This is the second in a series of blog posts based on CITL’s reading group Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes, by Flower Darby and James M. Lang, which is available to instructors through IUCAT. Our second meeting of the reading group focused on Part 2 of the book, called Teaching Humans. The chapters in that section are “Building Community,” “Giving Feedback,” and “Fostering Student Persistence and Success.” (See also the blog post about Part 1 of this book.)
In the reading group meetings, we invite instructors to share their tips and strategies for their online courses, as well as the challenges they’ve encountered. Here are some of the topics we discussed:
Several instructors commented that online office hours can be a challenge for both students and instructors—both encouraging students to come to office hours, and adapting to the unfamiliar online mode of office hours.
- One instructor reported that she allows students to use the online scheduling app to schedule 15-minute meetings for office hours. She said that it lets students know that she’s available, rather than setting office hours and waiting for students to possibly never show up. You can also use the Canvas scheduler to plan appointment times for students. [Note: IU instructors are urged not to use non-IU-supported scheduling tools; aside from the Canvas scheduler, also consider using Google Calendar.]
- Another instructor suggested incentivizing office hours by releasing the grade for an important assignment only in office hour meetings, which allows for a discussion of the student’s progress in the course. Another said he allows students who have received poor grades on the first exam to earn back five points on the exam by coming to his office hours and discussing what they could have done better to prepare for the exam.
- All these instructors commented that they needed to be flexible about when they were available, for students with full-time jobs or those who live in other time zones.
Instructors wanted to find ways of connecting with students when giving feedback in their online courses.
- Using the audio commenting feature in Canvas allows instructors to not only comment on students’ work, but also to offer encouragement to those who are struggling. Your voice can set up a stronger sense of instructor presence and connection to the student.
- Interestingly, some instructors said that audio commenting was faster than typing out comments; others said it was more time-consuming, because they had to think carefully about what to say. But in any case, it is a good way to establish a more one-on-one connection with students.
Addressing the volume of student questions in online courses was another challenge instructors identified.
- One advantage of synchronous class meetings using Zoom is that students can send questions privately to the instructor, using the private chat feature. Students who are hesitant to raise their hand or ask a question out loud in class might be more willing to ask questions if they can do so without drawing attention to themselves.
- Another way to address students’ questions is to create a discussion board that is open throughout the week (or throughout the course) where students can ask questions about assignment, due dates, and other “housekeeping” details. Then the questions can be answered by other students or the instructor. Piazza can also be a great tool for encouraging students to answer one another’s questions.
For faculty accustomed to designing active learning experiences in face-to-face classes, designing activities for synchronous online classes can be challenging.
- In Zoom, students can be assigned to breakout rooms where they can discuss a question in small groups. Students can share their work by sharing their screens in these rooms.
- Zoom also has a whiteboard option where students can solve quantitative problems or create a concept map, for example. Other options include Google Jamboard and online concept mapping programs. Keep in mind Zoom whiteboard won’t automatically save after the session is over (find information about how to save the whiteboard here), while Google Jamboard will.
- If you’re planning a discussion in an online synchronous class, you can also have students post “pre-work” (answers to prompts, important points, etc.) in a Canvas discussion board before the class session. Then they can review each other’s posts and be ready for the class session.
- It’s important in these contexts to be careful how much new technology you ask students to learn. Bringing many new technologies into an online class, already a new experience for many students, can be overwhelming. It’s best to be very selective when adding new applications to a class, so students won’t be overwhelmed.
Thanks to the instructors who shared their ideas and strategies in this second session.
If you want to read more about what this book has to offer, see the blog post from the first conversation which contains more tips and advice.
Interested in joining IUB instructors in a conversation about teaching? Consider coming to our upcoming “Coffee Talk” events for relaxed, easy conversation centered around a particular topic.
CITL is offering other reading groups this semester:
If you are interested in working through The Blended Course Design Workbook with CITL staff and a cohort of peers, we will be running a virtual learning community May 18 – August 15. Synchronous meetings will be held via Zoom every other week. The application period for this group is closed, but keep an eye out for other offerings, if this one is popular.
CITL is also offering a reading group on The Online Teaching Survival Guide, by Boettcher and Conrad (2016). If you’re interested in participating, see the CITL events page for more information.