some tips for new online/blended instructors

For folks new to teaching online (or blended), managing your online space can be a bit challenging at first. Or rather challenging. Or hairy-pulling challenging. As someone who started teaching online back when the internet was based on fishing line and tin cans, I can help. These tips mostly apply to using a learning management system (LMS).

So here’s a few suggestions:

  • Channel all course-related email to the LMS: whether your LMS has a proper email tool or a “messaging” one, by only accepting emails within the LMS you don’t need to check multiple points–and students know exactly where to contact you. Therefore…if a student contacts you elsewhere, reply saying “send it again as per the course directions.”
  • Start the clock at read: if there’s a problem with student work, or a student emails you about needing a concession, those things start when the person receiving the message reads them. When I recently emailed some students whose assignments were missing required components most replied within 24 hours…but one didn’t. There’s no other fair way to do it. And put *urgent* in the subject line.
  • Use the tracking system: you can track what students have done, what they’ve contributed and what they’ve read. Including that time sensitive email message. So you know when the clock started ticking (see above). Or can say to the student who says “I’ve been working hard on this” you can reply “well, to my mind spending 8 minutes on this activity, which is what the tracking system shows, doesn’t quite imply industriousness”. Though to be fair I’ve only had this come up once.
  • Create a “storage” folder in email: as you read and action emails, transfer them toΒ  a newly created “storage” folder. That way you can use your in box as a task/to do list.
  • BCC yourself: every email you send to students BCC to yourself, whether new messages or replies. Then you know it was sent (it appears in your inbox) and you can manage your sent emails from the in box–including moving them to storage without having to dig into the sent mail folder.
  • Use emoticons in the forums and email: You might think things like πŸ™‚Β  πŸ˜€ or πŸ˜‰ are juvenile…but in a text-only environment they add tone. For intereactive elements like email and discussions they’re great: for your assessment feedback, which should be more formal, probably not. Students can’t hear your “teacherly” voice online–or your sense of humour. These help…a lot!Β  πŸ˜‰
  • Time release content: If you entire course contents opens on day one, students will move through at a different pace. Keeners may blast through things very quickly; others rather slowly. If discussions in the course forums are a key learning activity this can dilute those conversations. By release chunks of content across the term you keep folks largely in the same space. In my courses I have modules, each of which multiple units/lessons. So I release each module individually: this means students still have 2-3 weeks of time to manage as they see fit in each module.
  • Digitize yourself: students love it when instructors bring images, audio or video of themselves into courses from time to time. Learning how to capture a quick video via your webcam, then uploading it to Youtube (and embedding the video in a discussion forum posting) gets a great reaction. Yes you will probably hate your voice and perhaps how you look. But to everyone else it’s just you–get over it!Β  πŸ˜‰
  • Use the assignment tool: the environmental implications of saving reams of printed pages make this worthy on it’s own–but there are many other benefits of using the “drop box”. First, you can see date and time of submission, so late assignments are obvious. Second, you can mark up students’ assignments and send back with embedded feedback. Third, you can access papers anywhere you have ‘net access–no need to check your campus mail slot. Finally, you can build assessment rubric for these assignments: these allow you to tick radio buttons to indicate levels of performance and assign points–and there’s space for qualitative feedback too.

Were these of any value? Any questions? Comment below!

About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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