Anyone who teaches online has run into problems within their courses. Some of these problems can be complicated and if not correctly resolved can do major damage to the online instructor’s reputation and opportunity for teaching future courses. This month’s column tackles the worst of these.
While other forms of visual presentations have cropped up—such as Prezi and Empressr—PowerPoint remains the presentation software of choice. Yet many folks develop PowerPoint presentations without fully understanding all components of the software and/or presenter tricks that could make for much more effective PowerPoint presentations.
Student engagement is a popular topic and the overwhelming majority of the information on this topic is concentrated on the big issues of keeping students engaged, such as the importance of faculty presence in the classroom, adhering to deadlines and responding to students in a timely manner, and giving thorough feedback on assignments.
Discussion boards are often viewed as the heart of online courses, and for good reason: the students can interact with one another 24/7, sharing, debating, and offering ideas, insights, suggestions, and information that stimulate the learning process. Yet challenges do happen in discussion, and these can be formidable. Left alone, they can quickly limit the effectiveness of any discussion and create problems throughout the online course.
Resources—that amalgam of nearly anything and everything related to the subjects we teach and offered to our students as “extras”—give students a broader, deeper, and enhanced understanding of what they are being taught. Resources come in a variety of forms and often reflect our deep interest in our specialties. Sharing them in the online classroom gives students a better learning experience.
On Tuesday, I provided general suggestions on course-based grading expectations practices. Here I share some ideas for grading specific assignments. Use a bank of comments that are precise, detailed, and clear. The smart online educator is the one who has a bank of comments from which he/she can draw on to give students feedback on any number of items in the course. But there are two important items here that will make these precast comments most effective: 1) Have comments point out not only when something is wrong but also why it is wrong and how to get it right. In this manner, each comment becomes a mini teacher’s aide in the assignment. 2) Adjust (personalize) any comment as is necessary when your comment as written does not exactly match the problem you see in the student’s assignment. This way each comment is a perfect fit for the error, allowing the student to learn more fully.
Students know that in any online course assignments will be required, and students expect the online educator to read the assignments and give feedback that can help them improve their understanding of the subject and improve grades on future assignments in the course. All instructors give feedback—but there is an approach to grading assignments that is merely okay, and another that involves grading mini lessons in the subject matter while also motivating the students to do better. It is this latter approach that must be practiced so that the student can do the maximum learning in the online environment.
Online instructors are hired because they are judged as having the right combination of education, teaching experience, content expertise, and professional accomplishments. But once an instructor is in the classroom, these abilities and achievements can go only so far. There also must be a constant injection of personality.
The list of technological add-ons to enhance our teaching efforts seems to be endless and growing. Yet as these add-ons continue to grow in use, a problem has also begun to surface: the online instructor who relies on these “cool” apps and software so heavily that he or she begins to neglect the basics of teaching.
No matter how much we embrace and enjoy online teaching, the human frailties of mistakes, disappointment, anger, frustration, and oversights will come calling each time we teach a class. And when any of these happen we can respond with an emotional and unchecked action—never good—or we can accept that these negatives will always be part of our online teaching efforts and learn how to deal with them in a sensible, appropriate manner. What follows are the most common of the negative issues one will find when teaching online.