So, you’re thinking about offering virtual office hours in your online class. Your instructional designer is thrilled! Virtual office hours are a great way to promote social connection and build community with your students.
But, you’re nervous. Maybe you’ve tried offering virtual office hours before. Maybe you’ve heard from colleagues that students aren’t going to show up to your office hours. Maybe one student will show up. Maybe five. Or three. Or none. Maybe you’re not sure how to prepare. You want your students to come with questions. Maybe your students will come with tons of questions. Maybe they won’t.
Just as you can’t–or shouldn’t–teach an online course in the same way that you would teach an on-campus course, you also shouldn’t structure your virtual office hours in the same way you structure your face-to-face office hours. On-campus students already have face time with you and their peers in class. If your on-campus students come to your office hour, it’s likely because they have a question for you. Online students may have other reasons for attending your office hour. Given, not just the different modality, but the different reasons online students choose to attend an office hour, virtual office hours implemented into a primarily asynchronous online course, require thoughtful planning.
The research article, “Live Synchronous Web Meetings in Asynchronous Online Courses: Reconceptualizing Virtual Office Hours” (Lowenthal, Dunlap, & Snelson, 2017) explores how to successfully conduct online office hours in primarily asynchronous online courses. The article focuses on group office hours, but synchronous student-student and instructor-student interactions are worth considering as well. While I would encourage you to read the entire paper, I’d like to summarize some of the “implications for practice” highlighted in the article. The paper includes 21 implications for practice. Here are a few to consider for your online course:
Rebrand your office hours. For better or for worse, we all have preconceived notions about what an office hour entails. Be thoughtful about your goals for the virtual sessions, renaming them to reflect how the time will be used, the level of formality, or the structure. Examples from the research article include, “Happy Hours, Coffee Breaks, Afternoon Tea, Bat Cave…Around the Campfire….Consultations, Design Studio, Conference Room, Headquarters, and Open Space.” (188)
Schedule them in advance–ideally at the beginning of the quarter–and vary the days and times to accommodate different schedules and timezones. Providing ample notice and opportunities on various days and times is especially important as online students are often juggling home, work, and school responsibilities.
Provide reminders via email or announcements.
Prompt students for questions prior to the live sessions.
Then, record the live session. That way, students can still ask a question, have it answered, and watch later if they’re unable to attend the live session.
Post the recording in an announcement, so that it is easy to find.
Start the session with an ice-breaker.
Consider offering some brief direct-instruction or inviting a guest speaker.
Incentivize students to attend by making the experience engaging and relevant–and giving them an agenda before the session.
While virtual synchronous interaction isn’t usually required in Ecampus courses, it is an option that, when thoughtfully implemented, can enhance the teaching and learning experience. If this is an approach that you’re interested in exploring, reach out to your instructional designer, and they can help you implement it in a way that is equitable for all students.
Lowenthal, P. R.; Dunlap, J. C. & Snelson, C. (2017). Live synchronous web meetings in asynchronous online courses: Reconceptualizing virtual office hours. Online Learning 21(4), 177-194. doi: 10.24059/olj.v21i4.1285
Intake meetings, where I met instructors for the first time, is one of my favorite aspects of being an instructional designer because every meeting is so different. I especially love having first meetings in the instructor’s office and getting a glance at the books adorning their shelves, the art displayed on their walls, their projects, research, and insights on whiteboards, napkins, and notepads. Sometimes faculty come in with little to no online teaching experience and are not sure where to start; other times they have years of experience and crystal clear ideas on how they want to design their course. I really feel fortunate to work with brilliant minds from a variety of backgrounds!
But, what makes for the very best of the best intake meetings? When we really develop a relationship.
It is easy to dive right into the logistics at the intake, because instructors often have burning questions about their courses, particularly if there have been little hang ups that have been irking them. How does grading this type of assignment work in the LMS? When are the deadlines for working on the course development? Do I have to follow the Ecampus syllabus template exactly? These type of questions are important and I enjoy helping faculty get clarity, so I do, of course, make plenty of time to address them. But, the best start comes from getting to know you first!
When I get to know you and your vision for your course, I learn about your teaching style. I learn about the things that make you excited to teach and where your learners sometimes get stuck in your courses. I learn about why you use certain sorts of assessments and not others, what “keeps you awake” when you think about your course and what would make you really proud of your work when we are finished with our development.
I also learn about ways of partnering that energize you and ways that drain you, which helps me to figure out how I can best use my skills to enrich your course design. You are without a doubt the expert in your subject – frankly, intimidatingly so at times. My goal is to find an approach to collaborating that taps deeply into your expertise, while leveraging my knowledge of students, andragogy, design, online tools, accessibility, and the like.
The knowledge I bring to the table sometimes requires me to challenge you, which can be uncomfortable. I sometimes have to ask questions like, “is this an appropriate assessment for the learning outcome? Would you consider structuring this activity in another way?” I do this to advocate for students and their learning – not just to be a nuisance. Having an authentic working relationship helps us to discuss these aspects of your course openly and genuinely. There are times I need you to push back and let me know that the existing structure is important to you and why. And, there are times that I need you to trust my skills as a designer and be open to exploring a new approach.
The sooner we can get comfortable with one another, the deeper we can dive into your course and the more time we can dedicate to the optimizations that makes your course easier and more enjoyable to deploy in the long run. We are fortunate to use a two term development cycle so we have plenty of time to iron out and revisit snags that will lead to a lot less work during the actual facilitation of your course. My strongest courses come from faculty that I have met with multiple times, developed a real partnership with, and now share cohesive and motivating goals. I invite you to really “lean into” your relationship with your instructional designer – ask questions, get curious, be vulnerable, take time – your course design (and your ID) will thank you for it!
We schedule asynchronous coursework to provide flexibility for online students balancing multiple commitments. But asynchronous interaction is not ideal for achieving some learning outcomes. How can students learn to converse extemporaneously in another language, for example, through entirely asynchronous exchanges? If the outcome we want is the ability to engage in an unplanned spoken exchange between interlocutors engaged in social interaction, we can’t expect to achieve it by structuring learning experiences that are entirely self-paced, independent, and asynchronous. For this reason, many Ecampus world language courses require students to hold synchronous study sessions via videoconference software with other students who serve as conversation partners. This communicative approach to instruction provides for immersive experiences, frequent interaction in the target language, and improvisation.
The remainder of this post outlines how to structure this requirement for maximum flexibility and participation. While the focus is on application within world language courses, the general assignment protocol is applicable for facilitating synchronous study sessions in any course in which students would benefit from regular, live interaction.
During the first week, facilitate a sign-up process that matches students based on availability schedules and study habits. Allow the students to choose their own partners and to outline study session guidelines so that both parties feel respected. Provide suggested videoconference software along with alternatives, and encourage students to install and test the software in advance of their planned study sessions.
Once students have identified their study partners, require them to commit to a meeting schedule. Share the approximate dates by which their meetings should occur and give an estimate of how long students will need to meet in order to complete each assignment successfully.
As you plan a synchronous component, be cognizant of the competing demands on your students’ time. Depending on your student population, requiring even a weekly study session may be unrealistic. Also be aware that, like with any independent group activity, you will need to intervene in the case of student attrition, incompatibility, and conflict. For this reason, you might stage new partner matching twice in a term or require study groups of three students each so that no student is left without a partner or is consigned to a bad match for the entire term.
Before each synchronous assignment, prepare students to complete a clear task and then follow up to see how it went. For example, students might design a presentation on an assigned topic or play different sides of a conversation using assigned vocabulary and grammatical structures. If there is a deliverable, like the presentation, you’ll have some evidence of how well the study session went. If the deliverable is intangible, like conversation practice, consider asking students to record and submit a video of their meeting. Part of the assignment might require students to re-watch their conversation and identify several strengths and areas for improvement. This makes the recording beneficial for the student on top of its utility as a monitoring and assessment measure for the instructor. There is a limit, however, to the volume of recorded study sessions you’ll want to watch and grade, so you might also consider appealing to students’ academic honesty to ensure that the study sessions truly take place. For example, assign a periodic 1-question quiz that requires the student to attest to having met with their partner and then leave the study sessions otherwise ungraded.
Benefits and Extension to Assessment
Synchronous student study sessions allow you to capitalize on student-to-student learning. Although the language learners themselves will not be able to provide each other with entirely accurate target language input, nonetheless each partner will offer different skills and resources for resolving conversational challenges. On a practical level, the scheduling of student study sessions is usually more flexible than instructor-to-student meetings, because students can choose from a range of partners with varied schedules at the outset and then renegotiate meeting times as needed. You can then assess conversational skills developed through the study sessions using higher-stakes, synchronous social interactions that require more planning. For example, is the student able to converse synchronously in an oral exam with the instructor? What about speaking with interlocutors in their own community? Can the student talk with others online, outside the confines of the course?
At Ecampus, some instructors facilitate synchronous conversation with native speakers by connecting students to the online service TalkAbroad. The instructor provides TalkAbroad’s trained conversation partners with general instructions and then reviews the resultant conversation recordings on the TalkAbroad platform. Because students pay $10-$15 per conversation, instructors are mindful of the cost. For this reason, a TalkAbroad activity is usually a culminating assignment at the end of an Ecampus language course. The practice students have had in synchronous study sessions earlier in the term prepares them to get the most value out of the TalkAbroad assignment, and it reduces students’ anxiety about speaking with a more fluent interlocutor.
With this assignment protocol in mind, are you ready to try out synchronous student study sessions in your course? Ecampus world language instructors would be glad to discuss it with you further – asynchronously, of course! Synchronous discussion will require a bit more planning. But sometimes, that’s the only way to get the job done.
In a time when ideas and technology are rapidly changing within online education, it can be increasingly challenging to determine what students truly value and how to measure what impacts their overall success. Research has shown that online learners who are engaged with the material, intrinsically motivated, possess self-regulation, and have a positive or growth mindset have preferable outcomes – yet the correlation between these areas has not been thoroughly explored (Richardson, 2017; Diep, 2017; Sahin, 2007). Emerging from the intersection of positive psychology and higher education is a new vision for student success that encompasses these areas called thriving.
Created by Dr. Laurie Schreiner, Chair and Professor in the department of Higher Education at Azuza Pacific University, the Thriving Quotient measures the characteristics of thriving, and has been used with thousands of students in hundreds of institutions around the world. Schreiner defines thriving students as those who are “engaged in the learning process, invest effort to reach educational goals, and are committed to making a meaningful difference in the world around them” (Schreiner, 2010).
The five factors of thriving are grouped as:
Thriving students deeply value their education, possess the self-efficacy and determination to persist towards their long term goals, feel connected to their institution, faculty, and other students, and want to make a positive impact on the world. While all five factors of thriving are connected and crucial to student success, the area that instructors and instructional designers may most directly impact is Social Connectedness. Social connectedness refers to the support networks we build, the relationships that are cultivated, and how connected we feel to our community. Social connectedness can span the areas of student to student connection, student to instructor connection, and student to administrator connection. Student interaction with other students and instructors has been determined to be fundamental to their experience as an online learner (Symeonides, 2015; Rust, 2015; Vianden, 2015; Cole, Shelley, Swartz, 2014; Allen, 2008).
Within this context of social connectedness, the research on social presence and creating a sense of belonging contribute to the understanding of how relationships may contribute to online student satisfaction. In Jörg Vianden’s study on what matters most to students, students were asked to report on their most satisfying and dissatisfying experiences. For both categories, they focused primarily on their interpersonal relationships (Vianden, 2015). In regards to how these impacted students’ interactions, the most common dissatisfaction regarding faculty relationships was disrespect and unresponsiveness. Students not only desire positive relationships with their faculty, staff, and peers, but it is exceedingly important in predicting their academic outcomes. Social presence and connection with others was found to be exceedingly important in predicting student satisfaction and perceived learning (Richardson, 2017). The connection is even furthered with the assertion that social presence should be the foundation of critical thinking and learning objectives for students (Garrison & Akyol, 2013).
What does all of this mean for instructors?
As an instructor, you are often the primary and most valued relationship and connection that an online student will have in their education. While students have additional support from academic advisors, student success professionals across departments, and other student-facing roles, these individuals will not have the daily interaction and impact that an instructor has with their students. In partnership with instructional designers, instructors have the ability to positively create spaces for connection through teaching preferences, course design, resource choices, and communication policies.
Some common guidelines for creating connection within your classroom include:
Utilizing videos or screencasts so that students can feel more connected to their instructors and create a more welcoming and personal environment
Responding to student inquiries in discussion boards and by e-mails in a timely manner
Completing grades for assignments promptly so that students feel comfortable with knowing their progress and any adjustments that might be needed
Providing opportunities for students to connect with their instructor and one another using tools such as videos in the discussion forums, FlipGrid, or WebEx/Zoom conferencing for recordings and lectures.
Below are some comments from our most recent student survey that speak to the importance of connectedness for online learners.
“I would encourage professors to hold an optional “live” WebEx meeting with their classes at the beginning of each term. This would help build a better connection between the students and teachers and allow students to ask any questions they might have about the course ahead of time.”
“Don’t be afraid to communicate with your teachers. They are usually very accommodating and sincerely wish to help you achieve academic success.”
Please know that you can always reach out to the Ecampus Success Counselors with questions or to refer students that may be struggling or not participating. We appreciate the great work you are continually doing and value the critical role you hold in educating, guiding, and empowering our online students.
One of the common ideas instructors have to bolster student-content engagement in a course is to add media. Podcasts are a type of media element that can support learning in a number of ways. It is relatively easy to link to an established podcast. Planning and producing your own podcast is more involved. This post explores the idea of producing a podcast for your online course. Is it something you should consider?
Prior to diving into the value and purpose of podcasts it is useful to understand what a podcast is…and what it isn’t.
The term podcast is a portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcast”. This blended word says a lot because a podcast is a digital recording that is produced for distribution to a computer or mobile device (e.g., the iPod in 2005). Podcasts are distributed via RSS feeds that users subscribe to. Podcast directories, like iTunes®, allow users to find and subscribe to a podcast. Generally podcasts are episodic and often serial in nature with new episodes delivered automatically to subscribed users as the new content becomes available.
So, you can see a course podcast is more than an audio or video file embedded in an online course that students click on to engage with. In its ideal form, a podcast is a method of delivering course content to a learner’s mobile device via the podcast subscription process. Learners can engage with that content at any time and any place they have their mobile device.
Audio, Video, or Enhanced Podcasts
There a three primary formats of podcasts. Links to examples of each type of podcast are provide at the end of this article.
Audio: This type of podcast distributes digital audio files to listeners
Video (vodcast): This podcast type distributes a digital video file to podcast watchers.
Enhanced: The enhanced podcasts distributes a media file that displays images synchronized with audio.
Instructional Use & Value
With mobile devices pervasive in college audiences, being able to distribute educational content to those devices is very attractive. The use of podcasts in online learning environments is common and spans many disciplines (Supanakor-Davila & Bollinger, 2014). Podcasting has also been applied in traditional college courses (McGarr, 2009) and in graduate teaching (Luna & Cullen, 2011). Fernandez, Sallan and Simo (2015) recognized podcasting as a major phenomenon in education with the primary purpose being the distribution of course content.
The purpose of podcasts in instruction varies by podcast type and author. Podcasts can be used to inform, provide analysis, develop skills and knowledge, motivate, mediate and more (Carvalho et al., 2009). Common types of podcasts produced for educational use include:
Informative: Description fo concepts, analysis, synthesis, readings etc.
Feedback: Audio or video feed back for student work or group work.
Guides: Helpful media content addressing field or practical work, studying, group dynamics and reflective or experiential learning.
Authentic: Original media contend such as news, interviews, radio programming and others.
The production of podcasts can be faculty, student, or outside expert driven. Like any good media production it should have excellent production value and a structure to hold attention and enhance learning. Since podcasts are serial in nature shorter media segments are encouraged. Episodes of 15 minutes or less will likely promote better engagement with podcast content. Although a very engaging podcast can be longer.
The benefits of podcasts in online courses are tied to the nature of the media and distribution process. Audio podcast are popular because they can be listened to while doing other tasks. Additionally the speed of media playback can be controlled by the listener. Video podcasts are ideal when visual support is necessary to foster understanding of the course content. As mobile media podcasts may be used to facilitate and support remote field work by students or even tours of remote places. The ability to watch or listen to podcasts via WiFi or downloaded and used on-demand makes podcast a convenient asynchronous media adjunct to an online course.
So, as a course content delivery mechanism podcasts are a unique tool if applied thoughtfully. Understanding podcast types, formats, and their delivery mechanism helps you make better decisions about podcast application.
Accessibility Making content accessible when using podcast requires some planning and also reflects the nature of the podcast media you plan to use. For audio podcasts it is important to provide transcripts to support all learners.
Video podcasts are best paired with well synchronized captions. When planning video podcast you may also want to think about providing audio descriptions of content that provides important information that is shown as a visual in the video.
Podcast Consumers: Is This Your Audience?
This is an important question. If you produce a podcast are learners likely to engage with it? Is podcasting on the radar of potential learners? The Edison Research survey on The Podcast Consumer (2018) indicates that 26% of those surveyed listen to podcasts monthly. The podcasting audience by age shows that 30% of 12-24 year olds, 32% of 25-54 year olds, and 13% of 55 + year olds have listened to a podcast in the last month. Male and female listeners are about evenly split in podcast engagement. Smartphone and other mobile devices make up 76% of podcast listening devices with computers making up 24% of podcast engagement. The top three locations of podcast engagement are at home (82%), followed by in a car/truck (54%), and walking or on foot (41%). Podcasting seems well suited to reach audiences that are remote, mobile, and consume media in an asynchronous fashion. These are also common descriptors of online learning audiences.
A Podcast For Your Course?
If a podcast sounds interesting to you contact your instructional designer at Ecampus. They can help you understand more about this mobile media opportunity and help think through strategies for effective podcast use. They will also work with Ecampus multimedia developers to help facilitate the production and distribution of your podcast.
So, what do you think? Can you imagine your students engaging with course content as a podcast? Could a podcast work in your online course?
Enhanced podcasts are best viewed on a mobile device although they can be viewed in iTunes once downloaded.
Prior to 2017 educational podcasts were distributed by Apple via iTunes U. With changes in iTunes educational podcasts now appear in the podcast section of iTunes and iTunes U was discontinued.
Carvalho, A. A., Aguiar, C., Santos, H., Oliveira, L., Marques, A., & Maciel, R. (2009). Podcasts in higher education: Students’ and lecturers’ perspectives. In A. Tatnall & A. Jones (Eds.), Education and technology for a better world (pp. 417-426). Boston: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. doi:10.1007/978-3- 642-03115-1_44.
Fernandez, V.; Sallan, J.; Simo, Pep. Past, present, and future of podcasting in higher education. In L., Many & Y. Zhao (Eds.). Exploring learning & teaching in higher education pp. 305-330. Berlin: Springer, 2015,.
Luna, Gaye, & Cullen, Deborah. (2011). Podcasting as Complement to Graduate Teaching: Does It Accommodate Adult Learning Theories? International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education,23(1), 40-47.
McGarr, Oliver. (2009). A Review of Podcasting in Higher Education: Its Influence on the Traditional Lecture. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology,25(3), 309-321.
Supanakorn-Davila, S., & Bolliger, D. (2014). Instructor Utilization Of Podcasts In The Online Learning Environment. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching,10(3), N/a.
Many educators have contemplated the use of games as way to engage learners, or maybe thought about using some elements found in games to engage learners. A big hurdle for integrating games into a course is the amount of work it takes to build them to use in a course, even if you have the skill-set. Of course, you could always take the easier route and try to integrate an existing game into a course. The hurdles there involve cost and finding a game that supports the content specific to your course. There is another approach to bring game concepts into the learning environment that does not necessitate a huge investment of time, combining game design with problem-based learning.
Create activities in your course that have learners design and contextualize the content of a game. You set the rules and mechanics of how the game will work, your students design how the content fits into that game. No one has to actually program or build a game. The idea is to use game mechanics as a tool to get learners to think about instructional material and how concepts inter-relate.
So where do you begin? Start with what you know. What are your favorite games? These don’t have to be a computer or video game. Think about puzzles, board games, or card games that you have enjoyed. Are there elements of how the game works (mechanics) that can be applied to your course content? Do some ‘research’ (this is the fun part). There is something of a board game renaissance going on right now offering a boggling variety of board and card games. These cover a range of concepts, from pandemics to book collecting. The board game Chronology offers a simple mechanic that can lend itself to a variety of topics. The game works as the name implies.
Remember, you don’t have to provide the rules for an entire game. Keep the activity focused on one element of a game that you can apply to content appropriate for your course and that supports the given learning objectives. Keep the rules simple.
One of my favorite games is Sid Meier’s Civilization V. The purpose of the game is to build a ‘historical’ civilization from the ground up. A key element of the game is researching and building technology. In order to be successful at building technology and move your civilization forward, you have to understand how technologies are inter-related and build on each other. You can’t just research gun powder, for example, but have to first research and develop all of the underlying technologies to get there.
The above image should be familiar to anyone who has used timelines, production trees or flowcharts. You may already be using something like this in your course. Game design can simply be a way to engage learners in developing these tools.
A big strength of using Project-Based Learning in this way is that it doesn’t require a lot of time to set up and the project can easily be managed with tools that already exist in your LMS, using student Groups, or something as simple as shared Google docs. How far you want to push learner creativity in the design is up to you and the needs of your course.
Here at Ecampus, we are lucky to have a marvelously creative Media Development Team who would be able to help build supporting material for your ideas. Depending on the complexity of the game you propose, it may even be possible to put your learners’ work into a game ‘shell’ that would result in a working version of the game. This, in turn, could be used as a study tool.
Discussion forums are commonly used to generate interaction among students, and research shows that higher-level thinking is possible. But all too often discussion prompts can be stale and unimaginative.
Learning by Reflection
Several Ecampus math classes are using discussion prompts in a creative way to help students develop meta-cognitive skills related to their learning. The first is a reflection activity. After the assignment is graded, the instructor releases an answer key so students can look back at their work. “Learning from our mistakes, we start to understand what we are doing properly and what we are doing improperly,” explains the instructor in the purpose statement for the reflection forum.
This is an effective activity and, from the instructor’s perspective, easy to implement. Students review the solutions and compare against their answers, looking to see where their solution differs from the correct answer. For their discussion post, students are asked to respond in one of three ways:
For questions answered incorrectly, or where they struggled with a particular problem, students are to post why the solution makes sense.
If, after seeing the correct answers, students are still confused about a problem or the solution’s explanation, they should ask questions about what is unclear.
And for those students got the answers right, they discuss which problem was most challenging and describe the specific tasks, tools, or resources they used to get it right.
Creative Connecting and Sharing
The second creative discussion assignment from this class is a photo hunt, where students identify examples of math found in the everyday world, as well as connecting them with their peers.
This is a college algebra course. Students are required to learn, draw and recognize various algebraic functions in graphic form. The purpose of the photo hunt is to “apply learning in the real world to gain deeper connections between the content and our prior knowledge.” Students take and upload an original photo that fits the discussion topic. For example, these are the instructions for the Family of Functions forum. “Find a curve in your everyday life and discuss what function it looks like to you and what family it would belong to. What properties does your function have? What is the domain and range of the function in your picture? What do you find interesting about the curve in your picture?”
Students share photos and address the questions in their original post, which helps them connect with peers. As an example of how to satisfy this assignment, the instructor posted this message and image.
Math is All Around Us
I snuck a peek at some of the student posts and they were inspiring! The students were completely engaged, finding pictures of common, everyday things, including bookcases, steer horns, a slingshot, fallen trees, bicycle seats, a dolphin at Sea World, kitchen faucets, a cattle brand, artwork, Grand Central Station in NYC, flower petals, a tea kettle handle, roof tops, a baseball field, a candle snuffer, Hawaiian tide pools…even pets! And those are just from one of the four photo hunt assignments! Since these students are from a variety of geographic locations in rural and urban areas, the photos represent a diverse and compelling range of creative and stimulating examples. Math is everywhere!
Be Bold, Be Creative
As you can see from these two examples, discussion forums in an online course can be creative, fun, unique and engaging. Think about if there are ways to include images or graphic representations relevant for your discipline. With cell phones and video readily at hand for many students, it’s an easy way to get them involved and actively engaged.
By Susan Fein, Instructional Designer, email@example.com
References & Photo Credits
Christopher, M. M., Thomas, J. A., & Tallent-Runnels, M. K. (2004). Raising the Bar: Encouraging High Level Thinking in Online Discussion Forums. Roeper Review, 26(3), 166-171.
MTH 111, OSU Ecampus, courtesy of Dan Rockwell and Katy Williams
With excitement and a bit of apprehension I logged in to my first ever online class. Sure, I’ve taught online classes for years, but this was my first time as a student in an online class that I had paid to take and where grades were given.
I reviewed the “Start Here” module and familiarized myself with the structure of the class before I opened the first lecture from my new instructor. The instructor’s voice came through my speakers and as she began to speak I noted the length of the lecture: 44 minutes. “What?!? I don’t have time for this,” I thought as I slammed my laptop shut. It suddenly and powerfully occurred to me that I did not have control over this classroom and my expectations as a student might be vastly different from my instructor’s.
Eventually, I settled in to the rhythm of the class and my instructor’s expectations. As it turns out, that 44 minute lecture was an outlier (the rest were closer to 15 minutes), and I figured out a way to incorporate the lectures into my schedule (I watched them while on the spin bike).
The Needs of the Online Student
As a working parent, trying to balance family, work, and school obligations, I am the target customer for online education, and I certainly felt the “squeeze” of all these obligations competing for my time. Like many of my students, my days are jam-packed and most of the time, I am scheduled to the minute. Uncertainties can throw my well-planned schedule into turmoil… “Wow, that reading took longer than I expected. No, I can’t participate in a live webinar or meet for a group project at 3pm. I have to pick up kids from school. Darn, this link is broken and the instructor hasn’t responded to my questions about it…now I’ve lost my window for working on this project. My dog died today, and while I had to go to work and had to make dinner, I just don’t have it in me to watch a class lecture and take a quiz. I’m too sad…can I have an extension?”
Meeting Our Students Where They Are
I ended up taking several classes from several instructors over the course of a year. Being a student in these classes exposed me to a number of different teaching styles and techniques and strategies, and I was able to experience these things from a student point of view. Based on my experience, here are 4 strategies for instructors that your students might find helpful:
Provide time estimates for weekly activities. Estimated read times and watch times for learning materials are very helpful for a busy student trying to plan the week.
Chunk the material. As an online student, I rarely had long chunks of time to work on my classes, but I could squeeze in smaller chunks of time here and there. And while students can start and stop a task as needed in the online classroom, it’s rewarding to actually finish a task in one sitting.
Make it easy to find class resources. In the online classroom there are many wonderful learning materials we can easily incorporate (e.g., links to blogs, videos, calculators); but when these resources are scattered throughout 10 learning modules, they can be difficult for the student to find. Provide a works cited page (with hyperlinks) or a glossary of key terms to help students locate material, especially when studying for exams.
Anticipate Questions. This might be tough the first time you teach a course, but over time we often see the same questions arising from our students. We can reduce the delay in response time, by anticipating these questions and providing answers and support ahead of time. This could be a Q&A sheet for complex assignments or a guided worksheet with comments from the instructor to help students get through well-known tricky spots.
The flexibility of the online classroom gives busy students around the world access to educational opportunities that have not been available in the past. These students are working hard in every aspect of their lives and with a little support from us, their online instructors, we can help them make the most of the time they have in order to learn and grow.
?Meet Libby: a ground-breaking ebook reader and a beautiful audiobook player to read any book from your local library.
??Vuforia Chalk: Vuforia Chalk makes it easy when troubleshooting or expert guidance is needed for situations not covered in training or service manuals.
?Lingrotogo: language learning app. LingroToGo is designed to make time devoted to language learning as productive and enjoyable as possible. (The difference between this app and other language learning app is that it is based on educational theory, the developers claim.)
???Studytree: StudyTree analyzes students’ grades and behavioral patterns to construct customized recommendations to improve their academic performance. Additionally, StudyTree serves advisors and administrators by providing them managerial access to the application, which enables insight to useful statistics and an overview of each student’s individual progress.
?Nearpod: Synchronize and control lessons across all student devices
Flipgrid: video for student engagement (recently purchased by Microsoft, not sure if any feature will change soon).
Marcopolo: face-to-face messaging app for one-to-one and group conversations—bringing family and friends closer than ever with genuine conversations and moments shared. It could be used for student mock interviews and direct messaging within a group.
2018 Ecampus Faculty Forum concluded a month ago. However, I am still fascinated by the dedicated quality work our selected online instructors have showcased that day. You can access recorded sessions and view SlideDecks here.
Horticulture instructor Betsey Miller cares deeply about how to provide quality instructor feedback to students who truly want instructor feedback in peer review assignment , trying several rounds of three different ways of keeping students engaged and providing quality feedback
creating personal introduction to difficult topics
getting to know students by downloading roster, identifying where students are residing (off campus, on campus, etc.), special information about particular students from week 1 student introduction discussion forum activity; and put herself out there (so students can see her face, hear her voice through course intro video, weekly intro video, lecture videos, audio clips, etc. )
staying present during the week with timely announcements
providing regular and detailed feedback
College of Business instructor Nikki Brown shared her discoveries of what helps her as an online student when she took a fully online training certificate:
Lectures: notes and transcripts help greatly and she poses a question for online instructors to ponder: what is the point of your lecture?
Textbook vs no textbook: if there is no textbook used, please make sure all the resources are easy to find and are listed in one easy-to-find location as well.
Engage her online students by showing results of opinion polls to the whole class and showing how class performance curves so students know where they stand in the class as compared to their fellow classmates anonymously.
Estimated weekly reading time and estimated completion time for each assignment help students budget/plan study time efficiently.
With the help of Ecampus media developers, Statistics instructor Katie Jager helps all her students succeed in learning by creating visualization models and simulations of statistical applets. Computer Science instructor Terry Roaker uses reflective journals to help students practicing high level critical thinking and evaluating skills.
The lunch time keynote speaker, Professor Kevin Gannon, gently persuades us to design for accessible, equitable and dialogic learning, with a lens of inclusive pedagogical perspective.
Together with an interactive ball-passing course design challenge and solutions exchange activity, Ecampus instructional designers’ pedagogy session introduced audience to 12 common pedagogical approaches and listed over 20 approaches and their examples (link to pedagogy and for teaching strategy examples and resources on pedagogy and learning design strategies.
Jen Beamer from School of Biological and Population Health Sciences and Christine Kelly from College of Engineering shared their success recipe for facilitating engaging role play and debate in online discussion forum.
History instructor Nick Foreman and Ecampus media developer Mark Kindred presented their learner-generated content activity: timeline of Food Origins.
If you are exploring online teaching strategies in any of the above areas, feel free to reach out to the instructors who have presented at Faculty Forum. I am sure they would love to share more in detail with you on the specifics of how they made it work for their online courses.