The Online Experience for Students

Whether teaching fully online, hybrid, or in-person classes it is common for faculty to make clear course expectations. This is particularly important when teaching fully online as you don't have the personal connection (including body language) available to you when you meet in person to reinforce expectations, requirements, and deadlines. In addition to the straightforward requirements of the course and expectations you have of students, it is more important than it might seem that faculty go to considerable lengths to prepare students for the online experience. Many students quite simply have not developed the self-discipline needed to succeed in an online course.

Each facuty member will chart their own course on this issue. Some ideas from other faculty and staff may be useful to consider or they may spark new ideas of your own.

Get off to a good/clear start

  • Have an initial synchronous class session (e.g., via web conferencing) to establish your presence/identity as an instructor in the course (they get to see your face and hear your voice) and to orient your students with respect to your course. Explicitly state your expectations in the course, including coursework, discussion postings, due dates, how much time they need to spend each week, etc.
  • Clearly describe the profile of students who have been successful in your course (the ones who will get As, for example) - noting those that are consistently engaged in the course (e.g., posting answers to discussion board questions early and often, spending x number of hours per week logged in, etc.) are more likely to succeed.
  • Consider using an ice-breaker activity early in the course.
  • Well before the first assignment is due and/or a quiz/exam is scheduled demonstrate how to submit work through the assignment page in Canvas and how to take a quiz/exam in Canvas. The demonstration can be done during a synchronous meeting or can be a recorded video that you post on your Modules page in Canvas.

Faculty engagement can nurture student engagement

  • Establish a strong online presence
  • Let students know that you are active - use your message boards - reading, reviewing, and responding to posts
  • Use the student access report to analyze student involvement and message/communicate with those that are not active
  • Meet with the group as a class via Blackboard Collaborate tool within Canvas or WebEx
  • Keep online office hours via Blackboard Collaborate tool in Canvas, WebEx, Skype, .... Whatever you are most comfortable with

Give students formative feedback on their mastery of course content

  • Provide self-assessment activities (non-graded) at frequent intervals throughout the course so that they can test their mastery of course content along the way and before graded quizzes/exams.
    • Open the self-assessment for a specific period to help ensure that they test themselves along the way rather than cram at some point before an exam.
  • Make log-in activity a part of their grade and check the student access report (shows when they logged in, how long, what pages they accessed, etc.). Communicate with those not engaged.
  • Following activities that are scored (whether practice quizzes, graded quizzes, or exams) contact at a minimum those who score below an acceptable value as well as those who did particularly well. Canvas has a very good tool (within the gradebook) for filtering to make this very manageable for you.
  • Canvas has good tools for summarizing/analyzing scores following graded quizzes/exams. Collective feedback on the discussion board or during a synchronous meeting along with advice where areas weak and compliments where particularly strong can help individuals adjust their approach without having been singled out.

Structure your Canvas Materials

  • Do not underestimate the importance of providing a simple one-stop-shop structure to your canvas materials. On the modules page it is critical that weekly activities, readings, assignments, .... be listed clearly, consisely, and in the order students should tackle them.
  • On the fly posting of information in multiple locations in Canvas is a recipe for disaster. Plan ahead. Know what you want to accomplish each week and put all the information students will need in one location - the modules page. Yes, you may need to modify, update, and/or add information along the way. However, don't make that the norm.
  • In addition to the weekly modules, pull together important resources scattered across the weeks. For example, over ten weeks you might assign twelve articles they need to read. Create one page with all the readings and put it in a separate section above the weekly modules. This will help students readily find the articles without checking through the weekly modules to find what they are looking for. Yes this is duplication; as it turns out it's quite valuable in an online course.

Repetition Matters - consider:

  • Before the semester even begins, contact all enrolled students via mysjsu with a heads up that the course is fully online and provide some guidance on the time they will need to invest as well as any other details that communicate what is needed for them to be successful in an online environment. This has to include the fact that they need a reliable internet connection, computer access, and strong computing skills. You could also direct them to the spartans online page regarding online learning:
  • At the very beginning of your first synchronous meeting reinforce the need for self-discipline and engagement. At the end of the session repeat key points regarding your expectations, what's needed on their end, and what resources are available to help them.
  • Periodically remind students where they are in the course, what they should be working on, where they should be posting information, and how to submit work. There may be other items you will add to this reminder list, but this is a start.