With a holiday break and a start to the new year/semester fast approaching, now is a great time to resolve to adopt a few new teaching and learning best practices for our online courses. While there may be several measures we can adopt to improve the overall quality of our online teaching environments, here are five easy to follow, easy to apply techniques that can make your online courses that much more engaging.
1. Model How the Course Will Go for Students with a “Getting Started” Unit
A smart move for any online instructor is to implement some kind of ‘orientation unit’ for the online student. This unit can serve the purpose of introducing the student to his or her online course environment, as well as other important course information. Expectations, rules of the road, and an operator’s manual are usually communicated within this unit.
2. 2-4-6-8... Time to Differentiate
As you know, students are not identical. Each learner has varying degrees of abilities, aptitude levels, interests, learning experiences and needs. While it may not be feasible to get to know each student on a personal basis, faculty members can make some general deductions about the learning diversity that is present in every class.
This is where differentiated instruction comes in. The term refers to the theory that since no two students will learn exactly the same way, instructors have the opportunity to design their online teaching environments using a variety of instructional methods that may reach a broader swath of the student body. The online environment really lends itself to this approach.
a. Realize students are unique, and discover ways to get to know them online.
b. Look critically at courses, and identify a few areas where diversity of instructional methodology can be introduced.
c. Talk to your instructional designer for ideas on how to incorporate different online instructional tools.
3. Set Due Dates to Coincide with Support Desk Hours
SHSU Online's Technology Support Desk hours are 7 a.m. to midnight, Monday-Saturday. It is helpful to make sure any due dates, tests or technology oriented activities fall when the Support Desk team is available. This is important because students will have someone to call if the technology doesn’t work, or their interpretation of how the technology should work is different from what actually happened.
4. Set a Consistent Schedule for Course Interactions
Establishing a routine for course interactions is helpful, including a set time period for responses to questions posted in Virtual Office discussion forums (within 24 – 36 hours is suggested). In addition, holding regular “office hours” with a synchronous chat tool (Skype, Bb Chat or Collaborate, Google Hangout) for real-time availability to answer students' questions, and posting announcements and emailing them once a week summarizing the previous week’s events and highlighting the important aspects of the next week, are good approaches to establishing a reliable routine for students.
5. Have fun!
Online instruction provides a great opportunity for faculty members to express their teaching philosophies in a number of diverse and effective ways, to make courses exciting and personalized, and to have fun doing what they do best… teaching!