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Five Mistakes Online Educators Make (Part 2)

Five Mistakes Online Educators Make (Part 2)
Teaching an online course can be a challenge for many educators, but by avoiding some common missteps, the experience can be enriching and rewarding for both student and instructor.

This is the conclusion of Margaret O’Hara’s two-part series discussing the five most common mistakes online educators make. This series follows up on a previous series discussing the five most common mistakes made by students educators.

In the first article, O’Hara explained that not defining clear expectations, especially when it comes to response time, was a common error. She also pointed out that when online students don’t have a Q&A hub, they tend to struggle and, by and large, ask the same questions as their classmates.

3. Not permanently answering questions

The first semester I taught online was fraught with student questions. Midway through, I started tracking questions, and I explored the reasons behind them. Had I not provided an answer anywhere? Had I been unclear? Was I less than precise in my initial instructions, or had the student simply not read something?

I explored the course and realized there was a lot to be improved. I first ensured every question students had asked was clearly addressed in the next semester’s course materials. I did this every semester I taught online and, most times, I found there were some new questions and some extra clarity I could bring to the course. For me, the process became an essential part of course redesign.

4. Focusing on the technology

I once reviewed a course in which two synchronous chat / audio tools, a video conferencing tool, two different lecture capture tools, videos posted on two web sites and within the learning management system and copious text documents and review sheets were used. The teacher also had a Facebook page and tweeted to the students as well. Every week, he tried out a different method of communicating.

We’ve all heard it: technology for technology’s sake is not useful, but sometimes we get so enamored with a new technology that we forget that simple piece of wisdom. Especially for students taking their first online class, the technology can be overwhelming. Yes, we may be dealing with freshmen who are adept at many technologies, but many of our students are not 18 and not that conversant with the newer tools. Proceed with caution!

5. Not providing feedback quickly

I love teaching and interacting with students. Most of my colleagues feel the same way, but I know that – as a group – we generally hate assessing student performance. Grading student work is my least favorite part of the educational experience and I often put it off. I‘ve found online students really hate not getting prompt feedback.

In a classroom, it is easy to encourage students even if you don’t provide hard evidence via a graded exam. Somehow, the face-to-face comment, “You’re doing fine” is more acceptable and believable than the same comment in an email. So, get exams and other work back to students as quickly as possible.  Plan exam dates around your schedule so you know you’ll have time to grade, and be as complete as possible in your evaluations. It’s tough to provide specific feedback for 25 exams, so one thing I do is make a list of the five to six more common errors and what amount was deducted for each one. I share that with the class, and then ask for specific exam questions. My list usually covers 75 percent of the questions they would typically ask.

There is, of course, a lot more to high-quality online teaching than what I covered herein, but paying attention to these five items can make the experience more enjoyable and rewarding for you and your students.

To read the first part of this series, please click here.

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