by Sandy Gambill, Senior Instructional Developer, Reinert Center
When working with professors to develop online courses, the questions I get asked most often have to do with student contact.
- How will I communicate with my students?
- How will I keep this from becoming a 24 x 7 job?
These are certainly valid concerns, especially when research shows that teaching presence is a key factor in student satisfaction in online courses. Here are 5 tips to help you help you strike a balance between students feeling like you’re not available, and you feeling like you’re teaching seven days a week.
Communicate in advance. Often we wonder how students will even know the course they signed up for will be conducted through technology such as Blackboard, much less when the course will be available. To help alleviate this confusion and get everyone on the same page, consider emailing the entire class a week or two in advance of the course beginning. You can do this through Banner or Blackboard itself without your course being open in Blackboard. Introduce yourself, remind students that they signed up for an online course, give them your contact information and the contact information for technical issues. This is also a great time to attach a syllabus if you have it ready. You can also list any books or materials needed, and tell them when you will have the course open in Blackboard.
Consistency in course layout. My goal for online courses is always to make the technology somewhat invisible so students spend time working with course concepts and activities, rather than hunting for the information they need. It probably matters less how your course will be organized (for example, a content area for each week or unit accessible from the navigation bar or files organized in folders on the homepage) than that you choose a method, explain it to students and then use it consistently throughout the course. Consider creating a short narrated video, using a tool such as Tegrity, to walk students through the course organization during the first week of class.
Take advantage of the technology to move communication from one-on-one to group. The Announcements tool in Blackboard is a good mechanism to assist with this. If one or two students email you asking the same question, chances are you’ll soon be hearing from others. The Announcement tool will let you post your answer in the Blackboard site as a permanent record, while at the same time allowing you to automatically email the announcement to every student in the class. If you are going to be unavailable for a short period of time, make an announcement so students will understand they can’t reach you.
Create a schedule for each week. One of the great things about online courses is that the boundaries of time and space dissolve. This is also one of the drawbacks in that it can be difficult for students to manage their time. If you want students to work consistently in the course, interact with each other instead of using you as the sole authority, and avoid last minute deadline scrambles, consider creating a timeframe for the course that mimics a face-to-face course. For example, a new week will always begin on Friday at 6:00 p.m., with homework or assignments from the previous week being due at that time. A mid-week deadline, worth a point or two, is also a way to keep students working at roughly the same pace and interacting with one another in the course rather than waiting until the last minute. If the week begins on Friday at 6:00 p.m., what would you like students to have completed by Monday at 6:00 p.m.? Read material they might take a quiz over? Make an initial blog or discussion post?
If you do not want to be available on Sunday or another day of the week, build that into your course schedule. Midnight or 11:59 p.m. has become a popular deadline for online courses. Consider if you want to have something due at a time you are not likely to be awake. How will students get help if they have issues?
Offer virtual office hours and review sessions. Setting up some synchronous sessions in an asynchronous course through a tool like Fuse is a good way to conduct review sessions or hold private or group meetings with students. Consider holding mandatory group or individual meetings (depending on the size of your class) during the first couple of weeks so students have an opportunity to meet you in person (virtually) and ask questions. For review sessions, ask students who can’t be online in real time to submit questions in advance to make sure everyone has their concerns addressed. You could then record the review sessions for students who are unable to attend.
If you would like to discuss how you might implement these tips or if you need other assistance in planning your online course, please contact the Reinert Center to set up an individual consultation.
Richardson, J., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in
relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction.JALN, 7(1), 68-88 (LINK)