Published on 2012/06/19

Getting Ahead Online

Teaching online can be a more frustrating experience for online instructors, and certainly requires a great dedication to keeping in contact with students. But it is extremely rewarding when students succeed. Photo by Zach Klein.

These are a few tidbits I would offer to a new online instructor. First, many times—even if it is hard to admit—there is a bit of a thought (possibly just a flutter in the back of the mind) that perhaps online teaching is not as much work. Most definitely online course instruction is as much work if not more than the work associated with a traditional face-to-face class.

As you begin to set up your classroom, check and double-check information and dates between the syllabus and the operation of items such as exams, discussions, and group areas in the Learning Management System (LMS)—especially if these sections can be set to open automatically at a specific time for the students. Ensure everything correlates back to the syllabus because mixed messages will cause unneeded headaches if items are not accurate. Be prepared to maintain your patience even when you are required to address questions which have responses provided in numerous locations. Yes, even when students have acknowledged that they have read the information provided in each of those areas. Make absolutely sure that hyperlinks within assignments and lessons remain live and up to date.

I am not sure the cause; possibly multiple factors such as school recruiters overzealously admitting students, or an increasing norm where students who to go to college are working full-time out of financial requirement. It seems as things are changing, students are signing up for online courses believing things will be easy. I have had a few that believed they could complete an online course using their Smart Phone. Many schools now have LMS applications that allow students to check emails, announcements and things through their mobile devices, but they can‘t get to all the required resources provided in most LMS’s. This is frustrating to them as they do not understand what they are missing and can be just a frustrating for the instructor until they can narrow down the problems their students are facing.

Be prepared to encounter students with a huge variation in computer technology skills. From the fairly advanced online student at one end , to the other end of the spectrum where there are novices taking their very first online course with a brand new computer they just pulled out of the box. Each category of student s brings with them to your classroom a very diverse set of needs and challenges along with the normal needs and requests that you handle from the middle spectrum students.

Be prepared to build varied interesting professional relationships with the students while you interact with them during the course. Provide both numeric and explicit feedback to assignments. The most amazing encounter is having a student struggling with something and requiring numerous sets of communication to get them on the correct track. To later have that same student ace the project and let you know they finally got it is amazingly rewarding.

Expect the unexpected and attempt to prepare for it. Realize at the end of each course nothing ever goes exactly as planned. Even if you feel everything seemed to snowball into a pile at the end, you have most probably positively impacted at least a few lives during that course. Relish the fact that you were able to inspire students by assisting them to more fully understand information, skills and materials that inspire you.

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