August 9, 2018

Preparing Your Students For Online Learning

What steps can I take for a successful online teaching experience?

To help prepare your students for the online learning environment, select topics below for tips and suggested resources. If you would like further tips to improve your online teaching, please contact us at stearns@gmu.edu to arrange a consultation.

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Before class begins…

Syllabi

Use our Syllabus Checklist for Online Courses to ensure that your final syllabus is clear and has all necessary details. At least one week before class begins, email students the final syllabus and instructions for accessing the course.

Course Preparation

Make the course site available to students within one week of the class starting, but no later than the first day of class. See instructions at Courses Support. At least one week before class begins, email students the final syllabus and instructions for accessing the course.

Week 0 often refers to the period when students gain access to the Blackboard course but before the first official day of the semester. Week 0 Module is an orientation module for the course. In Week 0, you can include orientation activities & resources for your students, to help familiarize them with the Blackboard course. You also may assign some tasks to give students practice with various tools that they’ll need to master for the Blackboard course.

Some ideas for Week 0? You can create a course orientation video or tour so that students can learn to navigate your Blackboard course. Post a low-stakes syllabus quiz in Blackboard to make sure that students become familiar with the syllabus and course requirements; they also can gain practice taking quizzes in Blackboard. You also can include an “ice-breaker” activity for community-building, e.g., informal class discussion of tips for how to be a successful online learner.

Send Welcome Email

Reach out to your students before the course begins. Through a pre-semester communication, you can welcome your students, introduce the course, and describe the schedule & routines for your online course. A welcome email also can prepare your students by reducing any confusion about the online course.

What to include in a welcome email to your students? You can find examples of what you might include in a welcome message here.


During class..

Introductions

Make introductory contact with all enrolled students when the class begins, perhaps through a welcome email, announcement, or video. Be sure to do the same for any new students who register after the start date.

Office Hours

Post and observe your office hours, whether online or face-to-face. For any changes, send your students an email or post an announcement. If holding virtual office hours, including access instructions and usernames (if needed) for the tool you use (Blackboard Collaborate, Skype, Google Hangout, and so on).

Availability

Be available and responsive to students at least five days per week. Respond to student inquiries within 24-48 hours during the days that you are available.

Be sure that students know what to expect, including any days or hours that you are not available. Being “available” includes: responding to student email, confirming receipt of assignments, logging into Blackboard to monitor and participate in discussion forums, and grading assignments.

Technology Support

Don’t assume that all of your students have the basic technical knowledge and skills to succeed in a Blackboard course. Prepare your students for online learning by directing them to Mason resources for technical support. In your syllabus and course menu, provide links to Mason ITS Technical Support, Mason Blackboard Courses Support, and Blackboard Help Videos.

Involvement

Maintain active involvement in the course throughout the semester. This might include the following:

  • Make regular, proactive contact with each class. Aim to post regular announcements during the semester, keeping students aware of upcoming deadlines and course updates.
  • Participate in course discussion forums in a way you deem appropriate, intervening to clarify, refocus, provide correction, or add new information.
  • Provide and monitor an “Ask the Instructor” discussion forum, responding to queries during your available days.

Instructor Presence

Establish a social presence, working to develop a rapport with your students like you would in a classroom. Share information about yourself so your students can get to know you, and use a friendly tone in your communications. Learn about your students’ backgrounds and interests, using them to tailor feedback. Other steps include:

  • Deal promptly with disruptive students to restore order and a safe environment for the class.
  • Encourage students to communicate with you, share ideas, and cooperate with each other.
  • Contact, encourage, and follow up with students who are not participating or making progress in the course.

Grades and Feedback

Post grades with qualitative feedback in the Blackboard Grade Center. Try to do this in a timely manner, or within one week of the assignment due date. Let students know what time frame to expect for receiving grades and feedback.

Student Concerns

Recognize student problems early. Work with students to diagnose the problem, and provide appropriate assistance or referral, such as assisting the student in finding campus or online resources.

Online Communication

Keep best practices in mind for effective online communication. This includes:

  • Be aware of challenges in conveying information by email. Word your messages carefully, use language that students will understand, use humor judiciously, and consider using phone calls or voicemails instead of text emails for complicated matters. Also, avoid terse communications and include a greeting and make your messages and announcements friendly.
  • Be self-motivated and self-disciplined, planning your time and schedule for your online course.
  • Each time you check your online course, leave some evidence that you were there (e.g., a brief posting or comment).
  • Keep students updated with clear and regular communications and announcements. If you need to make any changes in the course, please let students know.
  • Post and respond to discussion boards and other course activities, observing Netiquette guidelines.
  • Be prompt with providing feedback to students. Post scores and grades in a timely fashion.

Inactive Students

If students are administratively deleted, make them inactive in the Blackboard course. Do the same if they are withdrawn for lack of progress in the course or disappear from your roster in Banner. This prevents students from continuing to work when they are no longer authorized to do so.


After class ends…

Course Copies and Archives

Archive your Blackboard course at the end of each semester. This ensures that student participation and grades are maintained for future reference. Make the whole course unavailable once all students have completed the course. Otherwise, it will continue to appear in students’ Blackboard accounts.

Also, complete the course copy process in a timely manner. This ensures that your Blackboard courses are ready for the new semester. Carefully check to identify and fix any errors that may occur during the copy (folder order, loss of exam questions, and so on). Learn how to perform a course copy.

Records and Documentation

Save paper exams and other course records according to your program or department policies.

Save student emails for at least one year for future reference, in case of grade disputes or other questions.

Final Grades

Before the Registrar’s deadline, enter course grades into Banner or import grades into PatriotWeb from Blackboard. Learn how to import grades.

Evaluations

Review your student evaluations every semester. Contact us at odl@gmu.edu if you would like assistance making improvements based on student feedback.

Revisions

Plan to revise the course, either individually or with a group of faculty members. Contact us at odl@gmu.edu if you would like help addressing issues, adding new elements, updating course content, or making other changes as needed.