Posted by & filed under Online Teaching Resources, The Online Student.

Happy Fall Semester everyone!  As many of us are starting new fall teaching assignments, its a good time to discuss what our students will be looking for from their online instructors in order to get the most out of their distance learning experience.

Eskey & Schulte (2010) highlight some core areas to consider when planning for an effective term: Building Community, Discussion Forum Facilitation, Assignment Feedback, Online Classroom Climate, and Instructor Response Time.

These 5 areas are essential to the learning of online students.  Indeed, no student rated any of these areas as anything less than “agree” on a Likert-style survey asking their opinion of their importance – most responding “strongly agree.”  The results of this survey indicate that online students, “expect prompt, robust grade book comments from their instructors” (Eskey & Schulte, 2010, pg. 16) and aren’t as impressed by or attentive to autogenerated comments or comments that simply speak to the quantity of their discussion participation.  They want to see a quick turn around on individual assignment feedback and need that feedback to be thorough (highlighting both strengths and areas for improvement) and with an eye to their individual learning trajectories.  They aren’t interested that you counted their posts, but that you use their posts as a a platform to continue their learning in the forums.  They want all of this in the context of a vibrant learning community with engaging discussions and a positive atmosphere where they aren’t afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.

But as online and on-ground instructors, we know this already.  And, to a large extent we attempt to meet these needs naturally as we are inclined to help our students grow and give us back the same level of effort we put in.  But, the beginning of a term is always a good time to challenge ourselves to be even better instructors than we were the term before.  Here are some simple tips to help you in your quest to meet these five demands:

  1. Building Community – Start off with an ice-breaker assignment (i.e. “Two Truths and a Lie”, biography statements, or “Why are you taking this class?” threads), encourage students who struggle, identify late logger-inners and attempt to rein them in.
  2. Discussion Forum Facilitation – Post early and often and in an engaging way.  If a student’s post reminds you of a TED talk you just watched, post it with a “what do you all think?” statement at the end to encourage viewing and discussion.  Its hard for us to post on weekends sometimes, but that’s when adult learners do their best and most productive work.  If you have more time on a Thursday to write and post forum responses, you can save some in “draft” form and wait until the weekend to publish a few of those – making you present yet at the same time freer to enjoy your family.  Make efforts to go beyond the  minimum posts required by your institution.
  3. Assignment Feedback – Bring up the feedback you posted from the week before and take a few notes for each student so that you can see if they are incorporating your feedback in this week’s assignment and if so (or if not) you can point that out, showing your students you care about their individual learning curve.  Quote from the student’s work, take examples of it as you write your feedback narrative.
  4. Online Classroom Climate – Post netiquette rules in the syllabus, follow them yourself, and communicate privately with students who aren’t using the forums in the appropriate way.  Take time for humor where appropriate (post a funny cartoon as it fits with the material), and use student “mistakes” as opportunities for encouragement rather than simple correction and as springboards for further discussion.
  5. Instructor Response Time – Here are some great tips for organizing your grading and forum posting schedule.

And my biggest piece of advice (coming from personal experience!):  Don’t carry over negativity from the previous term.  This is especially easy to do if you jump right into a five-week online term into another one or if they overlap.  If you happened to have a less-than-motivated, difficult, or otherwise negative group of students or if you felt like you yourself struggled in the five areas listed above – Let. It. Go.  Learn from it and see this term as a fresh start.  The new group of students have their own story, both individually and as a cohort.  You are a work in progress.  Here is a great thread in the LinkedIn forum “Teaching for Success” that may inspire you.

Please leave a comment below if you have any suggestions or words of encouragement for your fellow online adjuncts!

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