|BEST PRACTICES ONLINE TEACHING GUIDELINES
LOS MEDANOS COLLEGE
PROF. MADELINE PUCCIONI
DR. LAURIE HUFFMAN
WELCOME TO LMC'S ONLINE TEACHING COMMUNITY!
The Distance Education Committee would like to welcome you to Los Medanos College's "Cyber Community" of online teachers. We have worked hard over the years to develop better online classes to serve the ever-growing demand for online and hybrid classes, and the needs of our online students. Currently, LMC offers over 80 totally online classes which use Blackboard; many of our "face to face" classes use an online Blackboard classroom to augment their learning experience in "hybrid" classes, as well.
Wherever you teach , whatever CMS (COURSE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM- like Blackboard or WebCT) you use, these strategies for success will help you design and teach a "best practices" online class. .
This document is a work in progress. We hope these "best practices" guidelines will help you in your effort to design and develop your own "best possible" online or hybrid class.
Online classes are really all about four things:
DESIGNING: A rich, accessible "ONLINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT"
FULFILLING: The Course Objectives
CREATING: A dynamic LEARNING COMMUNITY which engages and sustains the class;
INTERACTING: With your students frequently and effectively.
We have designed these guidelines to be a PROCESS as well as a REFERENCE. We discuss "BEST PRACTICES" pretty much in the order you will need them, as you begin to develop your own "best possible" online class right from the start. Let us know if you have other "best practices" strategies which should be added to the list!
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHY DESIGN AND TEACH ONLINE CLASS?
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY "BEST PRACTICES"?
BEST PRACTICES CHECKLIST and PROCESS
BEFORE YOU BEGIN TO DESIGN YOUR ONLINE COURSE...
DESIGNING AND "FRONTLOADING" YOUR ONLINE CLASSROOM
MARKETING YOUR CLASS
EARLY OUTREACH TO YOUR NEW ONLINE STUDENTS
EARLY SEMESTER STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS
ONGOING AND MID SEMESTER STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS
LAST TWO WEEKS OF CLASS: REVIEW, GRADING, AND CLOSURE
AFTER THE CLASS IS OVER...
EVALUATING YOUR ONLINE CLASS
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
BEST PRACTICES GUIDELINES
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHY DESIGN AND TEACH ONLINE CLASS?
Designing an online class requires extra work, especially at the beginning. Here are some reasons to train, design and teach online through LMC:
Institutional Support: LMC fully supports its faculty driven effort to provide more high quality "best practices' online and hybrid classes to its students.
Institutional Expectations: Online full-time faculty, of course, are expected to fulfill all of their on-campus contractual obligations and to participate in the on-campus life of the institution, in most or all of the following ways:
holding on-campus office hours
attending department meetings
participating in campus and district committees, designing new curriculum
promoting understanding and respect for diverse and multicultural faculty, staff and students
engaging in class evaluations and institutional research to better assess and serve our online and on campus students
evaluating their own and others' online classes and offering support and guidance to other online faculty
exploring grants and funding to better support our online faculty
Active SGC approved, and supported Distance Education Committee, which meets twice a month
Trained facilitators and certified and degreed instructors to offer workshops , Certificate in Online Teaching and step-by-step f2f and online support
Easy to use Blackboard Classroom - most widely used CMS in the U.S., now used by most of our transfer institutions and feeder high schools, as well as by the U.S. Military and most four-year institutions. Blackboard is intuitive and "forgiving"; both faculty and students will find it consistent, predictable, and easy to navigate.
One online office hour for each online class
One/half hour online office hour for each hybrid class
Rapidly increasing demand for online classes from our diverse student population in East Contra Costa County, and elsewhere; online classes typically fill and waitlist early
LMC's reputation for well designed, and highly interactive "best practices" online classes
Enjoy the immediacy and interactivity of the "Online Learning Community" which you create with your online and hybrid students as they explore their unlimited opportunities to learn
Enjoy the convenience and effectiveness of interacting with your students 24/7 online
Acquire the skills and pedagogy teaching "best practices" online classes - for which demand is growing rapidly
Possible stipend for designing online classes
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY "BEST PRACTICES"?
"Best Practices" is a term we use to describe an ongoing body of the most innovative, up-to-date and effective ways to design and teach online classes. Over the years we have developed the following "Best Practices Guidelines" as we learn from our esteemed Distance Education Committee colleagues, from our graduate coursework, from such excellent sources as CALIFORNIA VIRTUAL CAMPUS and SLOAN CONSORTIUM, and from our own shared seven years of experience designing and teaching online classes.
What follows is a CHECKLIST of such "best practices" which we hope will be useful to you. They are arranged in the order you will need to develop, approve, design, market and teach your online class.
BEST PRACTICES CHECKLIST
I. BEFORE YOU BEGIN TO DESIGN YOUR COURSE...
(A YEAR AHEAD OF START DATE): LEARNING THE BASICS and GETTING YOUR CLASS SCHEDULED
DO SOME RESEARCH. BROWSE ONLINE CLASSES at CALIFORNIA VIRTUAL CAMPUS (http://www.cvc.edu) to see what other colleges are offering. If you can, get permission to "lurk" a good class in your field.
TAKE ONLINE TEACHING CERTIFICATE COURSEWORK here at LMC, (Blackboard) or elsewhere, through another accredited program such as those of FOOTHILL COLLEGE (Etudes) or CERRO COSO.(Moodle)
SHADOW AN EXPERIENCED ONLINER'S CLASS, from start to finish. We welcome your observations and questions, and we are glad to work with you --- but please don't interact with the students or help them with their posts. (This actually happened in one of my classes).
GET YOUR DEPARTMENT'S APPROVAL to offer your class online. Most Departments are eager to have at least a few classes online. But some courses work better than others in the online environment, and some departments have developed guidelines re: which and how many online classes to offer. It's a good idea to work with your department on these issues and to develop a set of guidelines which benefit all concerned
FOR EXISTING CLASSES: Read the existing Course Outline Of Record to determine what the COURSE LEVEL LEARNING OBJECTIVES are, and think about how to meet these objectives in an online or hybrid classroom. Read the models on the CURRICULUM COMMITTEE WEBPAGE (http://www.losmedanos.edu/intra-out/cur/default.asp) and adapt them as templates
FOR NEW CLASSES: Read the models on the CURRICULUM COMMITTEE WEBPAGE (and adapt them as templates.
ONLINE SUPPLEMENT TO THE COOR for LMC ONLINERS...When you are ready to submit the COOR for department approval, you will also need to submit an ONLINE SUPPLEMENT which shows how the CSLO'S can be met in an online or hybrid classroom to the DEC for guidance and approval. At LMC, we can consult the form and models on the CURRICULUM COMMITTEE WEBPAGE.
REQUEST A NEW ONLINE BLACKBOARD CLASSROOM from our Systems Administrator. Please contact our Systems Administrator, Clayton Smith (email@example.com) when you want to start building your online classroom. Please don't use another Course Management System or your own website. Our students are familiar with Blackboard; most of them already know how to log in, and they can access all their Blackboard classrooms from one "My Courses" page. Blackboard is "intuitive" and easy to use, and it has all the features you need to create an attractive, accessible classroom.
Read BUILDING LEARNING COMMUNITIES IN CYBERSPACE (Pailoff and Pratt) and browse through these sites on "best practices" in online education and pedagogy: See our RESOURCES section for links:
ACADEMIC SENATE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA GUIDELINES
CALIFORNIA VIRTUAL CAMPUS BEST PRACTICES GUIDELINES
SLOAN CONSORTIUM EFFECTIVE PRACTICES
CONSTRUCTIVIST TEACHING AND LEARNING ONLINE
START THINKING about how to turn a face to face classroom discussion/assignment into a weekly online discussion/assignment. Many on-liners translate f2f "lessons" into open ended (or "Socratic") questions such as What are three good solutions to this problem? and then allow students to develop their own research, and responses for individual or group assignments.
SIX MONTHS AHEAD OF START DATE: STRATEGIES FOR DESIGN AND ACCESSIBILITY
II. DESIGNING AND "FRONTLOADING" YOUR CLASSROOM -
YOUR COURSE DESIGN DETERMINES YOUR CLASSROOM'S ACCESSIBILITY, ATTRACTIVENESS, CONSISTENCY, EASE OF "NAVIGATION
Good COURSE DESIGN promotes interactivity and ease of use. Here are some suggestions for designing a "best practices" online classroom. Think about some of the good courses you've observed before you "frontload" (design a complete Course Overview, add content and handouts) your classroom.
CONSISTENCY AND REDUNDANCY ARE GOOD THINGS.
Be CONSISTENT and REDUNDANT in design and weekly schedule and format. Help your students by making due dates, visual format, and keywords predictable and dependable throughout the course. All weekly assignments, for example, might be due at the same time, same date, such as 11pm Sunday night. Weekly Announcements should be copy/pasted and emailed to all students, as well copy/pasted into the Weekly Forum on your Discussion board. Students need reminders; they appreciate seeing the same information in the Announcements Page, the Discussion Board forum, and in your weekly email Reminder. Copy/paste your info from one form to another; discrepancies cause confusion, and they take time to correct.
Post a WELCOME TO CLASS ANNOUNCEMENT on your ANNOUNCEMENTS PAGE. Include step by step directions for posting the WEEK ONE assignment, which should include posting an INTRODUCTION and REPLIES on the DISCUSSION BOARD. It's important to encourage students to socialize, and partner up with an online classmate if possible.
Post an attractive COURSE BANNER (PICTURE) on your ANNOUNCEMENTS PAGE. Change your COURSE BANNER weekly. A Course Banner can amplify your weekly assignment as well as engage the eye and the imagination. Any JPG or GIF image can be uploaded as a COURSE BANNER.
Post your COURSE SYLLABUS under COURSE INFORMATION; your SYLLABUS should be like your "f2f" syllabus; it should contain class description, policies, learning objectives, grading system, and contact information.
Post a complete COURSE OVERVIEW which should give students a detailed outline of all weekly assignments, due dates, and grade points for the entire semester. "Frontloading" the entire course in this way helps your students manage their time and schedule their work.
Post your HANDOUTS and other RESOURCES under COURSE DOCUMENTS - Blackboard allows you to change the titles of these BUTTONS, using your MANAGE COURSE MENU control link. You may simply want to re-title COURSE DOCUMENTS as "HANDOUTS", for example.
USE HTML WEB DOCUMENTS as your COURSE CONTENT. You don't need to buy Front Page or Dreamweaver to create these attractive, highly accessible pages. Simply create your syllabus, for example, in Microsoft Word, SAVE AS " Web Page" or "HTML" , then upload it into your Course Documents area.
HTML DOCS ARE MORE ACCESSIBLE AND MORE EFFECTIVE than typed documents. You can integrate hyperlinks into your document, for easy "navigation' to good websites. Make these links at least three inches long, (like this one) and of a different color than the text font. Don't make your content documents long and wordy. Cut them up into 2-3 sentence chunks, which the eye can handle.. You can integrate graphics and photographs as well. These HTML docs are attractive and much more accessible to the visually impaired - or to any bleary eyed onliner - than typed documents.
USE STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS FOR ALL NEW TASKS - your students will appreciate "click here, then here, then here" instructions, no matter how computer savvy they are. Here's an example of step-by step "log in" directions:
On AUGUST 18, 2006, your online classrooms will be available for you to log
in at 6 a.m.
To log into class:
Go to your Online Classroom : http://www.losmedanos.edu/onlineclasses/default.htm.
Click on the LOG IN TO YOUR ONLINE CLASSES link
Enter your USERNAME (1st initial + last name + last 3 digit of your Student ID # - as in jsmith234 in the USERNAME bar
Enter your PASSWORD (your 6 digit birthdate , as in 061280 in the PASSWORD bar
In your MY COURSES box, click on your section of ENGLISH 100: FRESHMAN COMPOSITION
Now you are on our ANNOUNCEMENTS page! Read the ANNOUNCEMENTS carefully and follow instructions
Spend at least 2 hours browsing through your new online classroom on the first day: read your HANDOUTS, your DISCUSSION BOARD and your CLASS TOOLS.
Post your photo, contact info and profile under FACULTY INFORMATION
CREATE QUIZZES with your CMS TEST MANAGER which students can access through ASSIGNMENTS or the ANNOUNCEMENTS PAGE. Students may need a PRACTICE QUIZ or two, to learn how to take a quiz and submit it. Offer quizzes which have no time limit, and which students can take and re-take. Timed quizzes are only for the most experienced on-liners. Quizzes show up in your Grade book in Bb, where you can then post the grade.
GO FOR ATTRACTIVENESS AND ACCESSIBILITY
While Blackboard is ADE certified "accessible" to visually impaired and disabled students, there are several things you can do to augment accessibility:
Compose your handouts in Word, using large colored font bold type and long hyperlinks. SAVE AS HTML. Upload your HTML DOCUMENTS as you would any other doc., into your Blackboard Course Document or Handout "area". Such documents are attractive and much easier to read than typed documents.
Advise students of accessibility strategies such as those on their "View" menu, which will enlarge the font on a web page, or reposition the page on their screen.
Link web pages which offer accessibility options such as "rollover" descriptions, audio clips, large links, large type, and "chunked" script, such as the script you're reading now. Remember how you hate to read online? So do they.
Advise students to print out their course documents whenever possible, and show them how reduce large type, eliminate images, and select/copy/ paste the document to a new page of Word, then print it out.
Advise students to take a break from the screen and rest their eyes frequently
CREATE A STUDENT SERVICES AREA (using MANAGE COURSE MENU) which will link students to Counseling, EOPS, DSPS, TUTORING, READING WRITING CENTER, LIBRARY, Transfer Programs & Services and SCHOLARSHIP information. You might design an ORIENTATION assignment which gives points for finding and making an appointment with a counselor, or doing a "treasure hunt" to share what they find out about LMC Student Services resources. Most on liners depend on instructors as links to Student Services.
Create a STUDENT UNION or CAFE 101 forum on your DISCUSSION BOARD forum where students may "get together" to chat, ask for help, or recruit partners. You might also want to create a HELP forum, a special forum where students can go to ask and offer help with the classroom and assignments.
DESIGN A FEW GROUP PROJECTS, with specific goals and outcomes. Assign team leaders and specific team member tasks, to promote specific objectives. Group projects promote collaborative learning and community. You may wish to assign a STUDY HALL or GROUP ROOMS (see Managing Groups) so students can have their own Discussion Board, Chat room, and Email systems as they work on these projects
POST WEEKLY GRADES under your GRADEBOOK FEATURE. Post your grades on each list during the semester. In Blackboard, Students can then access their grades at any time, using the CLASS TOOLS --> Check My Grade feature. "Frontload" the Grade book Spreadsheet ahead of time, but make it visible only to yourself, until grades are actually posted.
As you would in your "f2f" class, celebrate our nation's - and our state's - diverse populations. Build in multicultural content, issues, and graphics. Design projects and assignments to celebrate the diversity in the multicultural learning community in your online classroom. One of the fascinating aspects of the online classroom is that we don't always know what our students look like, or even what gender they may be. While this is sometimes this is a great advantage, it can also allow us to forget how diverse our students are, or the issues of diversity in the larger "real life" community for which we are preparing our students.
ACCOMODATE DIVERSE LEARNING STYLES
Use every strategy you can to accomodate visual and kinesthetic learning, as well as verbal learning. Most students need a number of different approaches. Post step-by-step instructions for the verbal learners as well as models and graphics for the visual learners. Send the kinesthetic learner on a "Treasure Hunt" for information.
ASK STUDENTS FOR EVALUATIONS AND FEEDBACK , thank them for their "heads up" comments, and clarify assignments if you need to. Include MODELS, STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS, and other resources. For example, I have had success with ESSAY ASSIGNMENT SHEETS which incorporate a SUGGESTED OUTLINE, MODEL essays from the past, STEP-BY-STEP instructions, and " hypertext" links and resources. For more information on LEARNING STYLES IN THE ONLINE CLASSROOM: (??)
Include a separate area where students can find often used or assignment specific links. You might want to keep them in FOLDERS (arranged by WEEK # or ASSIGNMENT) for easy access. I use my LINKS for the ONLINE HANDBOOK, http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/
"Frontloading" an online class like this does take time... but much of what you do now will save you time later in this class, and in future classes. Some experienced on-liners can simply "roll over" their online classrooms from one semester to the next.
Think of all the ways you prepare your "f2f" syllabus, course overview, lesson plans and resources to provide a systematic, cumulative learning experience for your students... How can you translate this effort into an online classroom? What are the advantages of an online environment? The disadvantages? How can we design an online classroom to approximate, and in some ways surpass, an on site classroom?
2 MONTHS AHEAD OF START DATE: STRATEGIES FOR ENROLLMENT
Let's assume that your new online class has been approved by your department and the Dean, and the Curriculum Committee, and scheduled for the following semester. Congratulations! You're ready to start marketing and reaching out to your online students.
Online classes are usually filled and waitlisted early. A new online class with an unfamiliar faculty name, however, may have a bit more trouble enrolling. There are a number of ways of 'MARKETING" your new class:
IN THE PRINT SCHEDULE: Be sure the Catalogue Descriptor is clear and inviting. It should state that yours is a "computer assisted" class and that students should contact the instructor by email as soon as they register.
CONTACT YOUR MARKETING DEPARTMENT: At LMC, contact our Marketing Department (x 3245) for banners to promote your class in the print schedule, and on the LMC WEBSITE
ON AND OFF CAMPUS FLYERS Post flyers around campus and mail them to local libraries and cafes and request them to "post and distribute" your flyers
CVC CATALOGUE OF CALIFORNIA ONLINE CLASSES Make sure your new totally online class is listed in the CVC CATALOGUE. Contact Clayton Smith, at LMC, to make sure your new online class is listed.
EMAIL YOUR FORMER STUDENTS: Experienced onliners may email former students, using the Blackboard email feature in their past classrooms to notify them of new classes. Some campuses as a whole, use email lists to promote enrollment, using their student email databases
FREE NEWSPAPER ADS You can place a free ad with http://www.backpage.com and place it in the "classes/workshops" section to attract students in your urban area
1 MONTH AHEAD OF START DATE:
IV. OUTREACH TO YOUR OWN NEW ONLINE STUDENTS: STRATEGIES FOR STUDENT COMFORT AND SUCCESS :
It is a good idea to contact your online students at least three or four weeks ahead of start date, for a number of reasons:
EARLY OUTREACH BUILDS TRUST AND CREATES COMMUNITY. Don't expect students to contact you, even though the Schedule requests them to do so. A few will contact you, but not many. You want to welcome your students to their new class and send them their FIRST DAY HANDOUT and COURSE OVERVIEW a month ahead of start date, so they know what to expect in your class. You will save yourself and your students much time, and avoid many problems if you do so. Include your waitlist in this early outreach; you'll want to accept students with whom you are already familiar during the first week of class.
EARLY OUTREACH ASSURES THAT YOUR STUDENTS ARE PREPARED FOR YOUR CLASS, AND FOR ONLINE LEARNING. Few students know how demanding online classes are, in terms of self discipline, motivation, and time management. You will increase their chances of success, and your retention rate, if you will require students to fill out a questionnaire such as: ARE YOU READY FOR AN ONLINE CLASS? to make sure they know what is exprected of them. http://www.dvc.edu/online/are_you_ready.htm
EARLY OUTREACH BUILDS ENROLLMENT. Students who have had early email contact with the instructor are pleased and surprised at this interaction. They will often tell their colleagues about your class.
HOW TO EMAIL AND SNAIL MAIL YOUR STUDENTS BEFORE CLASS:
Use your Web Advisor roster to harvest student email and snail mail addresses. It may take a couple of hours to do this, but you will save yourself time and avoid problems later. Your task as an online teacher is much easier if your students are prepared to learn as soon as your class starts. Early outreach may prevent some of the attrition which often occurs in online classes.
V. START DATE - THE DAY YOUR CLASS BEGINS; STRATEGIES FOR RETENTION AND STUDENT SUCCESS:
Day 1:Your online class is filled and waitlisted; Now your task is to keep them in the class, if they are able to succeed.
Online classes fill early, but sometimes suffer higher attrition rates than f2f classes. The secret to retaining online students is to design a consistent, user-friendly format, and sustain a high level of student/ instructor and student/student contact and interactivity. In other words - to create a a vital, exciting, social learning community in your classroom.
You continually need to show students that you're there, and that you care. The more you can personalize, humanize, and "f2f" their online learning experience, the better. Email and the internet can make this goal easy and convenient for both student and instructor. How many on campus office hours are spent waiting for students who don't show up? One quick email can answer a student's question... and keep him/her engaged in the class.
Here is a checklist of strategies which will help you create and sustain a vital "learning community" in your online class, and help students succeed, from "day one":
VI. EARLY SEMESTER STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS (YOURS AND THEIRS):
PROJECT YOUR OWN FRIENDLY, HUMOROUS, KIND, INFORMAL "E-PERSONALITY" TO YOUR ONLINE STUDENTS
You're lively and personable in your on campus classes...find ways to translate your humor and kindness through cyberspace. Develop what is called an "e-personality" - and project it through your email, class announcements, grading responses and other forms of communication - Be extra friendly, kind, humorous, spontaneous, flexible and understanding, especially at first. Use emoticons. Use informal language. This is hard stuff for your new online students. They are stressed out enough, already.
All of your winning "f2f" classroom qualities can make it through space and time to assure your students that you are a real, caring person, who wants to help them succeed. Email replies can be brief and immediate; no need to compose them carefully or worry about punctuation. Just answer them as quickly as possible, straight to the point, maybe with a friendly emoticon smile near your signature. See our NETIQUETTE, Appendix i.
Post and contribute to an Introduction and Replies forum for the first week's assignment. Give your students a chance to get to know each other, and the classroom. Meet and greet them each by name, and invite them to post pictures as attachments.
Post an ongoing "STUDENT UNION" forum on the Discussion Board. Give students a "place in space" to chat, discuss assignments, post job announcements, and ask for, and offer help. You'll need to "stroll through" and supervise occasionally, to see than no inappropriate posts occur.
Some online instructors like to post a separate HELP! forum, on the Discussion Board -- especially at the beginning of a class, to give panicky students a place to contact other students for help.
INVITE "HELP" EMAILS - and REPLY TO THEM IMMEDIATELY
Online students PANIC easily, if they can't log in or otherwise manage a task online. Email them, and invite them to ASK QUESTIONS and ASK FOR HELP IMMEDIATELY. Tell them to type HELP in the Subject Line of their email, and that you will try to answer their email asap. Online students need to know you're "there" for them. A little immediate attention from you at this point can determine in whether a student remains in the class or "disappears".
ACCEPT YOUR FIVE STUDENT WAITLIST ON START DATE
Some online instructors like to accept their waitlist and close their online class during the first week. This accomplishes two goals:
1. You accept 5 extra students, which will offset the typical
attrition in an online class
2. You keep students who have already received your First
Day Handouts, and are somewhat familiar with the classroom, and prevent new and TOTALLY unprepared students from enrolling in a class in which they will probably be so far behind they cannot catch up
ADDING AND ENROLLING STUDENTS
You may LATE ADD students into your online class for
two weeks after start date, and after you have accepted your waitlist, if you wish to keep a full roster, and achieve a higher retention rate by the end of the session.
"Hybrid" classes (half online, half on campus) allow students and instructor plenty of "f2f" interaction, and Online Classes can benefit from two or three "f2f" meetings, especially at the beginning of class time.
Some online teachers take digital photographs of each student at a "f2f" orientation meeting, and post them in a GALLERY area on the classroom, and invite students to add a brief biography and contact information, and perhaps a website URL if they wish
Blackboard features a GROUP PAGES area where you can create individual GROUP ROOMS or one large STUDY HALL for your students, with separate forums for each group. Their STUDY HALL has its own Discussion Board, Email and Virtual Chat-room features, and offers a way for groups to work together efficiently, without using the class Discussion Board or Virtual Chat-room
WEEKLY CLASS DISCUSSION FORUM
You might want to assign A CLASS DISCUSSION POST every week, in place of, or in addition to a higher point graded "assignment" post.
These CD POSTS can be the most intense learning experiences in the classroom, just like "f2f" discussions. They offer students a "class participation' experience which has several advantages:
shy students often participate more online in an "asynchronous" (ongoing) discussion than they would in a "f2f" real time discussion
the discussion is ongoing, 24/7 - students and instructor can post at their convenience, and read other posts at their convenience
students need to think their comments through more carefully and post better comments than they make in a "f2f" conversation
students can quote good sources, add links and in-text citations to document their research and ideas
posts can be sorted by "default" (date/time posted) or "author" for grading purposes
CLASS DISCUSSIONS keep a class together, and draw "non participants" into the debate
SOME (NOT TOO MANY) GROUP PROJECTS
Group projects promote collaboration and community -- when they work. Be sure to assign a few group projects, perhaps around open-ended questions such as: "Should the Getty museum be forced to return the 400 B.C.E. gold Etruscan funerary wreath to authorities in Italy just because the artifact was looted from a tomb and sold on the black market thirty years ago?" Be sure to recruit TEAM LEADERS and have them assign research and writing tasks to each group member, each with specific objectives in mind. Give extra credit to the Team Leaders, if possible
TIMELY RESPONSE TO GRADING ASSIGNMENTS
Don't assign so many tasks that you don't have time to give feedback and grade students fairly and in a timely manner. Bi weekly graded assignments may better serve the online student and class than weekly assignments. Try to post grades within a week or two after the due date, as you would in a "f2f" class.
REQUEST STUDENT CLASS EVALUATIONS (ANONYMOUS)AROUND THE HALF WAY POINT IN THE SEMESTER,
Give students a chance to let you know how the class is going for them, and to express their comments anonymously .Blackboard give students that option on the Discussion Board. Read and respond to comments by making changes if appropriate and necessary. Listen to your students; this is their class, their learning experience, which everyone is "constructing" together. (One of the slogans for online learning describes the instructor as "Guide on the side, not sage on the stage.") Thank them for feedback and make changes if necessary. Ask these questions, minimally:
1. How is the class working for you?
2. What do you like about the class?
3. What needs improvement?
4. Other comments?
Send out weekly or bi-weekly grade updates, if you use the point system; tell students how many points are now possible, and direct them to divide their total points by the class total points to determine their grade so far. Students should always be aware of their status in the class. Students can access their grades via the CLASS TOOLS button in the Bb classroom.
SOLICIT "GRADE REVIEW" REQUESTS
Invite students to contact you if they need an email or "virtual chat" grade consultation. Encourage students always to ASK FOR HELP. Online students can so easily "disappear" into cyberspace without this kind of personal attention from the instructor. It costs you very little in terms of time; and it may save your students, and your class, from failing.
ANTI - PLAGIARISM STRATEGIES
One of the criticisms often levelled at online classes is that students can easily plagiarize and pass others' work off as their own. Critics fail to mention that plagiarism is a problem in onsite classes as well. But the online instructor actually has two great advantages in the effort to prevent plagiarism:
1. All student work in the online classroom must be is posted as written work; instructors learn each student's writing level and unique "writing signature" early in the class, from the first email through introductions and class discussion posts.
2. Most student plagiarists attempt to copy/paste work from a web site and pass it off as their own. Instructors can usually select a suspicious sentence (say, with a red-flag word like "egregious" or "inflammatory"), copy/paste the sentence into a yahoo or google search field, hit "go" -- and 9 times out of ten, we can find the exact website, and the exact quote which the student has plagiarized. There are also rather expensive services like www.turnitin.com which will perform this task for instructors; they often have departmental or institutional rates.
ANTI - IMPERSONATION STRATEGIES
Another criticism of online classes is that students may hire or persuade another student to "impersonate" or do his/her work for him. This may also occur in "f2f" classes-- but it is rare. Again, online instructors become familiar with the student's unique "writing signature" before the semester begins, from his or her email. Keep student emails and compare them with later work, to prevent both plagiarism and impersonation. This is another reason to require at least two "f2f" meetings. You need to meet your students and photograph them, and put their photos up in a "Gallery" - it is not likely that impersonators will persist if they know they need to go to another on - campus meetings.
Many online students are physically or visually disabled, and online classes are the only way they can pursue a college education. We need to make sure that our online classes are as "accessible" to these students as possible. See Appendix
CHECK DISCUSSION-BOARD CONSTANTLY FOR "NO SHOWS"
Especially as the mid semester mark approaches, pay attention to which students are posting, and which are not. Telephone students who have not posted to the previous week's forum, and ask if you can help. A bit of intervention at this point can make the difference whether a student stays in the class or "disappears".
Assessment of LEARNING OUTCOMES and CLASS DISCUSSION assignments, for the most part, follows the same rules and holds to the same standards and criteria as those of your f2f assignments. Assessment asks this question: How do you know students have learned the "lesson" you want to teach?
Broad "overarching" LEARNING OUTCOMES are now outlined in your LMC Course Outline of Record. Individual curricular "learning outcomes" should contribute to the overarching learning outcomes of your class, whether you teach it online or hybrid or "face to face". We invite YOU to contribute YOUR assessment strategies to this document, for a variety of classes and disciplines.
In general the only difference between an online assessment and a "f2f" assessment is that the online assessment must include evidence a high degree of student/student and instructor/student "interactivity." Otherwise, the criteria and standards are the same as those you would apply to a "f2f" assignment.
For example. your "Socratic question" for an ENGLISH 1A (Or American Government, or Biology) Class Discussion, which should guide student research and help them think critically about the lesson, may go something like this:
Please post a two paragraph FWA (formal writing assignment) in response to the following question:
Do X and Y have similar ideas about global warming? How? How do they differ? What are your thoughts? Which author do you most "agree" with? Why? Use paraphrase and direct quotes to support your response. Cite your sources in MLA format. Reply and respond critically to 3 other posts, adding at least one additional quote from your source in your response. Proofread and rewrite before you post.
The additional benefit of an online post, (for an English assignment, anyway) is that everything must be demonstrated in WRITING, and EVERY POST requires them to use and improve their reading and writing skills.
1. Does it address the assignment? Is it "On topic" ?
2. Does it employ academic and unbiased sources?
3. Details: effectively integrate facts, examples, paraphrase and quotes?
4. Organization: is the post well organized? Clear topic sentence?
Clear point of view?
5. Coherence: good use of transition words and repetiton of keywords?
6. Interactivity? Responsive interaction with other students, which
develops the "conversation" with new ideas?
7. Originality -- unique personal point of view, not just copycatting from other
You might remind students now and then that PLAGIARISM is easy to detect and easy to prove, and that COPYCATTING is easy to detect and prove, since each post notes to the minute and second, its date and time of posting.
REDUNDANCY AND PREDICTABILITY: THESE ARE GOOD THINGS...
Be consistent with online class format; the weekly due date should always be "11pm Sunday night" or whatever day/time you choose. Due dates should be consistent as scheduled in your Discussion Board forums, and your Course Overview. Resist the urge to extend due dates; urge students to adhere to deadlines, and close your D-Board forum after the deadline is past.
VII. ONGOING AND MID SEMESTER STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS (YOURS AND THEIRS)
MID SEMESTER GRADE "CHATS"
Offer students mid semester online grade chats in the virtual chatroom, to discuss their grades. This will reassure students that they are doing all right, (or not) and help them get back on track if need be. Your attention to them at this point can prevent them from dropping the class.
SOLICIT ONGOING GRADE REVIEW REQUESTS
Students need to know how they are doing in the class at all times. Some are more savvy than others, about adding up points, or averaging your letter grades. Invite them to talk to you about their grades, and to request "Grade Reviews" if they don't understand a grade.
PHONE YOUR "PHANTOMS" AND OFFER MAKE-UP OPTIONS
Spend a little time on the telephone to call your "phantoms" - students who have begun to disappear from your Discussion Board. Ask them to chat with you in your office or come to your computer classroom to work with the online classroom. Some are just too embarrassed to admit they are falling behind, and just need some extra outreach from you to re-connect with the class.
VIRTUAL CHATS and other REAL TIME LEARNING TOOLS
Virtual Chats (held in the Bb chatroom) or VOIP (WEB BASED VOICE CONFERENCE TOOLS) such as SKYPE or CCC CONFER can add "real time" immediacy and interactivity to your online class. Weekly "chats" may be scheduled to discuss the weekly topics and assignments. These "real time" chats should be announced in the First Day Handout and offered for extra credit or low points. Not all of your onliners will have broadband connection, and v-chats are very slow using dial-up. VISITING SCHOLARS, POETS AND EXPERTS can make appearances during these web chats to add their comments and expertise.
SCHEDULE FIELD TRIPS - THEATRES, MUSEUMS, ETC.
Add some "f2f" experiences which your onliners can anticipate, discuss and review in the chatroom or Class Discussions: take them to local theater performances, conferences, comet-sightings and the like. "Field Trips" bring students together, and help them create the connections they need to stay in the class.
VIII. LAST TWO WEEKS OF CLASS:
Plan your assignments so that you have time to enter grades in your CMS a couple of days before you post them on the district's Web Advisor. Students may then have an opportunity to contact you before the grades are official, and point out any mistakes you may have made. In all my years of online teaching, I have learned that students have been right far more often than they have been wrong about their carefully watched grade points.The few "whiners" I've had to deal with over the years, are greatly out numbered by the conscientious students who deserve every grade point they earn. One of the marks of "guide on the side' teaching is the willingness to listen to your students, and act upon their reasonable requests, especially where grades are concerned. It's one aspect the collegiality of the online classroom, and you will save yourself time and effort if you will solicit "grade reviews" along the way, and "grade reviews" before you post your final grades on Web Advisor.
One of the most persistent criticisms of Online Classes is that students can easily "cheat" on midterm and final exams. Many online instructors require "face to face" Final Exams, or proctored Final exams, for this reason. In "content" classes, where students must memorize facts and events,"f2f" exams may be a good option. Most Course Management Systems, such as Blackboard, have testing features which randomize test questions and limit the time a student has to finish the test, as well as the number of times a student may take the test. Under such conditions, students would have difficulty "cheating" on any exam. Some instructors email individual essay questions to their students with a strict turnaround limit, and some instructors use VOIP or video technology to give and receive exams. If you "weight" your Final Exam heavily, you may want to have it proctored in the Assessment
Center, or require a "face to face" exam.
Post a "HAIL AND FAREWELL" forum at the end of each semester to say goodbye and allow students to say goodbye to you and to each other. Ask students to share plans for the future, and keep in touch. Much like your INTRODUCTION forum, the HAIL AND FAREWELL forum allows students to communicate and bond with each other as it provides closure to the class. You'll enjoy reading this
post, as students reminisce about the class, and share plans for the future and promise to keep in touch with each other.
Blackboard and other Course Management Systems have an "Anonymous" option for the Discussion Board so that we can allow students to give anonymous class evaluations. It's a good idea to
invite a final class evaluation from your students. We learn a lot from such surveys, even if they are as simple as the following:
1. What did you like most about this online class?
2. What do you think needs to be improved?
3. Other comments and suggestions?
4. Is this your first online class?
5. What other online classes might you want to take?
IX. AFTER THE CLASS IS OVER...
After you have posted your grades on Blackboard and Web Advisor, you can take a deep breath and relax. There may be a few email "grade review requests" and some of them will warrant a grade change -- just as with "f2f" classes. But your main task is to self evaluate the class, and determine how it may be improved.
Print out all your mid term and final Class Evaluations and read them carefully. Read your Hail and Farewell posts. What did your students write about the class? Are there a number of consistent complaints? Four or five students who have the same issue? Please listen to these students, take stock, consult your DEC team and/or your OLE blog and see what other online instructors have to say. Above all, take student comments seriously and try to act on them as you design your next class, or "tweak" this class for its next semester.
X. EVALUATING YOUR ONLINE CLASS -- AND OTHER ONLINE CLASSES
These are the criteria we've discussed so far, by which we evaluate an online class. Here's a little checklist of criteria by which to evaluate your class -- or another online instructor's class:
DESIGN AND FORMAT
Does it display your welcoming cyber personality?
Is the weekly format consistent?
Are your assignments consistent, predictable and redundant?
Have you made every effort to create accessible web pages within the classroom, using Word or Front Page, or Dream weaver?
Is your classroom attractive? Do you post "banners" which enhance the week's lesson?
Are your instructions and assignments clear and well written? Do you provide models, examples, resources, and step-by step instructions?
Is your class "rich" and as fully "frontloaded" as possible?
Is your complete Course Overview posted?
Is your Course Syllabus posted?
SENSE OF COMMUNITY?
Are you projecting your "e-persona"?
Are your using "netiquette " in your emails?
Do you have a "Student Union" or Cafe forum?
Have you posted an Introduction Forum? all, or Are almost all students posting to CD and other assigned FORUMS?
Have you encouraged or assigned workshop partners
for a few projects?
Have you assigned a few group projects?
Are you posting your own comments to Class Discussions... informally and unobtrusively?
Do you respond to students as quickly as possible?
Do you offer feedback and grading of "posts" in a
Are most of your students actively engaged in the ongoing (Asynchronous) discussions?
Do you offer one or two face to face meetings?
Are your grade review requests promptly attended to?
Do your students engage each other in discussion, and
work together in group projects, or STUDY HALL ? (Blackboard offers a Group Pages area where students can access their own email, discussion board, and virtual chat room - you may enroll all of them in this area, which I call STUDY HALL)
CONSISTENCY AND PREDICABILITY
Are due dates fairly well consistent and adhered to?
Is the weekly "schedule" consistent and predictable?
Are similar items always found in the same "areas"?
Are Handouts or Course Documents near the "surface"
and not hidden away in too many folders?
Requested twice a semester?
responded to and acted upon?
Do at least 5/8 - 3/4 of your enrollees remain in
your class, and succeed in it ?
OTHER INDICATORS OF A GOOD ONLINE CLASS?
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
area: "place" where content or tools are located in a classroom, such as COMMUNICATIONS
asynchronous: not at the same time; as in Discussion Board learning is "asynchronous" because students post at different times, read posts at different times, available 24/7
accessible: legal term for ease of use for visually and physically disabled students
browse: skim or scan through a class or content area: "browse" the Discussion Forums"
constructivism: learning theory which informs most online education; creating a learning environment which encourages students to "construct" their own learning experience together.
f2f: face to face - on campus or other "real time, real place" meeting
frontload: to build your complete class before start date, as much as possible
"guide on the side" not "sage on the stage" - constructivist, student oriented teaching
interactivity: instructor / student contact and student/student ongoing interaction
learning styles: ways in which students learn, online or f2f, such as "visual" learning, "oral learning" and "verbal" learning styles
learning community: the improbable but real sense of "class cohesion " interdependency, trust and willingness to learn, and to take risks engendered in a supportive online class; the ability for invisible strangers to become partners and friends in pursuit of learning
navigate: to click from one area to another in a classroom; to click from one website to another on the internet, in order to find what we are looking for (and more)
rich: diverse, deep, content filled, navigable, serendipitous, learning-opportunity filled classroom environment
CALIFORNIA VIRTUAL CAMPUS
CONSTRUCTIVISM as a PARADIGM for TEACHING and LEARNING
CONSTRUCTIVISM IN ONLINE LEARNING