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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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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online video formats for teaching

The Best Video Formats for Online Teaching

When online faculty or course developers are approached about adding videos to their content, they tend to think of either webcam shots of themselves at their computer or screencasts of themselves reading bullet points to students. But there are a variety of highly effective and easy-to-produce video formats for online education. Here are the different options, along with their best uses and the best technology for creating them.

Webcam
Yes, the webcam shot does have a place in teaching. For one, it is the fastest way to make a video. Just start the webcam, speak to the camera, save the file, and upload it to the course. But the time savings is usually lost by the need to reshoot multiple times due to errors. It is unlikely that you will get through a video much longer than a few minutes without some verbal errors, and it can easily take five to ten shoots before you get a clean version.

For this reason, webcam shots are best used for content that does not need to be flawless. A good example is discussion posts. Instructors can use them to summarize important points in a discussion at the end. The “ums” and other verbal pauses or corrections do not matter. We do not worry about them in live conversation; our audience just listens right through them. So an instructor does not need to worry about them for video discussion. Leaving them in might even better demonstrate that the instructor is speaking from the heart, rather than a script. A good idea is for instructors to include thoughts that have occurred to them as a result of the discussion, demonstrating to students that the instructor is paying attention to their posts and thinking about them. An instructor can also assess discussion, saying that “I thought it went well because . . .” Online instructors rarely provide students with an assessment of a discussion as a whole, instead focusing on individual comments, but talking about it as a whole will help students understand what the instructor is looking for from students. Take a look at this example: https://youtu.be/h7vj8j_gZuQ.

Webcam shots are also good for videos that welcome students to a course. While they do require multiple shoots to get a clean version, the time investment is worth it due to the way that they humanize the instructor to the students and make students feel comfortable expressing themselves. Students should be encouraged to make their own as well. See this example: https://youtu.be/6KfM_JaVJ6E.

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ngage Students Outside of the Online Classroom

Five Ways to Engage Students Outside of the Online Classroom

Ubiquitous learning—the idea that everywhere you go, you’re learning all the time—lets us take advantage of the concept that in every interaction, there may be opportunities for students to engage with our subject matter, if we can just get them into that holistic thinking mode.

I am an avid knitter and like to knit all the time. When I need to learn something new about knitting, I’ll often go to YouTube or to some other online videos that I’ve seen. I might read a book or take an online course to learn some new ideas. I might talk with others who I see knitting or people who approach me. I like to knit out in public so that people might come up to me and talk about what I’m knitting.

Searching the web, talking with others, trial and error—these are good ways to learn things through experimentation and trying things out. But how does one get into this holistic thinking mindset in the classroom?

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online learning

What Do Students Really Want from Online Instructors?

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 communities of practice

Facilitating Communities of Practice in Online Courses

What are communities of practice?
A community of practice is a network of people who exchange knowledge about a common profession. Members of the community exchange best practices and share evidence and results while supporting each other on a personal level. Good examples of these communities are the LinkedIn groups that can be found for nearly any profession.

While communities of practice are common and valuable in the working world, too often the interactions within a course are designed to apply only to that course, rather than prepare the student for the broader discussion within the profession that they will encounter after leaving school. That’s why I focus on forming communities of practice within my online courses.

A gradual approach to communities of practice
While there are various ways to promote communities of practices in online courses, I find discussion forums are the easiest place to start. When I design my discussion forums for my classes, I use a gradual design approach that spans the entire semester. The idea is to use the forum to facilitate a pathway toward communities of practice for the students.

communities of practice

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Ideas about online teaching learning

What Students Can Teach Us about Online Learning

My students participate in an activity called “Building a Learning Community” during the first week of classes. In this activity, completed via a discussion board, I ask them to share about three topics: what their best and “not best” teachers did that helped or hindered their learning, what peers have done that has had a positive or negative impact, and feedback on certain policies (e.g., late work, deadlines). The answers have taught me a lot about online teaching, and my responses on these boards provide the students with insight on what they can expect from me.

Students report that their “best” teachers had multiple ways to present ideas and were relatable and involved. They also enjoy lessons that include more than just reading the textbook and watching a lecture, lessons that, when appropriate, incorporate outside videos, other materials, or instructor-made videos to demonstrate concepts covered in the lecture and/or text. They typically define “relatable” faculty as those who make their enthusiasm for their topics and their students’ successes visible even through cyberspace, who talk “to them” about topics in lectures rather than “at them,” and who invite questions in person or virtually. Those identified as better teachers were those who make it clear they read discussion boards, either through being “on the boards” with the students or via the feedback given. Those instructors also tended to send a weekly message to wrap up lessons, preview the upcoming week, or comment on a common issue that might have come up in the class. These instructors were visible and obviously “in the class” with the students, being more of a “guide on the side” than a “sage on the stage.” The less effective teachers read straight from slides with no elaboration during video lectures, rarely encouraged students or gave much feedback, weren’t attentive to class concerns, and failed assignments for reasons such as formatting not being 100 percent correct. Students most commonly express frustration with past instructors who did not return emails or phone calls.

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online student at computer

Set Students up for Success in Online Courses

Student success comes from strong leadership, including establishing rapport, providing resources, and putting the onus of responsibility on the students, rather than the instructor. Perhaps the most important area for success in any online course is what I call the “start here” area. Let’s explore this idea further.

“Start here” area
Some instructors call this an introductory area or a “welcome to the course” area. I like calling it “start here,” because, quite frankly, it’s incredibly descriptive and leaves no room for misinterpretation.

Let’s take a look at the six key elements of a start-here area: the instructor introduction video, course expectations, main assignment tutorials, technology tutorials, student engagement areas, and a syllabus quiz.

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