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We all strive to create effective online learning content and experiences for students. Yet, when we are teaching content to students and designing our online course, it’s so easy to overwhelm students with lists and folders of materials, cross-links and multiple links, and giving them everything we ever wanted to them to know about our subject. I know I’ve been guilty of over-supplying the information and options in the past. We just have so much we know about the subject and after all isn’t our role to teach and share what we know when we are doing instruction?
Interestingly, one of the consistent complaints we hear from students when we survey them in regard to the learning management systems, be it Blackboard or Canvas are: problems with navigation and knowing where to go first in the course, where to find something, or which links to use.
Actual student feedback comments from past surveys:
- “Things are to scattered. Easy to loose track of where something was. Some things are everywhere you look and others are hidden.”
- “It was hard to figure out how to submit assignments… so I would suggest making it easier and in one place. I just found it difficult the way either my teacher set it up as, or how the website was set up.”
- “Collaborative group work was hard to manage. Not everyone knew where to look for our shared documents we were using.”
Now, various learning management tools take different approaches, some are better or cleaner than others; but we always have a certain amount of customization we can use to tailor the course how we see fit. How do we do that best?
One approach is to look at online courses you like or that are set up as “best practice” examples and borrow some ideas on course set-up. Taking part in workshops and sharing about online course design is certainly another approach. Many of you have likely used both.
Let me offer another approach, slip on a different pair of shoes and think like a student. You do it now without realizing it when you participant in our IMPACT course redesign program through the Blackboard content, complete an online MOOC or participant in any other online course for professional development. I have had amusing comments from my IMPACT faculty, who sheepishly admitted they were short on time to complete their weekly online readings and activities. One of them said he felt like one of his students must, by quickly scanning down the page to see just what he “had” to get done for the session today. So, if we are looking for shortcuts at times; what of course are the students doing? If we aren’t sure what to do first and poke around when we are in an online course for the first time; what are students doing? The same, I would imagine. I don’t think we can write it off as students are being lazy when we are all challenged with time constraints and try to maximize our time on tasks.
While we like to give many options and much information, it’s best to help learners maximize their time on tasks too. So as you set up your entire course or a partial amount of your course online, think like a student.
Look at the course like you are viewing it for the first time. Using the ‘student view’ options provided are useful for this as well. Consider, is it glaringly clear where the student should start first? Is it without a doubt, clear what is required weekly and where items are found in the menu or content arrangement? Have you pared down content to focus on what the student ‘must know’ and moved additional ‘nice to know’ information into a reference area; so, they are not bogged down completing weekly tasks? How will they communicate with you and with other students? Ask a student to test drive your course and provide feedback.
To get started with assembling and arranging your content, here is a link from our ITaP Course Design Web page: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/cdm/index.html#faculty or email our team at email@example.com. Happy thinking!
I’ve been teaching online at an institution other than Purdue for about 7 years now. During the Fall 2013 semester, a student commented to me that they really appreciated the amount of communication I had with them during the semester. Another student mentioned that I was much more engaged compared to his previous online course instructors.
For some reason these comments really haunted me after that term. Yes, it felt great to get that kind of feedback from students because it was positive. However, I have since been curious about why these students praised my involvement. Why is it odd to students that online instructors are engaged in their courses? If so, shouldn’t that be somewhat alarming?
Engagement is a two-way street. We can’t expect students to be highly engaged in their classes while as faculty, we appear to either simply observing the class…or at worst, completely unengaged and uncaring about what is going on.
One aspect where student performance can be impacted positively by communication from faculty is through feedback. Chickering and Gamson (1991), in their Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, list two principles that work hand-in-hand when it comes to communication: Giving prompt feedback, and communicating high expectations.
If I simply state in my syllabus that I expect strong performance from my students on an assignment, but I provide little to no feedback to students, I am not being effective in providing guidance to high-performing students who may simply need reinforcement that they’re on the right track. I am also not being effective with lower-performing students by not providing them with the feedback and information they need to improve their work and rise to the expectations I have for the class. If I don’t tell a student what I expect and clearly communicate to them what they need to do to improve, how can I expect them to do better?
So what’s so important about prompt feedback? Prompt feedback plus communication about what the student needs to continue doing (or improve upon) can make a difference in the student’s performance. Not providing prompt feedback can put a student in a position where they don’t know what to improve upon until after the submission of additional assignments or assessments.
There are other components of communication that can be accomplished to keep you engaged with the course. Consider using Announcements within Blackboard to provide updates and information that can help them, such as tips on how to complete assigned tasks, or emphasizing due dates. If you do use Announcements, change your course entry page from Course Content to Announcements so those are the first thing a student sees when they log in. In addition, critical announcements can also be emailed to students.
Furthermore, if you’re teaching online or a blended course where synchronous activity with your students is limited, you may wish to add online office hours using web conference tools provided by Purdue. This can allow you to host real-time discussions with students wherever you are.
Communicating feedback and expectations is important for student success. However, simply communicating with your students to let them know that you’re engaged and available can also demonstrate that you care about your students and their involvement in your class.
To discuss ways to increase communication with your students, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1991). Appendix A: Seven principles for
good practice in undergraduate education. New Directions for Teaching
and Learning, 47, 63-69.
Purdue University offers a lot of great software tools for faculty and students that can be used for course projects. The problem that may arise for faculty wanting students to create movies, graphics, or other deliverables for course projects may simply be that students are not familiar with tools needed to create those items.
This is where the ITaP Student Trainers can help!
The ITaP Student Training program offers free training on various software tools to students and faculty. During the time of a 50-minute course meeting, a Student Trainer can provide students with the basic knowledge of a software tool so those students can complete their assignment. For a 75-minute course, Student Trainers can provide not only a training session but also, on request of the course instructor, additional question and answer time for individual students in the course.
Each training session is a hands-on session, so training sessions held during class time may need to be held in a computer lab instead of the normal classroom. All students in the session will receive a handout, and any student missing class or needing additional instruction may schedule an individual help session with one of the Student Training staff.
Student Trainers currently provide training sessions on the following software tools:
(Word, Excel, Powerpoint)
|GarageBand||Windows Live Movie Maker|
Additionally, other training sessions may be available on request. If you need a training session on a product not listed above, please contact the Student Trainers and request that session.
Student Trainers are also available to provide training sessions to recognized student organizations. Student organizations interested in providing professional development to its members as a whole, or who may need a few members trained in a technology to develop videos or materials to market their group may utilize the Student Trainers for this purpose. Additionally, Resident Assistants who would like to provide a program for their communities to develop new technical skills may also request a program from the Student Training staff.
Student Trainer sessions may be customized to meet the needs of attendees. For an audience that may know how to use Microsoft Word but may need some training on more advanced topics in Word, a training session can be developed to meet that need.
The ITaP Student Trainers are available throughout the fall and spring semesters, with limited availability in the summer. If you are interested in setting up a training session please fill out our training request form. For more information please email email@example.com and one of our training coordinators will answer any questions you may have.
As we embark on another academic year, I think it’s important to consider how we can create the best environment for learning. In 1987, Chickering and Gamson put forth a brief article titled Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. This document has become a touchstone for educators and instructional designers over the past two and a half decades, and still remains very relevant today.
Chickering and Gamson (1987) pulled the seven principles together in an effort to better understand over 50 years of research on not only how students learn, but also how instructors teach. What resulted were a set of guidelines that, if implemented in part or in whole, has the potential to greatly impact student success in the classroom. As you reflect on your teaching for the semester, consider these principles – and how you might incorporate them – as you prepare future class sessions or courses.
1. Good practice encourages student-instructor contact.
Students interacting with their faculty members has been shown to increase student performance and overall retention to the university. This can be done through emails to students , in- or -out-of-class activities, or simply learning your students’ names.
2. Good practice encourages cooperation among students.
When students interact with others, particularly those with different backgrounds, ethnicities, experiences, or ideologies, they have an opportunity to learn more about the world around them and develop critical thinking and analysis skills. Group projects, study groups, or case/team/problem based learning are all great ways to have students cooperatively learn a concept.
3. Good practice encourages active learning.
The more active a student is in class, the more likely they are to learn the materials being presented. Encourage your students to ask questions and to answer other students’ questions. Further, consider employing one or more tools supported by ITaP designed to increase active and involved learning in your classroom.
4. Good practice involves prompt feedback.
The more students know how they’re doing and how they can improve their performance, the more likely it is that they’ll be successful in the course. Consider employing Course Signals or the Early Warning System (in Learn) as a means of providing feedback with tips for success on a regular basis. Early intervention is key – the earlier and more often you provide feedback, the better for the students.
5. Good practice encourages time on task.
The more good time a student spends on a task, the better they’ll understand the concept and be able to perform the same task the next time. “Good” time is purposeful time – not time spent multi-tasking or working on multiple things at once. It is time that is devoted to one thing with a strong concerted effort. Encouraging students to enhance their learning and studying skills is a great way to help them increase their overall effectiveness.
6. Good practices communicates high expectations.
Most students will work to reach the bar you set for them. If a high bar is set, they’ll work to reach it – provided if you also provide support for them at the same time. Telling students where the bar is set and how they can reach it with your support or the assistance of other offices on campus (resource rooms, help labs, etc.) will go a long way in helping your students succeed.
7. Good practice respects divers talents and ways of learning.
How you learn is not necessarily the same way your students learn, and that’s ok. Understanding where these differences lie, and using varying methods of assessment (oral projects, written papers, team work, multi-media, etc.) will allow for students with different styles and skill sets to flourish. Purdue’s Center for Instructional Excellence has some information on learning styles, and can work with you to better understand how these can be incorporated into your classroom.
Reference: Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7): 3-7.