Addressing the Unique Needs of Your Students

Why are you interested in improving your courses and instruction?

That was the question posed to attendees to kick off the online seminar Five Steps to Improve Your Online Courses and Instruction by presenter Dr. Patti Shank. Most of the respondents selected as their answers “to better support students” or “I hope this will reduce some of the hassles of teaching online.” A few of the more honest ones chose “I’m expected to do this” and a couple more came because they “need to address specific problems.”

In other words, despite the mainstreaming of online education, course improvement efforts are never ending, says Shank. There’s always something to improve upon, something new to try, and something that used to work, but for some reason fails miserably with your current group of students.

While not discounting the importance of what Shank terms “global metrics” — those universal best practices such as turn-around times on student queries, online etiquette, etc. — it’s likely that your students and your courses have a few unique needs that aren’t satisfied by these broader guidelines.

For example, if a lot of your students travel for work, they may need a little more flexibility. If you teach a course like statistics that intimidates some students, you may want to address those fears at the start of the course. If you’re teaching a lot of online neophytes, you may need to spend a little extra time letting them practice using the course management system (CMS) and its various tools.
To obtain this insight, Shank recommends using a variety of informal tools, including brief student surveys, IM/chat, social media networking, and course usage data pulled from the CMS. More often than not, you’ll get more ideas for course improvements than you can possibly implement, but by balancing the needs of your students, your institution and yourself you will be able to make changes that better engage and retain your online students.