The following are all suggestions for maintaining instructor presence in an online course.
- Post announcements at least 2-3 times per week.
Use announcements to post any course-related news or information. You can share your thoughts on the lesson, remind them of future assignments, and give general feedback on previous assignments. Posting to announcements on a regular basis encourages your students to log into the course often to see if there’s anything new. Include relevant news stories, praise for student work, reminders—students need to know that there is someone leading the course who is invested in their success. For shorter courses—three or four weeks long—post every day or nearly daily; your students will be entering the course that often and will appreciate hearing from you when they log in.
- Enter the course six or seven days a week. Because many of them are working professionals, online students do much of their course work on the weekends. If they have a question about an assignment that is due on Monday and they ask a question about that assignment (either by sending you an email or posting it in the Raise Your Hand discussion forum), they may not be able to proceed with the assignment until that question is answered. Even better than invisibly popping into the class to check the discussions would be to post an announcement. Online students expect instructors to be present daily. If you have a period of time during which you won’t be able to be present daily, tell them. Otherwise, be present in the course in some way every day. This is especially important at the beginning of the course.
- Ask students to post course-related questions to discussion forums rather than emailing you.
By using the Discussion tool for course-related information, you are saving time for yourself and your students from having to check-in to both an email account and the course. In addition, there’s a good chance that if one student has a question, several other students will share the same question.
- Encourage students to answer each other’s questions.
To help manage your discussion topics, you can encourage students to answer questions for each other in the Ask the Class/Raise Your Hand topic. Not only will this save you time, but students may have their questions answered more quickly and they will also begin to network and form relationships with each other.
- Post short audio or video files in addition to written communication to cater to your aural learners.
The majority of your course information and activities will be presented in written format. In an effort to provide some variety for your learners, you can also post short audio or video clips in the course. An introduction to the course or new modules will lend themselves well to short multimedia files. If you do chose to post these files, be sure that any new information presented is also available in written format so your hard-of-hearing students can access it.
- Provide audio feedback on assignments.
Instructors can provide audio feedback on student assignments instead of typing out all their feedback. Many instructors find that this tool saves them time when grading and providing feedback on student assignments. In a study that examined instructor use of audio in student feedback, researchers found that audio feedback not only enhanced teaching presence but also developed students’ sense of community. If you do use audio feedback, be sure to keep your audio time short (1 minute or less is ideal), speak clearly and enunciate, and ask if students need (or prefer) that you give feedback in written format, for any reason.
- Provide realistic expectations for your students and yourself clarifying how quickly you will answer questions and return graded assignments and exams.
While it’s realistic to expect that your students will be logging in to the course all hours of the day, it’s not realistic for them to expect you to be online 24/7. Therefore, it’s critical that you set up expectations at the beginning of the course so students know how they can communicate with you, how quickly you will respond to their questions, and how quickly they can expect you to return graded assignments and feedback. We recommend a 24-hour turnaround on emails M-F, and assignments graded and returned with time to apply feedback to the next assignment.
- Post feedback individually and to the group.
If you find that you are saying the same thing over and over again in each person’s feedback, save it for the group! Use announcements to post general feedback to students to save yourself some time. Another trick is to save the feedback in Word or Notepad and then copy and paste as appropriate.
- State expectations and use rubrics.
No matter if you are teaching a course online or in a face-to-face classroom, it is a best practice to make your expectations clear when assigning activities. In the classroom, however, it’s easy to supplement the written instructions and expectations you provide to your students by adding additional points when introducing the assignment. Students may also ask questions so you can clarify anything that’s confusing and add anything that was inadvertently left out. While students can post questions in a discussion topic in an online course, it’s CRITICAL that you provide clear instructions, expectations, and rubrics ahead of time so that students have a clear notion of what is expected of them. When trying to decide how much detail to include, if you find yourself saying, “Well that’s a given. I don’t need to include that,” you need to include “that.”
- Use the One Minute Paper and the Muddiest Point strategies for gathering formative feedback.
You can easily use the one-minute paper technique in the Discussions area to collect feedback from students. After assigning a chapter of difficult material, ask students to complete a minute paper describing the three most significant points. Or, ask the students to jot down questions on material they still don’t understand, thus providing you with information on what are the muddiest points. Either of these can be collected anonymously. It’s important, however that you share the results of these formative assessments with the students so they know you are using the information they provide. It also sets the stage for them to provide you more useful information about their learning.
I received my B.A. in English with a minor in Journalism from Wake Forest University and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Indiana University Bloomington. I see the role of an instructional designer as one that removes barriers to learning online content. Those barriers might be ones of accessibility, clarity, motivation, or something else that we discover as the online education continues to be refined. My job is to collaborate with instructors to make their content shine.
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