As more busy adults enter the education system, there is a much higher demand for classes and even entire curriculums with the flexibility that comes with online courses.
Students who seek online courses may have full-time jobs, health issues, physical disabilities, small children to look after, or other situations that make it difficult to attend live classes on a rigid schedule. Yet they have a strong desire to keep learning and even complete a degree. With online classes, they can still work toward their educational goals.
If you’re new to online teaching, you might wonder what that means for your syllabus and teaching style. Running an online course might not be as simple as just moving all your materials and tests online. Assignments may take longer online than they do in person. And how do you bring the same energy to an online class as you do when you’re standing in front of a group of students? How do you help students feel as engaged and connected in front of their computer screens as they would in a room full of fellow classmates?
Help Students Cultivate a Supportive Online Community
An online class can be a perfect excuse for students to “come to class” in pajamas and slippers without worrying about other people seeing them. Also, it lacks the social interaction and live discussion that take place in a normal classroom. That’s why online courses can sometimes feel somewhat isolated, like being an island in the middle of open sea.
It’s a good idea to launch the class with a personal introduction and encourage students to introduce themselves to their peers– to share a little about themselves, why they are looking forward to the course, and their goals. Also consider creating an open forum that students can use at any time.
There are two types of learning activities when it comes to distance learning: synchronous and asynchronous. Asynchronous refers to in-depth discussions, case studies, and other topics that occur at different times of the day, depending on the schedule of the individual student. Synchronous refers to live chatting, when teacher and students are all logged in at the same time.
You can find far more tools to help you conference with your online students in real time, including Skype, Google hangout, or AdobeConnect. This can help you conference with your students, measure their engagement, and answer their questions. As well, your students may feel more connected to see faces through a webcam or hear your tone of voice through a microphone, as if they were in a real classroom.
Make Yourself Available
Because your class won’t meet in person every week, it’s even more imperative to be accessible to your students when they need to reach out to you and/or ask questions. Of course, you will also set reasonable boundaries, so you’re not answering e-mails at 4 AM.
Successful learning requires ongoing and timely feedback with clear expectations of what is expected of the learner, and this is the same for online learning. If anything, communicating through text has a much higher risk of miscommunication, so you must be clear and precise as you provide plenty of directions for your students.
Some teachers might think they should step back from student discussions and allow the students to take the lead, as your presence might make them less likely to voice their opinions. However, adding a guiding hand, support, and sense of direction will help students to know that you are there in case they need you.
You may also have to advise your students on the best methods to succeed in an online class. Ask students what works and what doesn’t. Online courses might not be right for every student, so try to provide students with as many opportunities as possible to make informed decisions about their own situation. Releasing your syllabus and materials or website before the class starts is one good way to do this.
Beware of Procrastination
Thanks to the Internet, many people struggle to stay on task at one point or another. Being in an online class makes a student that much closer to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other distractions that keep us from focusing on work.
Students may be drawn to online classes by the allure of having more freedom to set their own schedule, but that doesn’t mean there are no deadlines, or that a student can put off assignments while the rest of the class moves ahead.
Frequent quizzes, short answer essays, and regular discussions can help students to keep up with the material and may be more beneficial than non-frequent and larger assignments and tests. The goal is to help students stay engaged and reduce procrastination.
Communication, clarity, encouragement, and consistent presence–these are some important ways to help students succeed in your online class and enjoy the benefits of long-distance learning. Share your online teaching experiences in the comments below!