Teaching online

Observation_3__photovoice__alhall_Hall4.JPGI’m teaching PR Principles online this summer, and I thought I’d share with you my top 3 tips for online teaching:

1. Discussions don’t work. Unless you present very controversial, ethical issues where students can share opinions, discussions don’t take off in online classes as most teachers wish. I’m trying to use discussions now as preparations for assignments (solve a PR case in a discussion thread so you know how to solve it for a graded assignment). However, I see better discussions as comments to blog posts (all students are required to blog on PROpenMic). I hate grading discussions based on number of posts. I think it’s meaningless, I don’t do it, I don’t use it to motivate students to participate.

2. For every learning objective, think two steps: information input and information processing/output. That is, for every learning objective my students have to take in information (from book, recorded online lecture, blog, etc.) and then do something with it (take a quiz, write a blog post, write an assignment) that shows me they’ve processed the information and now they’re outputting it for me to evaluate. I usually have a relatively easy quiz, and a more complex application assignment.

3. Allow students to work at their own paces, but provide a lot of structure. I issue a schedule for every week, that includes learning objectives and for each learning objective information input and output activities (assignments), along with deadlines.

What works for you, either as a teacher or student, in online education? Please share tips, comments, questions, frustrations 🙂

7 thoughts on “Teaching online”

  1. Richard, I see the same problem. A lot of time is spent with students trying to figure out the communication tools (blogs, etc.)

    Cheryl, thank you! Lots of useful tips, I appreciate you taking the time to answer my question!

  2. @Mihaela

    Yes, the types of questions are critical. First, I try to use the student’s names in my reply. Here is an example of a reply post:

    “Sandy, Sally, Johnathan, Susie, Class,

    Great discussion so far. You all seem to agree that xyz = abc. Susie brings up a good point, sometimes we have to consider de and f when dealing with xyz..

    Class, Explore and discuss the circumstances where you would have to use def. How would you communicate that change to all of the stakeholders.
    Cheryl ”

    I also use the “Bloom’s Taxonomy” method. I try not to use below level 2. But I tend to mostly use levels 3-6
    Here is a great link to find the right verbs to use. http://www.teachervision.fen.com/teaching-methods/curriculum-planning/2171.html

    Other tips that are best practices from me and my colleagues are:

    1. Send students on virtual field trips and ask them to contribute interesting web sites with summaries in the actual discussion threads.

    2. I log into the discussion 5-7 times per week. I don’t like lingering topics. Some students try to “beat me” in the discussions which I really like. So for those who get in early in the week, I want to keep them engaged, and I don’t want those who get in later in the week to feel as if they’ve missed out.

    3. Address students by their names and give positive feedback in the threaded discussions. This helps to create a positive learning environment. Allow students to address you by your first name, this also adds to a positive learning environment.

    4. post reminders about what assignments are due and where they need to be submitted. I also try to post a “how i will grade” message so students know what each section of the assignment is worth.

    5. connecting with students is critical. Students sense your excitement about the courses’ content through your presence in the discussions. By week 2, I have asked students to provide me with their telephone numbers and a few good times to call. (only a few take me up on the offer, but those are the ones that really need or want to connect.).
    Either way, I always include my phone number when I give feedback, so if students want to talk to me, they know I’m available to them.

    6. Depending on the students I’ll post a welcome message to each week, listing the week’s course objectives. Other times I’ll use a “wrap up post” at the end of the week to summarize the objectives.

    I hope this helped 🙂

  3. ‘Horses for courses’.

    Despite the ‘digital native’ hype, I find that most undergraduate students are motivated more by the sociable atmostphere of the classroom (synchronous teaching and learning) than by tasks via screen-and-keyboard (asynchronous).

    By contrast, I have a group of time-poor mid career practitioner-students who are much better equipped to engage with online teaching in the gaps between work and home life.

    The former are still a herd; the latter are individuals. That’s the difference.

  4. @ Beer Babe: yes, I understand how timely feedback is very important. Thank you for the reminder, guess what I’m doing tomorrow?

    @Cheryl: thank you for sharing how you run discussions. I’m sure an important part of what makes them work must be the types of questions you ask. Have you found that certain types of questions work better than others?

    @Lauren: Thank you for the kind words. It’s important in a PR class to learn about new media, and for most of them, the best way to learn is to dive right in. It will come in handy later, you’ll see 🙂

  5. All three are great observations.

    One of the things I have found really helpful is receiving the weekly “outline” on Sunday night or Monday morning. It allows me to schedule my week…especially taking 4 classes, working full time and having a husband to maintain some sort of relationship with :).

    I struggled a lot (with and am still learning) the modes of communication for this course…having to figure out Twitter and PR Open mic in addition to getting reaquainted with Blackboard was quite a struggle for me at first. I’ve been using e-mail since its debut, so that was no problem.

    However, your feedback and encouragement have been awesome. You deserve a pat on the back! Thanks for all of your hard work!

  6. The system I teach in does require students to post a min of 3 xs per week.
    I read each post and I don’t allow more than a few post to say the same thing, once the students have exhausted a topic I will ask follow up questions to move them to larger understanding. Or on to the next obj. we always have multiple threads/ conversatins going on. I don’t req. Students who come in on wed. To add to the main question asked on Sun. They can jump into any ongoing converstion. It seems to take the stress out. I agree that showing up daily is the best, and responding quickly to ?s.

  7. Prompt feedback. I’ve had writing classes online and had zip in the way of timely feedback. Acknowledging that students take online classes because they have funky schedules means that getting revision suggestions back the night before an assignment is due is an unreasonable request. So, either an agreed upon feedback timeline/schedule, or open chat hours (like office hours) should solve that problem.

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