lose track of what your goal is and just disengage from what you are trying to do. Staying checked in while you run ensures that you know where you are, what you are doing and where you need to be to complete the race successfully.

Staying engaged is possibly the most important thing you can do as an online instructor. Though it may seem monotonous at times, checking in and interacting with your course can mean the difference between student success and failure. If you know how your students are doing (because you are engaged), then you know what course corrections to make, what affirmations to give, and how best to direct your students as they move through the course.

Be on the Lookout for Obstacles

ObstaclesAs you move through any run, it is important to keep an eye on the road in front of you for any obstacles that may trip you up. Getting tripped up can reduce your pace and disengage you from your plans for the run. Listening to fellow runners and race officials can help you in this regard. Having a lay of the land can also be a tremendous asset.

Obstacles can be just as problematic in an online course. Keep an ear to the ground with your students through discussion forums and e-mails to help them work around any roadblocks that may occur. Keep in touch with “race officials” aka the support desk or LMS administrators so that you and your students are aware of what is on the road in front of you. Knowing what course activities might cause issues for your students (third-party tools, multimedia or new software) can help you be sure your students are prepared for any issues that arise.

Whether you are at the middle distance of running a race or teaching an online course, keeping pace, staying engaged and being on the lookout for obstacles can help you be successful and finish strong!

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Promote Student Engagement by ‘Personalizing’ Your Online Course

Personalized Learning

The Glossary of Education Reform defines student engagement as:

the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their learning

Personalized LearningIf the above is true, then there are many ways an online instructor can impact the attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion of students.  This particular blog post deals with how personalizing an online course can increase student engagement.  When an online instructor and students can invest more of themselves in on online course, the satisfaction levels reported by those same students will go up.

This particular view of online course personalization will be broken into 5 areas:


Placing Yourself in the Course

Place Yourself in the CoursePrevious posts on this blog have focused on instructor presence in the online course.  We’ve talked about establishing routines to ensure prompt feedback and instructor availability.  This particular practice revolves around something a little more superficial, but important nonetheless.

Students in an online course like to feel that they know who you are.  A text-based introductory paragraph or post in a “getting to know you” discussion forum may not fully encompass who you are to the student.  Why not take one small step and add a picture of yourself to the course.   You may already be familiar with the best practice of establishing a Virtual Office in your course where you can answer student questions.  Why not add your photo and contact information in this same area and personalize your office.

Here at SHSU, Blackboard allows you to set up a Social Profile that places your picture wherever you interact in a course (discussions, blog & wiki posts, grade center etc..). If your students feel like they “know” you, they are more likely to reach out to you and less likely to drift off into obscurity.

The logical next step in this progression is for you to utilize video to connect yourself to your course and your students, but that is a post for another time.


Allowing Students to Place Themselves in the Course

Online StudentsIn online courses it is easy for students to believe that they operate in a vacuum.  They punch their ticket fulfill obligations, and never get a good look at who is on this learning journey with them.  Allowing students to place themselves in your online course begins to build that learning community that encourages students to be successfully engaged.

Why not have your student find a way to place their image in your course.  Have them attach/upload/insert their picture as part of an introductory activity.  Some Learning Management Systems like Blackboard, allow students to create their own Social Profile that includes an image and biography.  After the profile is created the student’s face appears in the course roster, grade center and course activities (blogs, wikis, discussions, group activities etc..).

Having student/faculty images in your online course allows a more cohesive integration of group activity and shared learning.


Allowing Students to Personalize Their Learning

Personalize We know that student satisfaction goes up when they feel like they have some “skin in the game” when it comes to their learning experience.  The challenge for many online instructors is figuring out how to incorporate student content-building or contributions to the online environment.

A good first step is to find out what they know and what they want to know more about.  You as the instructor will define the boundaries from which they will pick, but a survey or KWL* assignment is a great way to start out a course.

*KWL – What do you know?  What do you want to know?  What have you learned?

You can also provide an element of continuous improvement in your courses by having your students journal each week or at an interval of your choosing.  The journal entry could serve 2 purposes:

  1. Provide a graded assignment where the student reflects upon what they learned during the week.
  2. Allow the student to tell you what the high points and low points were of the previous unit of study.

The journaling activity will allow you to make course corrections (pun intended) during the course rather than finding out where you might have some issues when the course is finished and evaluations are in.

There are other methods for involving your students in this process. The scenarios are numerous, but here are a few ideas:

  • Have your students come up with the academic integrity policy for the course to increase buy-in.  They can use a wiki or discussion board to share ideas around defining plagiarism and academic honesty.
  • Create an assignment dealing with constructing a study guide for the final and allow your students to contribute questions.
  • Use peer evaluation as a method for grading discussions and other assignments.


Feedback Early, Feedback Often

FeedbackProbably the most important way to ensure your students believe that you are personally involved in their learning is to provide prompt and frequent feedback.  Think about how you feel when someone gives you kudos on a job well done or even coaching on a subject where you might need assistance.  You feel like someone took a personal interest in something that you were doing, right?  Students feel the same way about the feedback you provide via the course.

Here are some options:

  • Make feedback part of your daily routine as an online instructor
  • Change up how you provide feedback (text/audio/video)
  • Post a weekly announcement recapping the last week’s activities and previewing the current week.
  • Too many students to reply to discussion posts?  Provide 1 summary post per discussion giving kudos and challenges when needed.
  • Schedule “office hours” where you can provide synchronous feedback a ’la chat or webinar when needed.


Personalization without Confusion

Sometimes in our desire to create a learning environment that is personal and engaging for the learner, we can add a layer of confusion that can separate the student from the learning experience we are trying to create.

So before we go tech-crazy or jump into a fun idea feeding frenzy take the following into account:

  • The Main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.  If the personalization/engagement does not comport to the learning objective, then don’t do it!
  • Keep it simply single. Add one new wrinkle to your experience at a time. Don’t heighten student anxiety by adding lots of tools/tech that they’ve never seen before.
  • Don’t play Hide & Seek with course content and activities.  If you started out putting content and activities in a certain order, stick with it!

Here are some quick and easy ways to provide personalization without confusing the issue:

  • Use images to introduce content/topics and break the monotony of the text monopoly!
  • While keeping the same routine/order of a unit of study, utilize different activities to differentiate the way students interact with the course.
  • Change up how you deliver content to students.  Introduce a discussion activity a ‘la webcam recording or provide an audio introduction with assignment instructions that contain bonus points for those who listen.

These five methods of personalizing the online learning environment don’t have to all be done at once. As with most of the best practices on this blog, we encourage you to take it one step at a time.  Remember if you feel overwhelmed, then odds are your students will too!  Hopefully you will find your students paying more attention, being more curious, showing more interest, bubbling over with optimism and being passionate about their learning.

#bestpracticemonday 5 “Resolutions” for Online Instructors in the New Year

New Years ResolutionsEach 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

Getting StartedA 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

Differentiated Instruction GraphicWe 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

SchedulePart 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!

#bestpracticemonday LMS Skills are Learned Not Inherited – 3 Ways to Help

Blackboard on the BrainI am old enough to remember thinking of computers as something that fit into a large room and young enough to remember when my family received its first computer that sat on a desk in my father’s office. My children are familiar with touch screen interfaces, wireless internet, smartphones and tablets. With all of the technology that students coming into the university setting seem to have at their fingertips it is easy to assume that as digital natives they are already familiar with how a Learning Management System (LMS) works and how to navigate their way through an online class.

One thing I have learned through supporting faculty and facilitating online courses is that you cannot assume that students were born knowing how to maneuver within the confines of a Learning Management System.  LMS skills are learned and not inherited.  Taking this into account there are steps online instructors can take to give students the resources & skills they need to be successful in online courses.

1.  Use a Getting Started Area/Unit to Orient Your Students

Getting StartedHaving the words Getting Started or Start Here show up in your course are automatic clues for your students on where they should go and what they should do.   They immediately give the students a sense of where they should be going and what they should be doing.  Leverage this part of your course to communicate to students about how your course will work.  Explain to students where readings, lectures and videos will be found as well as how they will participate in and submit items for assignments and activities.  Communicate expectations, course policies and general advice in this unit that will help your students be successful. An added bonus here is you can use the Getting Started unit to model how the rest of your units will work.

Instructions2.  Layer Academic and Mechanical Instructions Throughout Your Course

With students, everything revolves around context.  They are becoming used to getting contextual information about the restaurant where they are eating, the traffic they are driving in, and the television shows they are watching.  That is why it is important to not just put instructions in your course syllabus.  They need to placed at the unit and assignment level as well.  A big key here is not just revealing the academic instructions that tell the students the requirements of a particular assignment or activity, but the mechanical instructions that tell the students how to use the particular tool to complete the assignment or activity.

3.  Be Sure Your Students Know How to Get Technical Assistance

Technical SupportIn order to make online courses more interactive and engaging for our students we have added new activities and technologies. We do this to ensure that students have the same types of learning opportunities as students in the face-to-face environment. With any new technology or new tool there will be obstacles, snafus and technical glitches that arise.  It is more important than ever that your students have the resources that can help them work through any of these issues. Post online support desk contact information and hours of operation prominently in your course (At SHSU Online we include a Need Help?  link in every Blackboard course).  If available provide a link to the student documentation for your LMS (The Getting Started with Blackboard Orientation course at SHSU for example).

Even though your students may not know what a LMS is, you can help them by providing the resources and information that can equip them to be successful in your course.  Using a Getting Started area, layering mechanical and academic instructions and connecting your students to tech support are practices you can incorporate to help your students learn how to operate within the Learning Management System.

#bestpracticemonday: Teaching Online – “Running” into Problems

Running Technical GlitchSo I run 3 – 4 times each week.   This past week on my shorter run, I was studiously trying to avoid being run over by less-than-aware drivers when I stepped into a bad spot in the road.  Before I knew it, I rolled my ankle and scraped my hands on the pavement as I went down.   Because I was close to traffic I immediately got my bearings and took some deep breaths.  I was only about a quarter of the way into my run and I wanted to finish so I begin what I can only describe as a hop-limp running style as I continued on my way.  After about 30 yards I was approaching normal, but running carefully just to be sure.  Eventually I was back at my normal pace and finished my run somewhat later than normal and a little scraped up.

So now you know more than you ever wanted to know about my exercise habits.  The funny thing about my adventure is that it is analogous to how online instructors should handle technical problems when they arise. When you “run” into problems while teaching an online course, follow these steps:

Get Your Bearings

Get your BearingsWhether it was a technical glitch or one of your activities/assessments didn’t work as expected, it is important to get your bearings.  Whatever the problem take a deep breath and realize that it will be okay.  Reflect that same thought to your students by posting an announcement about the issue and/or communicating with them via e-mail or other method.  Reach out to your support network to find out what happened so that you can answer questions posed by your students.  If you don’t know, it’s okay to let your students know that you don’t know, but that you are in the process of finding out what happened.  Figure out where your students were when the event happened so that you can move onto the next step…

Keep on Moving (the limp-hop)

The Limp Hop - Walking wiht a bootIn most cases you are under a time constraint when teaching online just as you are in a face-to-face course. You have a set amount of work to do in a limited amount of time.  So even if you have a partial work stoppage due to a technology glitch or outage, it is important to keep moving forward.  How can you do this?  Try using another tool to finish the activity that the students were working on when everything hit the fan.  *Best Practice Alert:  If you are using a technology intensive tool for a course activity/assessment, it is always a good idea to have an alternate activity planned in case something goes wrong.  Think of it as like having printed slides of your presentation just in case the projector doesn’t work in your face-to-face course.  Find another way to continue the activity so that your students won’t miss out on the the learning experience.  For example, if you were using a blog, try switching to a discussion forum.

What really goes without saying here is that you keep the lines of communication flowing.  During downtimes and technical glitches of tools, the students just want to know that they won’t be penalized and that the world is still turning.  Even if the course seems to be inching along, a follow-up e-mail letting them know that you are still with them does much to lessen anxieties.   It may seem like a glacial pace compared to what you were doing when the problem occurred, but continuing to move forward at any pace will give your students a sense of comfort that you are still in control of the course and they are still in control of their learning.

Getting Back in the Groove

Get Back in the GrooveOnce the problem has passed it is important to ensure that you and your students are back in the normal rhythm of your course.  Communicate with your students and let them know that all systems are “go” and that they should return to normal course interaction practices.  If the tool that had the problem is to be used in an assignment let the students know that you will watching for any issues that may arise.  You will notice a familiar refrain when it comes to doing these things.  Each step in the disaster recovery process involves communicating with your students!  It may take some encouragement on your part, but your students should slip back into the familiar course interactions that they are used to.

As with most situations when you deal with technology, it is not a matter of if it will fail you, but when it will fail you.  Keep in mind, how you respond to these problems and glitches often has more of an effect on your students than the problems themselves.   Make sure to get your bearings, keep on moving, and get back in the groove and everything will be all right.  You may have a few scrapes and soreness, but you and your students will come through it and finish strong!

#bestpracticemonday – Getting in Sync with Your Online Students

Getting in Sync with your Online Students

Being on the same page with your online students is one of the most important things you can do as an instructor of an online course.  Having a finger on the pulse of your students’ learning experience is key to student engagement and student success.  If students know that you are “right along-side” on their learning journey their anxiety levels decrease and their satisfaction levels increase.  There are a number of ways to get in sync with your online students, here are just a few:

Communicate Expectations Throughout The Course

ExpectationsDue to accreditation requirements, your objectives will show up in your course’s syllabus so the students will be able to find them there.  However, you can really reinforce what the students will be getting out of course units and items by placing Unit and even Content Item level objectives.  Starting out each unit by letting students know what they can expect from it will remind them why they are involved in those activities and reinforce with you the desire to align your curriculum.

If a student knows why they are doing what they are doing, there will be less ambiguity for them and more satisfaction.  Expectations helps the student to “sync up” to the course goals and objectives and thereby connecting them to you and the course on a foundational level.

Ask Your Students How They Are Doing

How is my teaching graphic?A great way for you and your students to “sync up” is to ask them how they are doing. Find ways to reach out to your students and ask them how it’s going.  Part of this you can do just by gauging the types of posts you receive in your “Virtual Office or “Course Q&A” discussion forum.  You can identify trends and problems by perusing the posts that come in and respond to them during the course.   You can also interpret the results you receive in the gradebook for this information.

You can be more proactive and just ask the students.  This may be a novel concept, but it works! Asking your students could take the form of an anonymous survey, or even a weekly reflection assignment that has as one of its goals the identification of high and low points of the week in your course.  You can also poll your students during an informal chat sessions or webinar.  Getting feedback from your students and acting on it (when merited) is a great way to get “in sync” with your online students.

Get Synchronous With Live Conversations

Person talking througth cansIt is easy to get stuck in the rut of a post-reply mentality when it comes to your online course.  Whether it is reading and replying to discussion posts, giving feedback on submitted assignments or just posting an announcement and replying to the subsequent e-mails, falling into the rhythm of asynchronous communication is not hard to do.

Meeting with students in “real-time” plays an important role in any online course.  It provides a sense of community for your students, reassuring them that they are not alone on their learning journey.  The students are able to hear you as a human being and not some depersonalized text on their monitors.   Establishing “office hours” for your course is a great best practice where you can let your students know certain times that you are available to meet synchronously.  These can be conducted via an LMS chat program, Skype or other instant messaging program, a web meeting software (Blackboard Collaborate) or any number of web-based tools.

When you take the time to make yourself available, listen and respond to student concerns, issues or just to let them vent, you are reducing frustration and anxiety, getting the students more comfortable with you and your teaching style and getting “in sync” with their learning journeys.

#bestpracticemonday – Be Present in Your Course by Establishing a Routine

Routine GraphicPart of being available in a course 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/Q&A discussion forum within a set amount of time (within 24 hours on a weekday for example)*
  • Hold regular “office hours” with the Blackboard Chat or Blackboard Collaborate tool 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 weeks 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.

#bestpracticemonday – 4 Ways to Save Time When Teaching Online

clockOne of the concerns I hear from faculty who teach online is that there seems to be a fair amount more work that goes into teaching an online course. Most of the work comes on the front end. Putting into written/audio/video format all of the things you might say in class, and planning and developing your course does take extra time. However, there are things you can do to save time elsewhere that can help even this out.

Here are 4 ways you can save time when Teaching an Online Course:

  1. Work in Groups
  2. Have  a Virtual Office
  3. Select/Limit Assignments
  4. Connect Your Course

WORK IN GROUPS

Group PuzzleGroup work in your online course is important for multiple reasons.  We’ve already touched on the importance of making your students take an active part in their learning experience and how course participation can be increased via group work.  Another benefit of course groups is that they can help you save time.

With a class full of 30 people you may find yourself grading 30 individual assignments multiple times.  Instead, try making some of those assignments group oriented and dividing your course into 5 groups.  You can reduce the amount of things you need to read as well as recruit your students to take part in the group assessment.


Virtual OfficeHAVE A VIRTUAL OFFICE

The name doesn’t matter, but a Virtual Office course Q&A forum services 4 purposes:

  1. Cuts down on the amount of e-mail in your inbox
  2. Gets your students in the habit of checking and using the LMS
  3. Keeps a record of questions and answers.
  4. Keeps you from having to answer a question more than once.

Let’s face it, we all “misplace” e-mail.  For some of us our inbox receives a hundred new messages or more each day.  Why not make life easier on you and your students by reserving course e-mails for those things of a personal or private nature.  You may have to use the first week of the course as a “training week” where you ensure you point your students to the Virtual Office for answers to course questions.  Make it a requirement in your syllabus, an expectation on your course expectations page and a question on your Syllabus quiz to ensure students know where to go.

When your students establish the habit of checking the course regularly, they will be more engaged and more successful.  When you answer questions via e-mail the only people that see that correspondence are you and the student.  Utilizing a discussion forum makes course Q&A visible to everyone in your course, saving you hours of time answering e-mails.


SELECT/LIMIT ASSIGNMENTS

Select your Assignment GraphicRemember the first time you taught?  Many of us when we first teach want to take on the world and show the students all the great things that they can do in the course.  Mid-way through the semester did you find yourself thinking that you committed to do too much?  Working with your online course can provide the same kind of feeling.

My suggestion is to carefully select your assignments so you are not weighing yourself down with extra grading, proofing and other activities.  Your students will appreciate 5 -10 well thought out assignments as opposed the 20 “let’s do everything!” activities in their course.  By being particular in what assignments you add to your course you save yourself on grading time, cut down on questions and answers and give your students a more focused learning experience.


CONNECT YOUR COURSE

Connect PuzzleWhen you travel somewhere for the first time, doesn’t it seem to take a little bit longer to get there than it does to return home?  Whether it is unfamiliar surroundings, difficulty reading the map or the GPS isn’t up to date, it can be frustratingly slow to travel to new places.

Think of your online course as that new destination for your students.  How would they describe their navigation experience?  Would they say that once they travel into your course that it is difficult to find their way back?  Would they say that the course links were easy to find and use?  Would they be frustrated trying to make it to their “destination”?

Connecting your course by organizing and clearly naming your navigation elements will save your students and ultimately you time when putting together your online course.

Below are steps you can take to connect your course and save time for you and your students:

  • Use Dividers and Subheaders to visually organize your course’s navigation menu.
  • Append the text (Click to Open) on titles for content folders, learning modules, lesson plans, web and course links.
  • Put directions in the content description that direct students to “click” the title to access the content.
  • Make the content item Blue if you want your students to click it
  • Chunk your course content as you would teach it in your face-to-face course.  For example: Put all Chapter content in chapter folder with different sub-folders for each chapter.
  • Place a Course Link at the bottom of a unit a study so that the student can navigate back to where they were before easily.

Expectations

Note:  I actually posted this article on the SHSU Online Blog, but thought it worth while to share here as well.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in online courses for students is having their expectations of the course meet reality.  There are two easy steps you can take to ensure your students know what to expect in your online course.

  • Place learning objectives throughout the course
  • Create an Expectations content item

Place Learning Objectives Throughout the Course

Due to accreditation requirements, your objectives will show up in your course’s syllabus so the students will be able to find them there.  However, you can really reinforce what the students will be getting out of course units and items by placing Unit and even Content Item level objectives.  Starting out each unit by letting students know what they can expect from it will remind them why they are involved in those activities and reinforce with you the desire to align your curriculum.  Putting an assignment level objective will go further to reinforce what they are learning and why.

Create an Expectations content Item

A great way to cut down on student confusion about course expectations and activities is to create an Expectations content item in your course.  This part of your course should contain 2 sets of expectations:  What you expect of your students and what your students should expect from you.  You can even have your students post that they have read and understood the course expectations as a gateway for your course content.

Examples of Course expectations:

Expectations of Students

  • Use the virtual office to ask general course questions
  • Check the course homepage, discussions and their e-mail several times a week
  • keep up with reading assignments, activities, assignments and quizzes
  • Participate actively in class discussions, responding to at least 2 colleagues for each forum
  • Practice Netiquette in the course.  No flaming (negative hurtful comments); use correct grammar and spelling; don’t yell (write in all caps)

Expectations of Instructor *These will vary depending upon your comfort level

  • I will read and respond to discussion posts directed at me, e-mails and other forms of communication daily (not on weekends)
  • I will post grades for your assignments and exams quizzes within a week of submission
  • I will have office hours at these days/times: (insert times here) via Skype (Skype address here) or via phone (phone number here)

Letting your students know what to expect from you and what you expect from them will go along way toward ensuring a successful experience for them and you in your online course(s).

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