The landscape: You have taught a class in-person for five years and due to a variety of reasons you have the option to teach it online … next semester. You need to quickly transition your in-person curriculum into a creative and successful online course. Here are five steps to get you there.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
I am not an athlete. I lack coordination and have some physical limitations. My husband, on the other hand, is an excellent skier. He isn’t a teacher but he believed I could learn to ski, convinced me to try, and partnered with me in the learning process, like the best teachers do. Learning to ski taught me 10 coaching strategies bridging four areas: establishing a safe space to learn, sharing responsibility, providing feedback, and empowering the learner. I apply these strategies to facilitating online discussions, but they relate to a range of learning contexts.
“Am I writing to myself?” That’s what I used to wonder when I first started teaching Spanish online a year ago. My learning management system, message boards, and group emails were impersonal and unresponsive—more like writing in my diary than sharing information with my students. I never knew for certain who read and understood my announcements or received an (electronic) handout or assignment directions. In the traditional, on-campus classroom, I’m a very interactive, hands-on kind of instructor, so I also went from knowing each and every one of my students by name and even a little bit about them to having nothing more than a roster with 115 names and majors. I just wasn’t satisfied, so I did something that others in the field had encouraged me not to do; I created a Facebook group for the class, and I’m not going back.
When Sheri Litt became dean of arts and sciences at Florida State College’s Open Campus, one of her priorities was to address the issue of online learner satisfaction and success. “We started looking at the data,” Litt says. “We looked at students’ comments on surveys to find out what they were disappointed with in their online courses. And a lot of comments [said, in essence,] ‘I felt my instructor didn’t care’ or ‘I felt my instructor would just log in once every six weeks’ or ‘It would take an entire semester for the instructor to grade an assignment, and [he or she] didn’t really give me any feedback so I could develop my skills.’” Based on this qualitative approach, Litt and her colleagues developed a set of best practices that have improved student motivation, satisfaction, and success.
The discussion forum is an essential part of online courses. It’s where students interact, reflect, exchange ideas, and expand their knowledge base. The quality of the discussion forum depends on the ability to develop a sense of community, the clarity of the discussion questions, and the use of a grading rubric that includes standards of performance.
Institutions of higher education are increasingly using online courses and fully-online programs as tools to increase enrollment. There are many issues surrounding the subject of online education as an enrollment strategy. For instance, attrition rates are higher in online courses and online programs than in the face-to-face environment (Carr, 2000; Moody, 2004). It has been well-established that academic and social integration are key factors influencing retention, yet many institutions do not take a systematic approach to ensuring adequate integration opportunities for online students.
Faculty members, at the front-lines of the retention issue, can help to improve student success rates by providing a sense of community in the online classroom and making meaningful interaction and student engagement a priority. Functional units of student services should work collaboratively with faculty members to expand the breadth of support for online learners, with the conviction that retention is everyone’s issue, and fostering student success is everyone’s responsibility.
The 2014 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group and co-sponsored by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), Pearson and Tyton Partners, reveals the number of higher education students taking at least one distance education course in 2014 is up 3.7 percent from the previous year. While this represents the slowest rate of increase in over a decade, online enrollment growth far exceeded that of overall higher education.
“Online teaching can be a bit of a juggling act,” says Oliver Dreon, PhD, associate professor in the School of Education at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
Instructors must be able to handle student concerns, subject material, and delivery modality to create an interesting, engaging course.
According to a recent report by the Institute of International Education, there were more than 764,400 international students enrolled in U.S. universities and colleges in 2011/2012. This was a 7 percent increase from the previous school year. International student services on campus organize social events to facilitate interaction between international and American students and provide academic support for those from non-English-speaking countries. Despite their efforts to promote diversity, the transition to American universities is still challenging for international students. Many feel homesick and experience emotional stresses due to cultural differences and have difficulty in making American friends and sustaining long-term relationships.
Careful preparation is essential to the success of an online course “to provide a positive experience for the students and to be able to maximize your time with students so that you’re not spending time on reworking things that weren’t clear up front,” says Ann Millacci, associate professor of education at the University of Cincinnati. In an interview with Online Classroom, she offered the following advice on preparing your course for your learners: