Know your learners
It is helpful to understand your learners, their learning styles, and preferences etc... One tool you might consider using in GoucherLearn is the Profile. You may ask the students to include the following information in their Profile...
- Preferred name
- Educational background
- Future career goals
- Reasons for enrolling in the course
- Preferred learning style
- Some personal information
- Upload personal photo
The Profile will also help others connect with them, and help create community.
Introduce learners to each other
Use the Profile described above to ask the learners to introduce each other and post their photos. You want to make sure that you ask them to complete the Profile as an assignment, where you direct them to the discussion board to answer a few questions about what they had in common with others, or who in the class has the same career aspirations as they do.
Procedures and norms for discussion
Describe how you are structuring the discussions, including the norms, rules, and procedures, but always give them the chance to give an input in the design. Suggestions may include:
- Appropriate length of post.
- Post content.
- How many replies for others to include.
- Positive suggestions to others.
- Refer them to the Netiquette rules posted in the course.
Comments should lead to a discussion and not fall flat. They should be thoughtful and insightful.
Content should be free-flowing
Make sure the content is free-flowing, with flexible deadlines, without it affecting the progress of the class. You might want to connect the new comers to students who have more experience with the content through group activity and discussion moderation by the more experienced students.
Creating community in the class is crucial online. It helps reduce isolation and drop out. Students feel more productive and more willing to participate in the course if they can connect a person to the post. Forming teams could be based on:
- Common interests
- Level of experience with the content or technology.
- Interest in the same topics.
You might want to mix the groups and have different students with different experiences in the group. Team-building activities are great for creating community.
Share course assignments
Have students share assignments with others to critique and give feedback. This activity will allow them to learn from each other and is also good for team-building.
Create a social space
Create a forum in the discussion board area, where your students can go and socialize and share stories and experiences with each other, an area not related to class activities. You might want to name it: "café," "Water Cooler," "Student Lounge" etc...
Create team projects
Create team projects; it helps create community. It also helps students learn from each other. Let them identify roles, set agendas; it helps them gain decision-making skills. You need to provide very clear guidelines.
Develop asynchronous group discussions
Always include asynchronous group discussions. Each set of readings should lead to a set of questions for the students to discuss and give opinions about what they read. It also helps them synthesize the readings and gives them a chance to ask the instructor for additional information or help to clear certain points.
Create opportunities for learners to facilitate discussions
Create roles in the discussion board where you assign learners the role of facilitator. The facilitator may initiate the discussion, or may be responsible for keeping the discussion on track. Students learn best by applying what they learned and by teaching it to others. Assigning roles allows the students to take responsibility for their own learning. Make sure the roles rotate throughout the semester.
Add games, simulations, and fun activities
Learning objects are plentiful on the Internet and could be a valuable resource for your students. They are dynamic, interactive and task-driven exercises. The students learn by doing. Some activities could be to search on the Internet for a specific topic and then share the results with the class. Other activities could be video clips that the students are asked to analyze, respond, or comment on part or all of the video. Connect students to the community
Use outside speakers or ask the students to interview people in their community for a project. This activity will allow them to build content knowledge.
Create opportunities for reflection
Use online journals to allow the learners to reflect on what they learned.
Feedback is the most important aspect of managing the online course. Make sure you answer the emails within 24 hours. Make sure you give feedback on all assignments, graded, and not graded. Make sure feedback is timely, positive, and private. Avoid general statements and give specific feedback.
Motivate learners to participate
Always encourage your learners to participate. Once students are engaged, they are more apt to complete and succeed in the course.
Consider online office hours
Offer weekly online office hours through the synchronous tool. It will give the students a chance to ask questions and indicates that you are available to provide assistance.
Consider including live chats
Include live chats or meetings throughout the semester; make sure that they are archived and not mandatory. Make sure not to include more than 3 or 4 sessions a semester, otherwise the students feel that they lost the freedom of scheduling that the online setting affords them. The number of synchronous sessions to be included in your course depends on your user population. Surveying your users is always wise.
Take advantage of opportunities for continuous learning. Ask about the use of new technologies and whether it is good for your class. Keep up with the technology because your audience will.