online discussion forums September 4

Why Demand Originality from Students in Online Discussion Forums?

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As an online instructor, I require my students to engage in weekly discussion forums. In the online college environment, discussion forums are designed to simulate a professor and his or her students engaged in a traditional classroom discussion. Students respond to a question and then reply to the responses of their classmates. The point is to keep the discussion moving, keep students engaged in the topic for the week, and facilitate learning.



tips for online faculty April 20

Using Your Instructor Bio to Humanize Course, Reduce Student Anxiety

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By now we’ve all heard about the importance of faculty engagement in online courses. A faculty member who properly engages in an online classroom can boost student success, improve satisfaction, and raise retention rates. Discussions about faculty engagement tend to focus on activities like interaction in discussion boards and frequency of posting announcements. Although these actions are important, what’s overlooked in these conversations is the need to ensure students are first comfortable and prepared to participate in their classes. Let’s face it, starting a new semester can be anxiety inducing for students and the situation can be exasperated in an online environment where students can’t ease their anxiety by walking to class with a friend or seeing a welcoming smile from their instructor as they enter a classroom.


facilitating effective online discussions March 5

Seven Ways to Facilitate Effective Online Discussions

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Unlike a lot of faculty teaching today, Brian Udermann learned about the potential of online discussion boards almost by accident. It all happened about 15 years ago when he noticed the online discussion forum feature in his institution’s new learning management system and decided to set one up for his face-to-face class in health and nutrition.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” said Udermann, now director of online education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “There were no grades affiliated with it. I didn’t even create a prompt, or a question, or an activity, nothing. I just told students, ‘Hey, this is available in our class, this discussion forum thing, and if you ever want to go out there and interact with each other, you certainly can.’”

Nothing happened for about a week or so, but then one day a student posted a comment about something he found interesting from the day’s lecture. Then another student chimed in, then another. And for the rest of the semester a small group of students would drift in and out of the discussion forum, chatting about the most recent class and the things that piqued their interest.

Fast forward to 2018 and Udermann is teaching others how to facilitate effective online discussions. He knows firsthand the challenges of engaging online students and hears from faculty about the frustrations of trying to find the right balance with their online presence as well as the age-old challenge of cultivating meaningful dialogue among students.

He offers the following seven strategies for creating robust discussion board activities that students will find interesting along with helpful tips for managing instructor workload related to reading and grading posts.

1. Identify your optimal number of discussion forums.

Oftentimes, an online instructor will determine the number of required forums based on the weeks in the semester. So, by default, a 15-week course has 15 forums. That can be too much, especially during weeks where students have midterms, papers, or other large projects due.

In surveys of online students at UW-La Crosse, Udermann says they started noticing a theme about five years ago whereby students said the discussion boards sometimes feel like busywork. It’s that kind of feedback that can help faculty reconsider the structure of their discussion board requirements and reflect on what they’re really hoping to achieve.

“We always have this conversation with new instructors before they teach their first online course,” said Udermann. “Why are you using discussion forums in your class? Is it just because it’s an online class, and you think that that’s what you’re supposed to be doing? What’s the purpose? What’s the meaning? What are the students going to learn? What do you want them to achieve based upon their participation in these forums? Are your discussion forum activities tied into the student learning outcomes for the class?”

Once you have the answers to those questions and a clear purpose to each assignment, share it with your students. The reason we’re having this discussion forum this week is because ________.

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time-saving tips for teaching large classes. February 1

Time-Saving Tips for Teaching Large Online Classes

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Reduced enrollments and state budget cuts have led to increased class sizes at for-profit and nonprofit colleges and universities. “There are 2.4 million fewer college students in the United States than there were just six years ago” (Marcus, 2017). Schools must be creative in implementing strategies to remain solvent. Increasing class size is one strategy – in both on-campus and online classrooms – that allows administrators to benefit from economies of scale. However, students and faculty are negatively affected by that financial “solution” in many ways. There are multiple repercussions of increasing class size, including: decreased instructor interaction with students and provision of substantive feedback on assignments, declining student satisfaction, especially-concerning decreases in student learning, and increased instructor workload (Saiz, 2014).

The reality is, it’s impossible to devote the same time to each student in a larger class as you’re able to when there are fewer of them in the class; yet, fundamental elements of adult learning theory and online pedagogy still apply. Learning is facilitated by active instructor engagement and by the provision of timely and substantive feedback. In the online classroom, in particular, where students may feel adrift in cyberspace, instructor presence and responsiveness are critical.

How do you deliver high-quality education in classes with increased class sizes, while managing your workload within realistic time constraints? I’ve outlined below seven broad strategies to consider. Although the focus is on online education, many of these strategies could be applied in face-to-face classes as well.

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engaging online discussions January 26

How to Deepen Online Dialogue

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Many faculty members express concern that discussion in their online courses is shallow or sparse. What is it that makes meaningful dialogue so elusive in online courses?  Some practices in online course design and discussion facilitation can actually encourage superficial dialogue. Faculty grading and feedback that require too much formality of language can scare students into virtual silence, sticking to exactly what the text says or saying what they think the professor wants to hear. Focusing on lower-level writing issues, such as grammar, APA style, or academic language, takes students away from content issues toward format issues. Although faculty might expect students to use formal academic language in their essays and research papers, it is not ideal for discussion.


tips to help online faculty avoid burnout January 5

What Online Faculty Can Do to Avoid Burnout

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With the increase in online classes being offered by higher education institutions and the convenience and flexibility it affords (particularly for adult learners), it is important that institutions hire, train, and retain high-quality, student-centric online faculty. Just like on-ground students, online students need instructors who are passionate, organized, creative, and manage the (virtual) classroom effectively. Unfortunately, from time to time, online faculty can struggle with burnout, which may make them less effective instructors.


online learning November 9, 2017

What Do Students Really Want from Online Instructors?

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Over the past nine years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing approximately 200 instructors at my institution develop and teach their first online course. I’ve witnessed instructors excited by the opportunity, but I’ve also observed many who were hesitant or even fearful of teaching online.

The instructors who were hesitant or fearful often would ask: “So, what’s the secret to being a great online instructor?” I had the sense they were expecting an extensive or complex answer. Many times they were surprised by my response.

Much has been written about student satisfaction in online courses, and there certainly are a number of factors that can influence a student’s experience as an online learner—institution, discipline, level of course, peers, home life, instructor, and so on. The ideas in this article have come from three sources: my 11 years of online teaching experience, hundreds of discussions with instructors about what has and hasn’t worked in their online courses, and the research literature.

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online learning: microlectures October 23, 2017

Pause, Play, Repeat: Using Pause Procedure in Online Microlectures

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We all know the classic thought experiment involving a tree falling in the woods, but have you heard the one about online lecturing: If a faculty member posts a microlecture video to the LMS, and students view it, has learning occurred? While we may never know if a falling tree makes a sound, we can determine whether students are engaging with our microlectures by applying the principles of pause procedure.