Preparing Students for the Online Course

Preparing students for the online learning environment can be challenging.  Your students have a wide variety of motivators for taking an online course.  Some of which think that taking an online course will be ‘easier’ than a face-to-face course.  Preparing all your students for the rigor and workload is essential to their success.  Here are a few shared tips to prepare your students:

  • Provide a Welcome email that goes out at least one week before the course begins. In this letter, state explicitly what the expectations are, i.e.: Expect to spend 18-24 hours per week in this course.
  • Provide a list of technical skills that students need to have in order to be successful in the course.
  • A well-structured syllabus.
  • Course Description
  • Course Learning Outcomes
  • Instructor Contact Information
  • Required Materials
  • Student Expectations
  • Instructor Expectations
  • Course Assignments and Evaluation
  • Grading Information
  • Class Policies
  • University Policies
  • A detailed Course Schedule. This schedule should include exact time and day assignments are due, rather than, when you want them to work on a specific assignment. For example, Quiz 1 is due by Wednesday at 11:00 pm.
  • Be very clear about course communication. State your expectations of the students, i.e.: Post all questions to the Q&A Forum. State student expectations of you, i.e.: I will respond to your questions within 24 hours.
  • Expectations Quiz. This can be a first week quiz on your syllabus that address workload, time spent on course, late-work policy, etc.
  • Virtual Office Hours on a regular schedule.
  • Teams. Having student teams not only supports collaborative learning, but also helps the student not feel so “alone” in the online environment. For example, during the first week, allow students to choose a team, or use a deliberate method in creating teams, such as by major, year in school, etc. Have a first ‘get to know you’ activity where team members work together to create a team ‘plan’ or ‘contract’ that addresses how they will communicate, meet deadlines, define, and how they will problem-solve when members go astray. Team plans/contracts should be signed (electronically!) and submitted to the instructor.
  • Online orientation module that each student must complete before they can enter their first online course. This would include various elements, such as technical, learning style, communication, course navigation, etc. Also, it would be helpful to ask questions such as, how many online classes a student has taken previously
  • Create a Planning Calendar. As a first week assignment, provide students a semester calendar template to fill out on how they will plan their coursework on a semester calendar based on assignment due dates, etc. Have them share this in a discussion forum, or team discussion for feedback from peers.
  • A discussion activity to encourage them to think and consider the workload for the course, as well as talk to other students in the course.
  • First week activities that model/test what they will be doing throughout the course. For example, if students will be using blogs, provide an icebreaker activity using a blog.
  • Student involvement in making some decisions about course activities, content, and offer alternatives to assignments, i.e.: if a final project allows various format submissions, video, audio, written, etc.  “When a student has some control over how they learn they can also discover their strengths and weakness as a learner, a vital metacognitive skill they will use the rest of their life.” – Terry Doyle, Ferris State University
  • Mid-semester check in. Half way through the course, ask students how many hours per day/week they spend on coursework.
  • Student Advice. Ask students to submit advice to future students of your course. Use this advice for next semester.

~Kimberly Vincent-Layton – June 2013

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