Many more students are finding their way to online courses than ever before. These students are looking for a convenient way to earn college/university credits from their home. Online coursework requires a tremendous amount of discipline and dedication and unfortunately many students are not prepared for an online learning environment. Students cite having a misconception about the rigor and underestimating the time involved to be successful as the top reasons for struggling in an online learning environment. Students may need help understanding how much time is needed to complete assignments, participate in group work, group discussions, quizzes and other assignments required in the course. It is important for the instructional team to help set the pace and the expectations of the course to help the students to succeed. Here is a Top 5 list of things that instructional teams or individual faculty can do to help students prepare for and succeed in an online course.
Use Weekly Announcements – weekly announcements are a great way for individual faculty or instructional teams to remain active in an online course. At a minimum consider an announcement to open and close each lesson. This allows for clarifying directions, reminders and motivation that will help students see that they have support along the way. Many faculty are turning to audio and video options to help communicate each week. A weekly screen-cast [lesson tour] will help students prepare for the material and be better prepared for the expectations. AND…these weekly screen-casts will help the other members of your instructional team understand the expectations as they prepare to work with their students.
Proactively Answer Questions – instructions must be easy to find and easy to follow. No detail should be overlooked and step-by-step directions should be provided. Don’t make the assumption that your students or your instructional team will read between the lines to determine what the expectations are. Provide as much detail as possible to help complete the assignment. Consider providing a screen-cast where more detail can be shared about the type of files that will be expected, the naming convention of the files and the size of the files. Think through the questions that students might have when reading through the directions and try to address those questions by crafting well-written directions.
Utilize Peer Groups – collaboration is a new-century skill and should be encouraged as you move through the course. As the peer network starts to take form students will begin to rely on each other [the peer support network] and not rely so heavily on the instructional team. Online students often report feeling isolated and the experience does not have to be that way. Students need to learn to develop their own online support community and the instructional team can help facilitate this. Students that report feeling like a valued member of their peer community are less likely to disappear and not complete the course.
Rubrics and Examples – in an effort to minimize questions from students [and the instructional team] and reduce course anxiety share examples of assignments from previous offerings of the course…or that you have prepared yourself. For presentations, share templates of what is expected and consider including more detail within the template. Additionally, rubrics should be provided up-front…again in an effort to reduce questions and assignment anxiety. Rubrics should be provided for all assignments and discussions that are graded. Students who have access to a rubric before they begin their work and know how they are being evaluated are more likely to successfully complete their work. Rubrics also work with you and your instructional team to help ease concerns over point deductions and grades that are being awarded.
Differing Instruction – we all learn differently and the online student is no exception to this. Students need to be given different opportunities for learning. Consider using video lectures, audio lectures and different project choices. For example, a final project might be presented as a choice between a formatted paper OR a narrated presentation. Giving the students options that maintain the rigor of the project will lead to an engaging and fulfilling experience.