Contributed by Errol Craig Sull -
It’s a mixed bag: what we pull together and offer our students to ensure they not only have a positive online learning experience but they continue to embrace and use beyond the course what they learned while in the course. Each online instructor has developed his or her own approaches that best work, no doubt – but how do we really know what works and what doesn’t? How many follow-up emails or phone calls or letters do we receive from students a month, 6 months, a year after they’ve left our class? Yet at least we can offer the students our best efforts and use those tried-and-true strategies that will result in that “Hey, this was a great class!” response from them and a hint that, yeah, at least a few students might be giving us that Holy Grail of teaching: employing what they learned from us throughout their lives.
PERSONAL INTRODUCTIONS. By using the personal introductions of students an instructor can get to know his / her students better, thus allowing interaction with individual students in a more personal manner. Many students are suspicious, fearful, or intimidated in being taught “by a computer” – when they see the instructor is reaching out to them on a personal basis it helps establish a rapport between that instructor and the student; also, it helps put the student at ease.
CONSTANT PRESENCE IN THE CLASSROOM. When students see the instructor is very active and visible in the class – in discussion, in class postings, etc. – this is reassuring that instructor is real, is interested in the class, is there for individual students, and is available. This will have a big impact on student success because they know the instructor is around for questions and concerns AND it gives them a more positive feeling about being in the class.
TIMELY RESPONSE TO ALL STUDENT POSTINGS & ASSIGNMENTS. First, responding in a timely manner to student questions and concerns will keep students from being confused about this or that point; they will not have to wait on submitting or following through on an assignment that needs clarification from the instructor; and they will know the instructor as one who is an active and interested. It is also crucial the instructor give thorough and immediate feedback on all assignments so students can know how to improve and can go on to the next assignment in a timely manner.
BE CLEAR IN ALL “HOUSEKEEPING” ASPECTS. Grading criteria, all contact info, policy on late submissions, “netiquette,” and other such items need be clearly defined so there is a minimum of confusion later on in the class. As I have taught more classes over the years I have compiled an extended list of these based on student queries; posting these early in the class cuts down on student confusion and student emails asking about these items – a big timesaver for both student the instructor.
GIVE ASSIGNMENT FEEDBACK THAT IS POSITIVE AND HELPS THE STUDENT TO IMPROVE. Students must have feedback on assignments that lets them know how they are doing in the class (i.e., their grade), what they need do to improve, and what they are doing right. I give individual item feedback that is comprised of three parts: what is wrong, why it is wrong, and how it can be made right; I also will give positive feedback for individual points that are outstanding; and I always include an overall positive comment at the end of the assignment. And negative feedback is always couched in positive terms, i.e., “I’m showing you this to help you improve.”
SHARE TIPS, IDEAS, INFORMATION, PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES, ETC. TO MAKE THE STUDENTS FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE. All of these have one goal: to give additional understanding of the subject being discussed, written about, etc. Personal perspectives are especially helpful, including those of the students: it puts the subject matter in a “real life” context; it gets more students actively and enthusiastically involved in class, and creates a stronger rapport between the students and the online instructor.
USE CARTOONS, PUZZLES, QUIRKY INFO & ARTICLES, AND HUMOR TO HELP RELAX AND TEACH THE STUDENTS. These help ensure student success and add to their positive experience in two ways: [a] in a lighter or unusual manner they highlight and spotlight various aspects of the course, thus re-enforcing and strengthening the student learning; [b] the class is more exciting and enjoyable, thus helping to create a learning environment in which students want to participate.
BE VERY POSITIVE, I.E., LET STUDENTS KNOW YOU BELIEVE THEY WILL BE SUCCESSFUL, THEY WILL IMPROVE. Positive re-enforcement is important in any learning environment but especially so in the online classroom as there is no physical presence of the instructor and some students may be a bit tentative or hesitant about taking an online course. Reassuring the students of their capability to succeed, of improvement being most important, and of the instructor being thrilled they are in the class go a long way in building their confidence, making them feel more comfortable, and creating more enthusiasm for the course.
UNDERSTAND INDIVIDUAL STUDENT NEEDS, CONCERNS, LIMITATIONS, & PROBLEMS – AND RESPOND WITH FAIRNESS TO ALL. In an online classroom environment, where no student is physically seen, all students appear the same on the surface: a name, an email address, all in the same course, all with a student ID. But look deeper and, of course, each student is different – and such life factors as family, lifestyle, profession, student background, health, major personal events, and weather can have short- or long-term effects on how students respond to various components, policies, and procedures of the class. By working with the student so these factors can have a minimal impact on the student’s learning goes a long way in increasing student success and helping the student have a positive learning experience.
ABOVE ALL, BE ENTHUSIASTIC, FRIENDLY, & MOTIVATED – THERE ARE INFECTIOUS! While the nine previous items are crucial they really will amount to little if each is not infused with mega doses of sincere enthusiasm, friendliness, and motivation from me, the facilitator. If the instructor does not feel this and does not do this the students will quickly pick up on it, resulting in a less-than-successful learning experience. But if the online instructor does feel this and does offer this, and does so throughout the course, wow: this will ignite the entire course ... and the students’ right along with it!