Recent findings indicate that higher education enrollment is being outpaced by online enrollments while overall enrollment in higher education has declined over the last three years (Betts, 2017). Data analyzed from the U.S. Department of Education confirm that enrollment in online courses in higher education has more than tripled in the years from 2002 to 2014: 2002, 1.6 million; 2014, 5.8 million (Poulin & Straut, 2016).
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
The first part of this article spent time discussing some of the less motivated student personality types I have encountered through the years, as well as providing some context to the learning environment. Distance learning (DL) presents a unique set of challenges for instructors ranging from the basics like methodologies to interact with students, to motivating students to keep pace with the curriculum and help them balance the external challenges like family and work issues; student types being part of the equation. We already discussed “After the Fact Jack,” “Intermittent Irene,” “The Winger,” and “Coat Tail Tom,” so it’s time to explore some of the other types.
I was taking advantage of some down time, cleaning out some of my old files on my computer, when I ran across a great article I saved that covered student personality types. When I originally read this article, I only had several years of experience working in the distance-learning realm. Now, years later, I have seen all these student types at one time or another, and throughout the years, noticed several others worthy of mention.
In the online class environment, students enjoy many advantages, such as increased scheduling flexibility, ability to balance work and school, classroom portability, and convenience. But there are potential shortcomings as well, including the lack of student-instructor interaction and a student not understanding the instructor’s expectations. A key mechanism to convey expectations while increasing student-instructor communication is relevant, timely, constructive, and balanced instructor feedback.
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.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but…” was the opening line of every email I received in the first week of this semester. This line was usually followed by nothing that would actually bother me: a question about the week’s materials, a link to an interesting resource, a discussion about a potential research topic, and the like. This was all despite my many attempts to ensure that students did not feel like they were imposing whenever they contacted me: a pre-semester introductory email, a video welcoming them to the course, my biography and teaching philosophy, virtual office hours, and multiple reminders about my contact information. Yet, with all of my entreaties to reach out, I was still dealing with the real issues of isolation, fear, and frustration that results in students leaving their online courses. To combat these feelings, professors—myself included—have to deliberately, consistently, and relentlessly work to build student-faculty and student-student relationships in online courses.
In their article on the effect of instructor participation in online discussion boards, Margaret Mazzolini and Sarah Maddison (2003) asked if, “online instructors [should] be encouraged to take a prominent ‘sage on the stage’ role, a more constructivist ‘guide on the side’ role, or an ultra-low profile as ‘the ghost in the wings’” when they are facilitating asynchronous discussion boards. Fifteen years later, we are still debating this same question.
Online students need to feel an instructor presence in their classes. Thorough explanations and effective communication help fulfill this need and can transform a mediocre online course into a great one—and it all starts with the syllabus.
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.
Online learning presents new challenges beyond those of a traditional classroom because students must become more responsible for their learning. Many learners are unfamiliar with the online learning environment, which may include unfamiliar technology, isolation from instructors and university staff, and a lack of face-to-face interaction other learners. As online instructors, we must give additional attention to strategies that will keep our learners engaged, create a successful learning environment, and provide a rewarding learning experience where learners feel supported, valued, and connected.