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Student-Friendly On-line Courses: Tips and Tricks Margaret E. Vorndam Paul E. Vorndam Colorado State University - Pueblo Presented at TELECOOP 2004 Colorado Springs, Colorado
Abstract of presentation: The key to a successful on-line course is student-instructor interaction. Several best practices in construction of a truly interactive course will be outlined and discussed.
Outline of Presentation: The purpose of the presentation is to discuss best practices in on-line course design, which maximize student-instructor interaction and yet are applicable to even large courses (as many as 30 students). Expected outcomes will be a selection of techniques and ideas that instructors may incorporate into their on-line courses to increase interactivity and student success.
Qualifications: The presenters have taught on-line distance education courses for several years and thus can offer suggestions garnered from experience. The head presenter recently reviewed 400 courses that included student survey results, representing 180 instructors and 4,500 students.
Method: Surveys were sent to 105 students requesting their input on experiences in on-line courses, and about what constituted a successful on- line learning outcome for them.
Method: Survey Questions: # Hybrid Classes taken # 100% Online Classes taken Preference between these two methods Learning Modalities Do OL courses meet your modality needs? Four most important Features of OL courses Four most important Detractions re: OL courses
Results: Course Type YesAverageHighLow Hybrid* 18 31% 2.3101 100% On-line 594.6151 n = 59/105 = 56% * Has both FtF classroom and on-line components
Results: Course Type Preferred Hybrid*3 100% On-line 9 Both* 7 n =19/59 = 31% * Depends on the subject. “Some subjects are better Taught FtF.” Of students with BOTH experiences :
Results: Learning Modalities Reading/Writing Learns by reading and writing. Listening Learns through verbal instructions from others or self. Direct Experience Kinesthetic Learns by doing ; direct involvement. Visual Learns by seeing, watching and demonstrations. What is your preferred Learning Style? http://crse002.lsu.edu/lac.nsf/pages/mainpage?opendocument
Results: Learning Modalities* Reading/Writing28 Listening10 Direct Experience Kinesthetic 35 Visual28 * Most students indicated more than one preferred learning modality.
Results: Learning Modalities Yes39 No5 Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No 13 Have your on-line courses generally met your modality learning style?
Results: Learning Modalities “YES” Comments: “Discussion Boards are more efficient way to interact with other students than in classroom setting” “Fosters a sense of personal responsibility for learning” “Videos and lectures on-line help accommodate my learning needs.” “Can read text myself, don’t have to listen to lecturer repeat it.”
Results: Learning Modalities “No” Comments: “I prefer live lectures.” “There are very few direct experiences in an on-line class.” “Instructor is not available for immediate feedback or to answer questions – frustrating.”
Results: Learning Modalities “Sometimes” Comments: “Subject dependent – some courses are great on-line, others can be more effectively taught FtF.” “I cannot hear correct pronunciation of discipline specific terms.”
Results: Most Important Features Students Instructors Course Design/Structure Course Interactions – Discussion Boards – Mail – Chat Assessments Student to Student Interactions – Group Projects Beside the time flexibility, what features are most important for you in an online class regarding …..
Results: Most Important Features Students – “Time Flexibility. I can work at my own pace for the most part.” “Necessity for developing responsibility for my own learning performance and focus skills” “Personal independence unfettered by other students’ progress” “On-line courses are non-discriminatory. They focus on optimizing the student’s learning experience only.” “On-line courses are more challenging— thus, more rewarding. I learn better.” “I appreciate the Cultural diversity and different viewpoints represented by the students.”
Results: Most Important Features Instructors – “Work harder to provide organized, efficient, relevant materials than in campus classes.” “Take student’s circumstances and family concerns into account.” “Are more personally involved with/care about student” “Provide direct input and critique to student.” “Have regular and timely contact with each student.” “Direct assistance is available, possibly via live chat.” “Provides clear instructions, warns of pitfalls in course.” “No ‘All or Nothing’ grades where, if a student is sick and cannot make a lab, the student is failed.”
Results: Most Important Features Course Design – “A clear, easy to follow schedule that explains work for entire semester. Everything is printed out, not verbal, where it can be forgotten.” “A well-developed course structure.” “Simple design to navigate around in course areas.” “Detailed Calendar of Course events.” “Expectations for meeting assignment deadlines to ensure self-discipline.” “Content is relevant to real life!” “Designed for my lifestyle, and not vice versa.” ……….
Results: Most Important Features Course Design – “Online study aids support learning.” “Interactivity!” “Course is ‘self-contained’.” “Develops comfort with computer operation.” “Ability to adapt, if needed, over the semester.” “Appropriate activities for an on-line course. If a student lives in another country, she/he cannot be expected to travel to attend a field trip elsewhere.” “REAL home-based lab experiences!”
Results: Most Important Features Assessments/Assignments – “I am more comfortable taking tests on-line. There are no distractions during test-taking as happen in a classroom setting.” “There is less ‘busy work’. Assignments have purpose.” “Timely posting of grades, immediate review of a “just- taken” assessment.” “Learning to do purposeful research online.” “A duration of time to turn in assignments rather than one time.” “Assessments do not contain material that isn’t in the course area being tested on.” “Clearly defined, unambiguous questions.”
Results: Most Important Features Course Interactions/Communication – Discussions “Thoughtful interaction with other students.” “Ability to read posts throughout the course semester.” “Involves all students as there is more time for cogitation before response.” “Instructor participates in and READS posts.” “Appropriate level of involvement by instructor to allow students to explore answers.” …..
Results: Most Important Features Course Interactions/Communication – Discussions “Provides a ‘safe’ environment for communication without needing to deal with prejudice, inappropriate remarks, peer pressure, etc.” “Ability to be spontaneous when a thought occurs.” “Ability to learn with other students and find pertinent research to share.” “Can explore variety of perspectives and “sides” of issues.”
Results: Most Important Features Course Interactions/Communication – Mail/E-Mail “Ability to send a Mail message and receive a personal reply from Instructor any time.” – Group Assignments “Everyone pulls her/his weight.” – Synchronous Chat Room “Occasional real time ‘chats’ would be nice.”
Results: Most Important Features “Increases institution’s ability to offer a variety of classes to students and to serve MORE students simultaneously AND offer courses more often. Makes sense to offer some courses on-line, ex. software courses.”
Results: Detracting Features Technology Issues Interpersonal Issues Personal Issues Time Issues Learning Issues Teaching Issues - Instructor Conduct - Course Design - Course Content - Course Conduct - Assessments “What four features of an on-line course detract from your learning experience the most?”
Results: Detracting Features Technology Issues – “Access issues.” “Viruses – popups - slow connections!” “Needing to learn how to run my computer before I can take class.”
Results: Detracting Features Interpersonal Issues – “Cannot meet and interact with instructor and classmates in person.” “No social interaction is really possible, so I cannot develop new friendships. “Lack of identity with peers in the class ” “Not the same level of encouragement from other students as in a regular campus class.” “Other students who do not participate in class.” “Students who are not respectful of others in the class.” …..
Results: Detracting Features Interpersonal Issues – “Discussion boards are poor substitute for FtF interaction.” “Inability to get immediate feedback from Instructor.” “Cannot set up study groups that really work.” “Cannot interact with peers, and must depend on instructor more for answers.” “No immediate instructor presence to ensure that you get your work done.” …..
Results: Detracting Features Interpersonal Issues – “Instructors that don’t take time to know their students. Students want to work harder for an instructor if that instructor shows that she/he cares about the student. That’s tougher to do in an on-line course.” “No Body Language or non-verbal communication.” “Can’t have a good dialog.”
Results: Detracting Features Personal Issues – “Schedule conflicts between study and child care.” “Have to be responsible for own work, i.e., no instructor to lecture, so reading is very important.” “Discussion forums are not valuable, because not as much depth as in a classroom discussion is possible.” “Lack of self-discipline. No self-motivation. Procrastination.” “Lack of personal involvement.”
Results: Detracting Features Time Issues – “Online classes take more time than classroom offered classes.” * Learning Issues – “No real lecture.” “Lots of reading required.” “No classroom.”
Results: Detracting Features Teaching Issues – Instructor “Disorganized instructors, disorganized courses, gradebook doesn’t reflect grading structure, etc.” “Instructors who don’t care about their students and are just collecting a paycheck.” “Instructors that don’t correct wrong answers on Exams/Tests/Quizzes and don’t give students credit for the right answer.” “Instructors that don’t stick to the schedule that was originally set for the class.” ……
Results: Detracting Features Teaching Issues – Instructor “Close-minded instructors.” “Slow response by instructor.” “Not feeling the instructor’s passion for the topic via lecture – What about interactive videos or regular Chat Room?” “Can’t hear instructor say words that are discipline-specific.”
Results: Detracting Features Teaching Issues – Course Design “Inconsistent ‘look’ to all courses offered in the on-line environment.” “Unclear, poorly explained schedule/assignments.”
Results: Detracting Features Teaching Issues – Course Content “Poorly written/organized textbooks, since reading is such a large part of the on-line experience.” “Too much work - Instructors must realize that students take other courses as well.” * “Boring content.” “Missing materials (in home labs).”
Results: Detracting Features Teaching Issues – Course Conduct “Lack of consistent fairness – I get my assignments in on time, but students who submit late don’t get penalized for lateness.” “Course is paced too fast or too slow.”
Results: Detracting Features Teaching Issues – Assessments “Not grading quizzes/assignments that I need to study before the exam for the unit is due. If they aren’t available for review, I can’t use them to study.” “Not enough detail about why a specific grade was awarded. Saying ‘It wasn’t what I wanted’ isn’t acceptable reason for a grade.” “Feeling overwhelmed by class or assignments in class.”
Results: Detracting Features Teaching Issues – Assessments “Having no way to find out what went wrong with my lab, why it didn’t work.” “Not understanding the reading, and not being able to ask someone immediately about it.” “No knowing how to respond to or what an instructor wants for a response.” “Lack of other student participation or dwindling participation in peer review of assignments – no fun anymore.”
“ The website for the class is a solid outline of information giving structure to the learning process. What I have found since I am taking two online courses, is the difference is your 'virtual' presence. What does this actually mean? “Through consistent and constant communications I immediately felt your presence in the learning process. This quality came through not only to the students collectively, but I felt to me as an individual. “The experience I use as comparison is one in which the instructor remains 'anonymous'. The communication is inconsistent. The 'virtual' presence of this instructor is weak. Days pass before receiving results or response. The connection so necessary is lost. “It seems to me that this can be both the critical strength and the weakness of not only the online learning experience, but the Classroom as well.“
Solutions & Recommendations Easy Navigation with minimal Linking: “The biggest complaint I have about the technical part of the course is the cumbersome nature of the website. It took me quite a while to figure out where everything was at and how to get to it. The site desperately needs to be simplified. It is too convoluted. For instance, I have to go through several screens before I reach my homepage!!!! The instructions and material are dispersed throughout the site. It seemed as though I kept finding new information in some obscure part of the site.”
Solutions & Recommendations Easy Navigation with minimal Linking Consistent “Look” throughout Course Site Keep Paging Needs Simple - Use the minimum number necessary – Don’t use 5 pages where 1 will do.
Week Four through Week One also on Same Page below. Ex. - List all Announcements on same page instead of on separate pages. Move old Announcements from Home to Archive Page. l
Solutions & Recommendations Repetition via Location List Assignments Due on Calendar, Opening Page, Schedule Page but ensure consistency of dates and information! Provide Links to Syllabus from Calendar, Opening Page, Navigation Bar, etc. Don’t use 1 link where 5 will do!!! List Weekly/Periodic Announcements on Opening/Home Page, in Announcement Archives Send Unit/Weekly Announcements via E-Mail/Mail to Students each time the new one begins
Syllabus is Linked from several areas of the course. Difficult for students to overlook!
Solutions & Recommendations Schedule of Assignments List by Date/Week Then, by Assignment Type “For some time when the course started, I was confused about what the requirements were. It seemed there were several places to go to the same thing, but being new on this online course, I wasn't sure if it was something else I needed to do, or if it was the same thing. Each week for a while there, I thought I was done for the week and found there was more to do. It was very hard to organize my time.”
Solutions & Recommendations One Schedule of Assignments - Example Etc.
Solutions & Recommendations Ensure that site Links work and are Relevant Flexibility for Assignment Due Dates to anticipate student schedules One week, minimum, to complete Give students time to “learn” course layout during First week Allows time to receive course materials, do introductions, take a preliminary quiz
Solutions & Recommendations Communication, communication, communication! Mail – in touch one to many times each week Relevant Discussions – Instructor participation Chat/Synchronous Tool Use Group Work
Solutions & Recommendations Group Work Learning Communities shared resources work productively all contributions valued develop trust group becomes self-leading shared leadership idea/feedback exchange
Solutions & Recommendations Group Work Group Development forming, normin, storming, performing
Solutions & Recommendations Interaction is still the key Anytime – Anywhere? better integration with internet information (portable textbook) instructor contact more nearly real time (messaging via PDA/phone) (video) (voice recognition) The Future?
Solutions & Recommendations Your suggestions? What works? How to save time while still doing a great job? Please e-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com