Getting Started With Students
There are many variables to consider before you get to really work with students in an online learning environment. For sake of discussion, let’s say we are beginning in the best-case scenario. You have selected the proper curriculum option, not because it is flashy and trendy, but because you chose the curriculum after in-depth exploration and made a decision based on the good, sound educational approach the curriculum takes to meeting students’ educational needs. Instructors are trained in how to use the curriculum. You have marketed that you have an online learning option available. You have a screening process that allows you to see which students will find success in the curriculum offering you have selected. You remember that proper placement is key to online learning success. You have a group of screened students who are ready for their online orientation.
What does your orientation look like? What kinds of topics should be covered during orientation? The i-Pathways project has an orientation guide to help our instructor/program level coordinator users develop a comprehensive orientation so students feel secure in their online learning efforts from the start. Let’s look at some key elements of getting started with students.
Begin with asking yourself, “What does the student need to know in order to begin learning online?” The following list provides topics and ideas for discussion:
How do they navigate the system?
If a student does not know where to find assignments, read instructor feedback, or engage in discussion, then you will spend time operating as tech support rather than providing instructional support.
What is the first online assignment?
If a student does not know where to begin or when their work is due, the possibility significantly increases that they will not begin.
How do they contact you if they need you?
If a student doesn’t know how to contact you, then they won’t have a resource for assistance. Is calling you best? Emailing you? What are your online office hours? Should they catch you on your class’s Facebook page?
How many online assignments should they submit each week?
Define active engagement. If a student believes that submitting one lesson a week is active and you are expecting five, then the disconnect in expectations can cause miscommunications which impact the potential for success.
What should they do if they are going to be away for more than a few days?
Life happens and students may have to postpone submitting work each week for a brief period. What protocols do you have in place to allow students a break in the structure and still keep them connected to the program? Having a plan to address this will increase student retention.
What to do if they decide learning online is not for them?
Offering students an alternative plan will help students feel secure in their learning and ensure they have educational paths to reach their goals.
What can they expect from you?
It is important to let your students know that you are available to provide guidance during set online office hours or by scheduled appointment. The idea of 24/7 learning can filter into an expectation of 24/7 teaching.
When will you be online?
Letting students know you have online office hours will help communicate expectations about when work will be reviewed.
What if they run into an issue on the weekend or at 2AM when they are working on online work?
This question reflects a larger conversation with your student. They may run into technical problems during their use of any distance-learning project. By providing your student with information to a technical support desk and details about who to contact and when, the student will be able to get appropriate help when needed. Students can also run into educational stumbling blocks when they are working at odd hours, so beyond user support for technical issues, what should they do if they run into a content question at 2AM?
What is an acceptable score on an online assignment?
The beauty of a self-paced online learning option is that students can move forward independently. However, setting guidelines about when a student should move forward and when they should wait for more guidance will prevent the student from moving forward in an unsuccessful manner.
What is not an acceptable score and what should they do if they do not receive an acceptable score?
If your student has hit a stumbling block, then they need to contact you. But how does the student know this? It happens through the communication of learner expectations.
What if they are not getting feedback from the teacher in a timely fashion, how do they report this and to whom do they report it?
Students need to know how to self advocate if their online learning needs are not being met. What is the protocol at your program if students feel their online learning needs are not being met? Who do they go to beyond you? How does that work?
What we have detailed here are several things that need to be thought through to be ready to serve students. There are many things to consider before students even touch the curriculum. Spending this upfront time on preparation will really help both you and your students feel like things are organized so the focus is able to shift to teaching and learning online. The answer to these questions should be shared with students during the orientation. You may have additional questions you think of based on your individual program needs and expectations. Be sure to include them. Students must be adequately prepared and feel comfortable so they can perform up to their own expectations and yours.