Online courses are tricky, both for students and for educators. For students, success in these courses frequently involves excellent time management, self-motivation, and effort to communicate with other classmates. For teachers, online courses involve putting in extra thought into the groundwork of the course and taking the additional time to reach out and get to know students.
According to Boston University professor Lou Chitkushev, student satisfaction in online courses is highly correlated to how they rank the faculty moderating the course. If students feel as though the instructor is not suited to teach online courses, their satisfaction with the course goes down significantly. Furthermore, when students felt the instructor did not do a great job of facilitating the course, their grades also decreased.
This study indicates that teaching style is of the utmost importance when it comes to reaching out to students in an online setting. In addition, it begs the question: how can teachers facilitate better online courses for their students?
Perhaps one of the most important ways in which to boost the quality of an online course is to take the time to get to know students. In an online setting, it can be far more difficult to connect with students on an individual level and recognize their learning needs. This can make customizing your teaching strategy challenging.
By getting to know students it is possible to help reduce the amount of cheating that occurs in an online classroom. This is for a couple reasons 1) students feel more guilty turning in fraudulent work when they have a connection with the person grading and 2) by building this connection with students, you will probably have a better idea of the quality of work they are likely to turn in.
Face to Face Time
Learning in an online classroom can also be greatly enhanced if students are able to meet with their instructors face to face on occasion. These meeting can happen in a couple of different ways such as live online lectures or video conference sessions. Another way is through designated online meeting times for individual conversation about class progress. Either of these methods can help build connections with students, increase classroom satisfaction, and provide a means to get feedback on student learning throughout the course.
In the absence of a physical class that meets in person weekly, it can be difficult for educators to be available when students have questions. It is completely okay to be unavailable to answer panicked emails at 3:00 in the morning, but in general prompt feedback is essential for students to succeed in an online course. If questions remain unanswered or early assignments ungraded, students have no reference from which to base their next assignment.
This can make it exceptionally difficult for students to learn where they are making mistakes and how they need to fix them. Poor or unclear feedback does not facilitate learning either and can really tank both a student’s grade and course satisfaction.
Clearly Thought Out Course Design
Finally, to avoid panicked emails the day before assignments are due, it is important to make sure that instructions for coursework are written very clearly. Especially in an online setting, where students cannot easily clarify directions by raising their hands, instruction clarity and course design is key. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving cookbook specification on how to solve a particular problem. It just means that all of the examples and walkthroughs are easy to follow and students would struggle to misconstrue the objectives of an assignment.
Facilitating a happy and productive online learning environment is a significant challenge that both students and teachers must work at. By taking the time to get to know students, offering face to face conversation times, providing prompt feedback, and creating clearly written assignments, students are more likely to have a worthwhile learning experience. Which, of course, is the ultimate goal.