by Ulrike Lahaise (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Associate Professor of Astronomy/Physics, Georgia State University’s Perimeter College Online
Many students are still going to be brand new to the online environment and are still in the process of figuring out how to make taking online classes work with the particular life situation (taking care of family members including taking them to medical appointments who are also at home, getting their devices and internet service to cooperate to run iCollege properly, searching for jobs with potential interview times set by potential employers, etc.). In my experience, it is very hard for online students to attend live WebEx sessions or narrow window testing sessions at very specific times on very specific days during the week.
Being fairly new to the online environment, most students will need clear, specific guidelines and instructions on what they have to do in iCollege to satisfy your requirements for participation, attendance, group work, live meetings, and especially high stakes testing. You want to consider that, while students in their pre-pandemic, well organized lives were able to come to campus at fixed days and times, or come to campus at all. Their pre-pandemic support system may have fallen apart. They may not have access to the same level of internet connectivity and computer capability that they used to have as face to face students. Many face to face students and a good number of typical online students regularly used on-campus computer labs or library computers to do their online work.
Posting detailed, clear instructions and expectations for how students need to engage in the online setting in order to be successful in class will be very helpful for the students and something they can refer back to all semester long. You also want to set up a course layout and workflow that has a straight forward structure and is easy to navigate. Students taking classes online really appreciate a weekly pattern as to when assessments and assignments are due with the course content being broken up to match that weekly pattern. It is also important for their sense of being grounded and having control over their learning process that the entire course schedule is mapped out from the beginning, as in what material is covered when with the respective due dates for assessments and assignments.
You also want to consider that none of your students will ever meet you face to face, and you won’t have the opportunity to go over the syllabus with them in the classroom or have any other personal classroom type interaction with them in which your personality comes across and where you set the tone with your presence. Online students will always interact with your class through the added layer of technology involving a screen, webcam, microphone, and a keyboard. Instead of being with your students in person, you can infuse your personality and tone into the course components. That’s the idea behind a welcome module including a syllabus broken up into different pages where each page covers a different section, and to word everything in a less formal and sterile way. Your students will also appreciate very much any kind of notes with the kind of information you would give verbally, in the classroom, about what kind of concepts are coming up, how they are related to the concepts you just covered, and what the most important points are they need to know and hang everything else off of, basically a roadmap or study guide for how everything fits together and relates to each other.
Brand new as well as seasoned online students will feel reassured that you have their backs while they are trying to figure out how to make online learning work for their particular situation. And that, in itself cuts down on a lot of potentially worried and confused emails right there.
In my experience, students love brief, targeted YouTube type videos that they can re-watch, or work alongside and pause when they need to. They don’t like long-winded recordings of entire traditional lectures. They really appreciate when the instructor grades and gives feedback quickly, is approachable and somewhat flexible, sort of more like a learning coach with high expectations on one side and individualized, constructive feedback and encouragement on the other side. They appreciate when their instructor comes across as a real human being who is genuinely interested in them as individuals and their success in the class.
So, my humble advice: keep it simple, keep it human & stay safe! It’s not about perfection, it’s about knowing your resources and using them well. We’re all in this together and we can all help and learn from each other.