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Author Topic: New to online teaching... any advice?  (Read 47903 times)
mosy_worths
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« on: December 30, 2011, 9:37:36 AM »

Hello,

I've been lurking in this forum and have read quite a few posts, so I decided it's probably time to participate a bit.

I left my tenure-track position at a private university after about three years of work, when my family moved out of state. It was a blessing because I realized after about a year of working that the life of a tenured professor was not for me. :)

I've taken a year off, but now I will be starting teaching for the Art Institute online in January. Any advice from seasoned online instructors? Any warnings?
 
« Last Edit: December 30, 2011, 9:38:07 AM by mosy_worths » Logged

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Mosy
octoprof
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« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2011, 10:09:26 AM »

Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine... lost my long post...

I'll try again...

<cries>

Welcome to the forums, Mosy!.

Here's what I have learned the past year or so, having developed two courses both for full online and hybrid delivery and delivered all four of these combos. I'm going into a new semester doing everything for the second or third time in January.

Online teaching is all about being organized and prepared. You'll want to plan out your course modules and get them developed well ahead of when the students need them. Development takes an inordinately ridiculous amount of time. Estimate how much time you think you'll need then multiple by some large factor. Trust me on this.  This is especially true if you are developing all the materials yourself.

Online learning (from the student point of view) is all about time management. Students who are not familiar with online learning will tend to get behind and then crash and burn.  If your students are experienced online learners, this might not be a big problem.

You can help them with this by communicating with them frequently. I find I email students (as a class and individually) much more often when teaching online than otherwise. Here, I'm referring to communications that I initiate.  I'm amazed at the percentage of students who do not check their university email very often so I hammer them with email reminds in the first month to try to get them engaged. What is up with this smartphone/iPad/laptop wielding population not checking email daily?

Students in online courses have a tendency to feel disengaged. You can combat this and other things by frequent communication, not just from you to them, but engaging them with one another in discussion forums as appropriate. This works better in some subjects than others, of course. I don't have discussions forums that I GRADE in my course (I teach accounting) but I do have them for students to discuss problematic concepts, to post needs for study partners, to discuss what worked well for them in studying for an exam, and such like. If your subject lends itself to graded discussion, by all means do that. I can imagine if you are teaching art history, for example, some discussions could be fantastic.

Finally, for your own sanity, if you are likely to teach this course online every again, design the course and its objects (videos, quizzes, discussions, quizzes, whatever) to be modular so next semester you can just copy the whole thing over and then make smaller improvements, redoing a video or assignment here an there. To this end, don't name objects with dates (like "Video for Jan. 19th") because you'll just have to go in and change all those names in the new semester. Name them by modules (Module 1 video, Module 2 quiz) or by Subjects that make sense to you, especially if you might want to rearrange subjects/modules in the future. I named mine module 1, 2, 3 (and video 1, homework 1, quiz 1, etc) and then after finishing my first course (which I've taught twice) I realized I wanted to switch the order of module 7 and 8.  So rather than go change the names of everything in both modules I just note to the students on the syllabus/schedule that 8 obviously is going to come before 8 and I order them that way visually in the online learning system (BlackBoard 9.1 if you are curious).

How you divide up your course will reflect how you think about the subject and how you want your students to progress. In my junior/senior level course, every module (except the first) is one chapter of the book and every module is designed to fit into a week (12 or 13 total). In my intro course, I made the modules much smaller and more narrowly focused (segments of chapters, less big concepts per segment, etc.) and they are about half a week each (25 total).  I'm sure there are many other ways to do this, but remember I'm teaching accounting and am a bit prone to structure...

Also, remember that the first time you develop online materials, be sure to remind yourself that it gets easier and you get better at it.

If your subject lends itself to using free online material, by all means, use it!  If your textbook publisher provides good online material (esp. for assessment) by all means use it. In both of my courses (using texts from different publishers by the way) I use some material (mostly homework/quizzes/testbank) from the publishers (you can get a testbank "cartridge" loaded into your online learning system to use. It takes a bit of learning to set up but is so much better than typing up quiz questions one by one (I've done that, too, though). One of my courses has a publisher with an awesome online homework system. I use online homework from the publishers in both courses but in this particular course the online homework system has a much easier way to design quizzes (so I do them there rather than in BlackBoard) and some cool interactive study experience sort of things that I also assign.

Of course, we don't know what you are teaching, so if you give us an idea of the subject, we can probably give better (or at least less irrelevant) advice. If you are teaching Drawing, for example, you are going to have different needs than if you are teaching, Art History.

Good luck!




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octoprof
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« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2011, 10:13:51 AM »

PS. Students will judge you based on the quality and organization of your online materials and the efficiency and effectiveness of your communications with them (email, discussion board, assignment feedback, syllabus, etc.)
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« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2011, 10:26:56 AM »

Octoprof's advice is comprehensive, so I'll keep mine simple: pursue professional development! Training on the LMS and strategies for teaching online will be very helpful to you at this stage. I assume there are opportunities provided, and I suggest taking them.
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octoprof
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2011, 10:57:26 AM »

Octoprof's advice is comprehensive, so I'll keep mine simple: pursue professional development! Training on the LMS and strategies for teaching online will be very helpful to you at this stage. I assume there are opportunities provided, and I suggest taking them.

How did I forget that? Duh! My university has fanstastic (and probably over the top) required training in the CMS and in online course design (or did a year or more ago... it's changed a lot I'm told).  And, if you are going to make videos, get someone to teach you Camtasia (or take a couple hour or more class to get you started) or something similar.
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yemaya
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« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2011, 11:42:32 AM »

In addition to the above excellent advice:

1.) Make sure that absolutely everything - assignments, feedback, etc, are absolutely crystal clear - even more so than you would for a f2f class.

2.) Keep the organization of the course as unfussy as possible.  Students begin to struggle when they have to click through multiple links to find materials.  I'm also seeing a lot of non-traditional students who perhaps don't have the best technical skills and are intimidated by the computer environment.

3.) Make yourself extra-visible the first 2 modules, then tell students that you're going to back off a bit so that they have plenty of room to discuss the topics, but reassure them that you still read every post. 

4.) Grade as promptly as possible.  Many online gigs expect you to grade materials within 7 days.  I found that students become antsy after about 4.
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mosy_worths
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« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2011, 11:47:07 AM »

PS. Students will judge you based on the quality and organization of your online materials and the efficiency and effectiveness of your communications with them (email, discussion board, assignment feedback, syllabus, etc.)


Thank you so much for your response! It definitely gives me a bit to worry think about. :) The course at AI that I'm teaching is a History of Design course, and it's supposed to be "turn-key"... with all the modules and even the grading rubrics already made.

I imagine there will still be quite a bit of prep to do, which worries me because I won't have access to my course materials until a week before class begins. I'm a little panicked about that part, now.
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Mosy
mosy_worths
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« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2011, 11:49:57 AM »

In addition to the above excellent advice:

1.) Make sure that absolutely everything - assignments, feedback, etc, are absolutely crystal clear - even more so than you would for a f2f class.

2.) Keep the organization of the course as unfussy as possible.  Students begin to struggle when they have to click through multiple links to find materials.  I'm also seeing a lot of non-traditional students who perhaps don't have the best technical skills and are intimidated by the computer environment.

3.) Make yourself extra-visible the first 2 modules, then tell students that you're going to back off a bit so that they have plenty of room to discuss the topics, but reassure them that you still read every post. 

4.) Grade as promptly as possible.  Many online gigs expect you to grade materials within 7 days.  I found that students become antsy after about 4.

Grades have to be in within 48 hours for my course... is that unusual?

 Your #2 is great advice for me. I tend to be short on brevity ( ;) ) and with a background in design I need to be reminded that not everyone is proficient with their software at this point.
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yemaya
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« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2011, 11:55:23 AM »

PS. Students will judge you based on the quality and organization of your online materials and the efficiency and effectiveness of your communications with them (email, discussion board, assignment feedback, syllabus, etc.)


Thank you so much for your response! It definitely gives me a bit to worry think about. :) The course at AI that I'm teaching is a History of Design course, and it's supposed to be "turn-key"... with all the modules and even the grading rubrics already made.

I imagine there will still be quite a bit of prep to do, which worries me because I won't have access to my course materials until a week before class begins. I'm a little panicked about that part, now.


I teach one of those.  If the materials are already designed, you won't have a huge amount of prep aside from reading through your course materials to anticipate questions.

On the grades-  do you mean that the materials from each module has to be in within 48 hours?  That would be unusual.  I have to have final course grades in within 48 hours of the end of a term, but I have up to a week to grade the assignments.  (Which usually consists of a paper, discussion boards and a quiz.)

Oh - if you have quizzes, double-check the CMS's grading.  I've only taught with Blackboard, but I find that it makes a lot of mistakes.
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octoprof
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« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2011, 12:04:27 PM »

In addition to the above excellent advice:

1.) Make sure that absolutely everything - assignments, feedback, etc, are absolutely crystal clear - even more so than you would for a f2f class.

2.) Keep the organization of the course as unfussy as possible.  Students begin to struggle when they have to click through multiple links to find materials.  I'm also seeing a lot of non-traditional students who perhaps don't have the best technical skills and are intimidated by the computer environment.

3.) Make yourself extra-visible the first 2 modules, then tell students that you're going to back off a bit so that they have plenty of room to discuss the topics, but reassure them that you still read every post. 

4.) Grade as promptly as possible.  Many online gigs expect you to grade materials within 7 days.  I found that students become antsy after about 4.

Grades have to be in within 48 hours for my course... is that unusual?

 Your #2 is great advice for me. I tend to be short on brevity ( ;) ) and with a background in design I need to be reminded that not everyone is proficient with their software at this point.

My comments on Yemaya's good list.

#1. You need to learn to write clear, concise and complete instructions. Imagine you are trying to explain how to do an assignment to a kindergartener. I'm not demeaning your students, just suggesting you think about every single step and explain it carefully.

#2. The rule I was taught is that anything of importance should be no more than two clicks away once they are logged into your course. Thus, my students click on Learning Modules and see the whole list, then they click on the one they want. At that point, they can see the objectives and all the elements of that module listed (videos, demos, PDFs, slides, homework, quiz, whatever) and the next click pops that item right up (or takes them to the external homework thingie from the publisher for automated homework).

#3 Yes, yes, yes!

#4 Final grades at my school have to be posted within 48 hours, but there's no rule about intermediate assignments/exams etc. However, in an online course, students will expect quick turnaround. I always get tests graded and posted by the next day. I try to get homework (that is hand-graded) returned by 5pm on the same day. Only one class once a week that gets this sort of assignment (my majors class). I annotate the PDfs and send them right back, starting at the time they were due (noon) - I do not accept late assignments and students appreciate knowing they are going to get feedback within an hour or sometimes four or five of the due time (noon) on that day, regularly.

These sorts of assignments are always due on the same day of the week (easier for them to remember) and I schedule that day so that I can get them done at that time (subject to random interruptions for required meetings). In fact, I used to go home to do them because I'm faster with my printer/scanner there but now I have learned now to annotate PDFs on my iPad with a stylus, so I think this is going to be much more efficient this term. For context, these were low risk (points) assignments but good measures for them of what they knew and didn't know and I mark them up just like I would on an exam so they can make adjustments for improvement before exams.  They don't get this kind of feedback in the online homework system and they don't have to work this hard to do the online homework (which has lots of drop downs and help) so, since I can't look them in the eye in class and see whether they are getting it, I added this sort of assignment to my online class. Of course, this is a quantitative problem solving course, which probably has no relevance to many of you and I'm rambling on and on...

This is the only assignment due at noon. Everything else is due at 11:59PM so that they don't have to think about due times very much, just dates. I remind them that this doesn't mean they should be DOING it at 11:59PM. And yes, I stopped saying 12:00AM because they can't tell the difference in 12:00AM and 12:00PM clearly.

I should shut up now...
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yemaya
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« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2011, 12:13:59 PM »

#1. You need to learn to write clear, concise and complete instructions. Imagine you are trying to explain howto do an assignment to a kindergartener. I'm not demeaning your students, just suggesting you think about every single step and explain it carefully.

Absolutely.  I've found that online students 1.) sometimes have weaker reading skills and 2.) more importantly, are far more anxious than f2f students about whether or not they're doing something right.  It's something about the online environment and the physical separation from the professor.  Even when the directions are really clear, you can expect a mountain of emails just to confirm that they are, indeed, doing what they are supposed to be.

Quote
#2. The rule I was taught is that anything of importance should be no more than two clicks away once they are logged into your course. Thus, my students click on Learning Modules and see the whole list, then they click on the one they want. At that point, they can see the objectives and all the elements of that module listed (videos, demos, PDFs, slides, homework, quiz, whatever) and the next click pops that item right up (or takes them to the external homework thingie from the publisher for automated homework).

This is a really good rule!

Quote
This is the only assignment due at noon. Everything else is due at 11:59PM so that they don't have to think about due times very much, just dates. I remind them that this doesn't mean they should be DOING it at 11:59PM. And yes, I stopped saying 12:00AM because they can't tell the difference in 12:00AM and 12:00PM clearly.

Yes!
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octoprof
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« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2011, 12:39:57 PM »

Quote
#2. The rule I was taught is that anything of importance should be no more than two clicks away once they are logged into your course. Thus, my students click on Learning Modules and see the whole list, then they click on the one they want. At that point, they can see the objectives and all the elements of that module listed (videos, demos, PDFs, slides, homework, quiz, whatever) and the next click pops that item right up (or takes them to the external homework thingie from the publisher for automated homework).

This is a really good rule!

Our former Director of Instructional Support was very picky about this. She knew her online course design! I think there's some sort of technical term for it, like horizontal menus or wide-shallow structure or something. It's also part of good website design in general (that many websites do not follow because they want you to keep clicking so they get ad revenue!).

Quote
This is the only assignment due at noon. Everything else is due at 11:59PM so that they don't have to think about due times very much, just dates. I remind them that this doesn't mean they should be DOING it at 11:59PM. And yes, I stopped saying 12:00AM because they can't tell the difference in 12:00AM and 12:00PM clearly.

Yes!

Thank God! I thought it was just my students who couldn't deal with this. It's a pain to type in 11:59pm every time (it's never a drop down menu choice), but you'll be glad you did.

<very far aside> I really thought it was students at this university. This was reinforced last semester when I took a foreign language class and the "telling and saying time" part of the course was hilarious. Most young people in the class didn't get time concepts (quarter til, quarter past, half past (half till!)) without a digital clock reference and the concept of 24 hour time (common in the country of interest) was just alien to them. </very far aside>
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yemaya
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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2011, 1:15:26 PM »

Quote
This is the only assignment due at noon. Everything else is due at 11:59PM so that they don't have to think about due times very much, just dates. I remind them that this doesn't mean they should be DOING it at 11:59PM. And yes, I stopped saying 12:00AM because they can't tell the difference in 12:00AM and 12:00PM clearly.

Yes!

Thank God! I thought it was just my students who couldn't deal with this. It's a pain to type in 11:59pm every time (it's never a drop down menu choice), but you'll be glad you did.

<very far aside> I really thought it was students at this university. This was reinforced last semester when I took a foreign language class and the "telling and saying time" part of the course was hilarious. Most young people in the class didn't get time concepts (quarter til, quarter past, half past (half till!)) without a digital clock reference and the concept of 24 hour time (common in the country of interest) was just alien to them. </very far aside>

Not at all, Octoprof.  I even have a number of administrators at my private LAC who do not grasp time concepts.
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_touchedbyanoodle_
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« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2011, 12:09:56 PM »

I have to do the 11:59pm trick as well. I make sure to state "before midnight" as well.

Since the course is pre-built, then your goal really needs to be establishing online presence. I suggest sending a weekly announcement email to the whole class, with reminders of upcoming deadlines, a summary of the goals for the week, and comments on what went on last week. Bonus points for quoting a student or two from the discussion forum.

On the discussion forums, I suggest making it a habit to check in and post twice a day. Even if you post just once, it will look like you are in there all the time, which is what students will note and comment on in evaluations. You want students to see something new from you each time they log in, so they're encouraged to log in frequently.

If you have the freedom to create additional grades, I suggest adding discussion leadership as an assignment. That is, assign 2-3 students to "lead" each discussion (after the second week or so) by posting questions to the group, encouraging further discussion with follow-up questions to their classmates, and so-on. I do this and make it worth twice as much as the usual discussion grade.

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reener06
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« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2011, 12:54:55 PM »

These are all great suggestions, from octoprof especially. I've done about 5 online courses. This year I simplified my life based on a suggestion from the fora. Have a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section on your course module (maybe in week 1; maybe in a general section) to cut down on the amount of repetitious emails you get. In here I also posted a great lesson on how to write proper emails from larryc. In addition, I have them take a syllabus quiz within the first week to guarantee they read the syllabus. This is a CYA move--they can't argue they didn't know X if you have documentation that they took the syllabus quiz.

Also, make it clear that when they run into technical problems--and they will--they need to contact Bb or the CMS IMMEDIATELY. Usually the helpdesk is open 24/7. They can't wait days or weeks to let you know they could not access the quiz or the module. The CMS helpdesk will establish documentation, usually by issuing a ticket number, that they were contacted and then they work quickly to resolve the problem. If the student does not do this, for me this is like an unexcused absence. Make this very clear.

I find that repetition of course policies in multiple places--the syllabus, the announcement page, the course main page--is a good ida. I also have a policy that I have 24 hours to reply to an email, and I return papers within 7 days.

Mostly, allow yourself a lot of patience and know you will make mistakes. Fix them as fast as you can, and make a note of them to make the next time go more smoothly.
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