The preparation for the online learning experience is similar to the preparation for the face-to-face environment; the main deference is “more planning must be done before students arrive at the course site” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 56).
To be able to create an effective learning experience which challenges and engages students, you need to utilize the technology tools available to you through the institution and online. For example, the learning management system could be used to facilitate discussions among students; online discussions create meaningful and social environments, which promote students’ interactions (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). Blogs and Wikis are also tools that you could use to engage students in collaborative learning environments.
Additionally, at the beginning of online courses, you are encouraged to create a welcoming and safe environment, which promotes students’ openness. For this first step, they could post personal introductions about themselves to present the human aspect of their life. Instructors may choose to put a picture, audio or a video message to welcome students to the class and provide the main navigation steps for the course.
Technology could facilitate these activities; however, technology could be a barrier to effective online communication. For this reason, you may want to encourage your students to use and understand the technology tools available to them and provide introductory interactions that could eliminate the anxiety associated with using new technology. Since there are many tools available online, you could select one to three technology tools which could be used to support the subject area and the learning outcomes (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). Then, you could help students by providing ungraded activities for to help students in practicing various course related tasks. You may also want to provide your students with tutorials on how to post on the discussion board, how to submit an assignment and how to answer exam questions online.
In the online learning environment, students come to the course, and they want to be successful (The George Washington University, n.d.). Without support, or a welcoming and safe environment students could drop from the course as early as the first week. The syllabus provides a clear road map for students about the goals of the course, the important dates, activities and assignments (The George Washington University, n.d.). In addition, online learning environment provides “policies, procedures, and the mechanics about how to communicate and learn in an online environment” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 72). Students have many responsibilities related to their work and family; they need to plan ahead for the upcoming projects, assignments and the associated workload (The George Washington University, n.d.).
In your online courses, try to build personal connections with your students by establishing a weekly rhythm for the course and developing effective discussion questions that could support the growth of the online learning community (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).
Through effective planning, you could enhance your presence in the online community and build a safe and inviting environment for students from the beginning of the course. This presence continues during the course through providing clear expectations and road map for students to help them navigate through the online experience. Ice breakers, weekly plans, and effective discussion boards are all effective strategies that could promote students engagement and success in the online learning experience.
Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
The George Washington University. Establishing expectations. Retrieved from http://learn.gwumc.edu/hscidist/FRED/EstablishingExpectations/index.htm