Why should I care about humanizing online learning?
First of all, the United States Department of Education requires regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty in distance learning courses (Policy from DOE & interpreting the Policy from DOE).
Secondly, it is well documented that instructor-student interactions and quality and timely instructor feedback in online learning are prominent faculty behaviors that impact student retention and student satisfaction of online learning (Riedel, Dinauer, Jobe, Lenio, And Walsh, 2016; Bawa, 2016; Shaw, Burrus, Ferguson, 2016; Boling, Hough, Krinsly, Saleem and Stevens, 2012; Liaw, 2008).
How do we humanize online learning?
Think of the task for humanizing your students’ online learning experience as building a house. And there are three major pillars to this house, namely, Presence, Empathy and Awareness.
Here are a few strategies for building/improving online instructor presence:
- Instructor self-introduction video/message/page
- Weekly message to students through announcements, emails, weekly overview pages, weekly video, etc.
- Discussion forum interactions with students (greet each student in first week’s class introduction discussion, pop in whenever appropriate to confirm, compliment, encourage, redirect, etc.
- Comments in grades center and encourage students to take action on your comments (revise writing and resubmit; study and retake quizzes, etc. )
- Communicate to your students as a whole group, in a small group, or individually whenever appropriate.
For improving online instructor empathy, it is as simple as 1 and 2:
- Admit your vulnerability: “I am new to online teaching. I welcome your honest feedback to help me improve this course so we can all have a meaningful learning experience.” “I am human. I make mistakes. help me if you spot one.”
- Clear reasonable communication policy for the online course: “I am human. I have a life besides my online teaching. I will respond to students questions within 48 hour business day. Do not expect me to respond to you late hours or 20 minutes before an assignment is due.”
Fuller (2012) summarizes eight themes for building empathy in online teaching:
- Theme 1. Instructors provide a “tips for online course success” document prior to class beginning.
- Theme 2. Empathetic interactive instructors use synchronous chat rooms, besides the asynchronous announcements and email communications and discussion forum postings.
- Theme 3. Instructors used a conversational tone.
- Theme 4. Interaction is promoted through careful facilitation in the discussion boards.
- Theme 5. Empathetic presence is practiced. Instructors related that they practice the use of presence so students know the instructor is there but more so than this. This is accomplished through selective discussion board postings, but also through frequent email contacts individually and to the group, usually responding within the same day or a few hours of an email.
- Theme 6. Design “think forward type lessons” that offer clarity for student understanding. Instructors provide a high degree of redundancy and consistency of structure so concepts and instructions are clear. Lessons and modules are laid out similarly from week to week, so students get used to a consistent easy to follow format that allows them to focus on content and not waste time figuring out what to do or where to go in the LMS. Each weekly format allows the students to think ahead as to what is expected and required for success and learning to occur.
- Theme 7. Instructors will frequently check that learning is occurring and that students understand structure by opening up a dialogue about an area or issue as they deem needed (i.e. formative assessment).
- Theme 8. Instructors make a personal connection at the start of class. ” In the opening introductions (as students introduce themselves to the group through a discussion board) I make a concerted effort to respond to each student’s posting making a positive personal connection with something the student posted.”
Several strategies for building awareness in online courses:
- Survey students at the start of term: what can I do to help you be successful in this course? Do you have personal challenges that might hinder you from successful completion of the course?
- Through formative assessments
- At the end of each assessments (summary; Just-in-time teaching; Personalized teaching)
A Simple Step To Begin Humanizing Online Learning
Take a few minutes and watch these vivid examples of Oregon State University online instructor introductions.
Do you want to make a brief video introduction to your online students? Ecampus Course Development and Training Unit can help. Contact us today.
Fuller, R. G. (2012). Building empathy in online courses: effective practical approaches. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education. 8.4. (October – December 2012): p38
Pacansky-Brock, M. (2017). Humanizing Online Learning.Retrieved from http://page.teachingwithoutwalls.com/cihumanize
Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2011). The excellent online Instructor: strategies for professional development. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Riedel, E., Dinauer, L., Jobe, R., Lenio, J., and Walsh, L. (2016). Faculty behaviors and characteristics that impact student retention in online graduate programs at two universities. Online learning Consortium Accelerate Conference presentation, November 2016.
Sher, A. (2009). Assessing the relationship of student-instructor and student-student interaction to student learning and satisfaction in Web-based Online Learning Environment. Journal of Interactive Online Learning. Volume 8, No. 2.