Checklist for moving course online

A Checklist for Moving Your Course Online

A checklist is absolutely essential to moving a face-to-face course online. Not only does it help the instructor conceptualize their course in an online environment, it helps the instructional designer see what needs to be done. Here is a simple guide to preparing to move your courses online.

Topics to consider

Course length/timeframe

Most courses run the length of a semester, but this does not always translate directly to an online format. For instance, you may have 30 minutes of instruction in a course session followed by class activity and homework. Students are then given activities and readings to do outside of class that support the lecture. By contrast, in an online course, the “lecture” need not be the center of instruction, but more of a means to guide students to the concepts they will learn through other material. In my online business courses, I like to first provide students with relevant practical materials to dive in and see the concepts in action. I then use my lecture as a way to wrap-up and highlight what was learned in the module.

Course objectives

In many cases, there are fewer course objectives for online courses, in that material is chunked to keep students from becoming overwhelmed. Review current course objectives and make a note of which topics contain the most and the least number of objectives. Also, make a note of which topics/modules/sessions contain objectives that are often difficult for your students.

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female student at computer

Ways to Improve Relationships in Online Classes

Establishing a healthy learning environment is key to teaching. But opportunities for making personal connections and relationships with students are greatly reduced in online classes. Thus, online instructors need to make a special effort to foster relationships in their online courses.

Start class with a live meeting

I always begin my classes with a live Adobe Connect meeting. I use my webcam, which allows students see my face, hear my voice, and have an opportunity to get to know me as person. I share a little about my life, including the seven-year-old child I have who will occasionally (supposedly accidentally) pop his head in during the middle of class.

Prior to that meeting, I have students post a little about themselves (including a picture) in a discussion board in our LMS. This lets me use that information to make connections with students in the meeting. For example, I mentioned that a student’s superintendent had been my principal in one of my first administrative positions.

In addition to providing my background, I review the course assignments and explain them in greater detail. I often set up polls in Adobe Connect to determine what time students prefer to meet, if a specific activity was beneficial, if they are interested in learning more about a topic, etc. Students appreciate the opportunity to get to know the professor, ask questions about the course structure, and learn from the questions of others. These live meetings are recorded, and those unable to attend are able to watch the recording when it is convenient for them.

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Rejuvenating online discussions

Rejuvenating Online Discussions

When you picture an online discussion, your mind most likely envisions a text-heavy, threaded exchange of ideas among students who are primarily responding to an instructor’s prompt and then persuaded by the promise of points to respond to each other. Depending on a number of factors, the discussion can be dynamic, or it can fall flat. Because discussion forums are one of the most popular and frequently used technological tools in online and blended courses, instructors must take the time to ensure these discussions are effective.

Our simple model proposes a structure to help rejuvenate online discussions in three steps: prepping, discussing, and assessing. Prepping is an important and sometimes overlooked step, as we are all rushed for time when we begin our online or blended courses, but we argue that preparation is essential to reach your intended outcomes for your course. Some of the key aspects of prepping include creating clear criteria for your students, communicating expectations, establishing ground rules, carefully considering question types, and having clear goals or links to learning outcomes.

If it’s important that your students write over 300 words in a post, make that explicit. If you expect your students to respond within a week to two other students’ posts, write it clearly in your instructions. Better yet, make a video for your students describing your expectations. You might even consider having the students come up with the ground rules or netiquette for discussions. Making conscious decisions about the type of question(s) you are going to ask in a discussion forum is key. Try a case study or scenario and ask students to solve or respond to it. Ask students to role play as a particular character or historical figure as they respond to your prompt.

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online student engagement

How to Add Student Engagement to Your Online Courses

Student engagement has become a focus of higher education—online education in particular—over the past few years. The wide range of interactive methods now available on the web provides instructors with a multitude of ways to insert engagement into their courses.

But while we hear about engagement from instructors and software companies, students themselves have been a somewhat silent voice in the discussions. Florence Martin and Doris Bolliger address this oversight by surveying students in online courses to identify which activities they find most engaging. The researchers divided engagement activities into three categories: learner-to-learner, learner-to-instructor, and learner-to-content. Their findings suggest a number of ways for online instructors to infuse student engagement into their courses.

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teaching online

How Teaching Online Can Improve Your Face-to-Face Classes

When teachers are tasked with developing an online course, their thinking often follows along these lines: This is what I do in class. How can that be translated online?

What if we reversed our thinking?

Instead of assuming what’s done on ground is ideal, what if we looked at teaching online as a means of improving our face-to-face teaching skills? The process of developing an online course, starting with a clean slate instead of converting resident instruction via technology, leads to an examination of our classroom-based course design, assumptions about learning, and ultimately improves instructional practice in both settings along several dimensions: teaching persona, power distance, instructional clarity, student interaction, and learning assessment.

Presence and Distance
From the minute we enter the classroom, students are sizing us up. Our appearance, demeanor, voice, word choice, and mannerisms project an image. Similarly, the teacher may notice a variety of student characteristics: clothing, tone of voice, behavior, and level of attention. All this happens automatically when we share a physical space with our students.

Online first impressions begin with the learning management interface, course organization, and whatever materials and resources the teacher has chosen to share when the course opens. While teaching online means we may not have to worry about physical appearance, it does mean we have to spend time thinking about how to create and maintain a presence online. Who am I? How can or should I communicate my identity to students?

I didn’t invest a lot of time thinking about this before I started teaching online. Thus, I missed opportunities to make learning personal. Online teaching forces us to think more carefully about persona, values, and priorities than the face-to-face context. Teaching online has made me more intentional about establishing and maintaining my teaching persona online and face-to-face.

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student studying on laptop

Captivating Your Online Learner with Engaging Course Visuals: 7 Easy Principles

In an online environment, keeping your audience’s attention and focus on the critical concepts can be a challenge. Visuals are one of the most powerful ways to engage online learners, especially those from the upcoming generations. We will discuss how the visual design quality of course materials impacts student learning and describe seven simple design techniques that educators can use to create clean, clear, and uncluttered visuals.

Why does good design matter?

Design affects our emotions and perceptions. Attractive visual design can evoke positive emotions in learners and facilitate learning (Plass et al., 2014). Designing attractive, simple, and uncluttered course materials contributes to emotional design, thereby enhancing positive feelings of learners and increasing motivation. Positive emotions have been shown to contribute to more flexible and adaptive thinking and encourage creativity, problem solving, recall, and innovation (Isen, 2002). People also perceive well-designed objects as easier to use (Norman, 2005). Utilizing a few simple design techniques to create clean, clear, and uncluttered course materials can help enhance learning.

Good design also impacts cognitive processing, increasing both comprehension and information retention. Research suggests that visual design affects cognitive processing in four main ways: selection, organization, integration, and processing efficiency (McCrudden & Rapp, 2015). Good design allows students to identify and focus on the most relevant information and efficiently organize that key information in memory, increasing comprehension and information retention.

Finally, well-designed course visuals communicate the credibility of, and care taken by, the presenter. Research has found that judgments of credibility are largely influenced by design elements like layout, font, and color (Robins & Holmes, 2007). Given that materials that look good tend to be judged as both better and more credible, design improvements can increase presenter credibility and communicate that the presenter cares about both the audience and the topic.

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facilitating effective online discussions

Seven Ways to Facilitate Effective Online Discussions

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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discussion board rubrics

Rubrics for Online Discussions

A well-designed rubric is an effective tool for communicating expectations, streamlining the grading process, minimizing grade challenges, and establishing performance benchmarks.

In "Seven Ways to Facilitate Effective Online Discussions," Brian Udermann discussed some of the benefits of using rubrics to help keep instructors and students on the same page.

“Share your rubric with students so they know what to expect and how they will be graded,” said Udermann, director of online education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “And if you do give a student a two out of five or a one out of five, be specific in your feedback. ‘Here’s the reason you got the score that you did.’ It’s kind of an eye-opener for them and usually gets their attention.”

Here are two examples of rubrics Udermann shared during his program.

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instructor presence when teaching online

From Barely There to Fully Present: Three Ways to Improve Your Instructor Presence

I recently received a frantic phone call from a distraught colleague who had just received her student evaluations after teaching her first online course. Tearfully, she shared with me sample student comments such as, “I didn’t get any feedback on my assignments until it was too late to help me with the next assignment,” and “I never heard from my instructor. It was like she was barely there.”

Frustrated because she felt that she had been doing a good job of communicating with her students, and also fearful because her adjunct position depended in part on receiving positive student evaluations, she asked for help in setting up an improvement plan for the next course.

Unfortunately, my colleague’s frustrating experience is not uncommon for instructors new to the online environment. Managing instructor presence—students’ perceptions of how instructors interact with them and guide their learning during a course—is the key to overcoming that frustration. It’s not unusual for instructors and students to have widely different perceptions of instructor presence during the same course.

For instructors who may be teaching multiple courses and spending large blocks of time answering student email, the time spent on their courses makes them feel fully present and fully engaged. To students, however, who may be looking for interaction from the instructor on the course discussion boards, it may seem the instructor is “barely there” because there is little trace of him or her in the course.

How would your students rate your instructor presence on a continuum from “barely there” to “fully present”? If there’s a difference between your students’ perception and your perception of your instructor presence, you can improve your presence with some simple strategies.

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time-saving tips for teaching large classes.

Time-Saving Tips for Teaching Large Online Classes

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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