Teaching & Learning
Set clear standards
Your course is competing for time with other parts of the students' lives - personal, scholastic, and professional. An online course is easier to ignore than an in-person course when life gets busy. Establish patterns early in the semester to help maintain student engagement. Provide clear instructions and reminders for deadlines and important dates such as exams.
Although covered in the syllabus, again indicate instructor response time for key events and interactions, including e-mail turnaround time, time required for grade postings, discussion postings, etc. Indicate how quickly you will respond, when feedback will be provided, and when you will be available to meet. Also include the degree of participation in discussions and availability via other methods (phone, in-person) if applicable.
Let students know when and where to find their grades and if they have questions what to do and who to ask.
If you will require your students to purchase materials in addition to textbooks (e.g. iClickers, graphing calculators), be sure to include that in the course description in the schedule of courses.
Office hours must comply with the minimum number of hours approved by each unit. If you are teaching an online or blended course then be sure to specify how and when students can get a hold of you. Clearly communicate to students how they can arrange appointments for office hours.
Be sure to let your students know how communications will be handled in your course. Determine what expectations and behaviors are or are not acceptable in your online discussions. Spell these out to your students in the syllabus or in a class orientation section.
Tell students where to find announcements and communication guidelines that will be used throughout the semester. Get students into a habit of going to one location to find out important daily information. Set up communication procedures and guidelines. Consider questions such as:
- How will you contact students?
- How and when may students contact you?
- Can they call you? When and what number?
- What address should students used to email you?
- Will you hold office hours? By phone? Using chat? Email only?
- What is the expected timeframe for you to respond?
The first week of class you may receive lots of startup questions from your students. You may want to start an FAQ where all questions are posted and you only need to answer in one place. Consider questions such as:
- Can students send group emails to the class?
- Is interaction required or optional?
- How many times each week they must post original comments?
- How many times they must post responses to others' comments?
- What the quality of the comments must be?
- How the comments will be evaluated?
- What grade they can expect for various levels of performance?
- Are students aware of copyright issues and online etiquette when posting to discussion forums?
A problem with email communication, particularly during the first week, is that not all students may have registered. Those who register late will have no way to access class emails you have already sent. However, class announcements can be viewed at any time. A solution would be to email AND post announcements.
MSU's ANGEL LMS provides instructors with several options for conveying timely class information to students. Announcements can be set to show up on the Home Page, reaching every student when they log in to the class. Announcements can have a start and end date, but also can be reviewed later from the Communicate page.
Formats for submitting assignments
Students are often required to submit written assignments online. Their word processing program is not necessarily compatible with yours.
There are several options for students to submit written assignments:
- RTF format: Most word processing applications can save documents in rich text format (RTF). RTF format allows many word processing programs to open the file.
- PDF format: You will need an application to save your file in portable document format (PDF). The PDF format saves your document styles and formatting. These files can be exported and read using the free Acrobat Reader.
- Require a specific word processor and make it part of your course requirements.
For other assignments which require specific applications, be sure you tell the student the format and application that is required. There should to be a reasonable expectation that students would have access to the application needed to create the file on their home computer.
Drops and adds
Share the drop and add deadlines with online students. It is important to consider the impact these will have on your course. Be sure you make procedural statements in your syllabus. Consider how late you will allow new students in, what material they will need to make up at that point and how to structure your course so they can catch up.
Ombudsman suggested text:
- Drops and Adds: The last day to add this course is the end of the first week of classes. The last day to drop this course with a 100 percent refund and no grade reported is (insert date). The last day to drop this course with no refund and no grade reported is (insert date). You should immediately make a copy of your amended schedule to verify you have added or dropped this course.
Refer to the Academic Calendar for these important dates. If your departmental policies vary, be sure to specify this in your syllabus. Specific policy statements can be added to your course description through the Office of the Registrar.
Note: For summer sessions this is of major importance when the courses are only seven weeks.
Attendance, excused absences and make-up work
From the Office of the Ombudsman.
Class attendance at MSU is an "essential and intrinsic element of the educational process." The University attendance policy states that "no person is allowed to attend a class unless officially enrolled on a credit or non-credit basis with the appropriate fees paid. Students who attend, participate and strive to complete course requirements without formal enrollment will not receive credit for their work." (See "General Procedures and Regulations--Attendance" in the MSU Academic Programs catalog.)
As a result, a course attendance policy remains the prerogative of the instructor. While it is the responsibility of students to attend classes, it is the responsibility of instructors to explain in the course syllabus exactly how the course attendance policy, if any, affects a student's final course grade. This explanation should necessarily include the instructor's policy on excused absences and make-up assignments, quizzes, tests, exams, lab sessions and other course components missed during an excused absence.
Students whose names do not appear on the official class list for this course may not attend this class. Students who fail to attend the first four class sessions or class by the fifth day of the semester, whichever occurs first, may be dropped from the course.
Grading and online gradebooks
Ensure that the grading policy is clear and easy to understand, even if your grading system is complex. Be sure that a list of all activities, tests, etc. that will affect the students' grade is included at the beginning of the course and in the syllabus.
An online gradebook lets instructors communicate feedback throughout the semester to each individual student. Some assessments (usually quizzes and exams) may be automatically graded with the grade appearing immediately in the student gradebook. Assessments can also be hand-graded, including a grade and comments. When a student checks their personal gradebook, they see only their own grades and comments. You may supplement the online gradebook functions with a spreadsheet application.
Some education specialists recommend providing a detailed rubric for evaluating student work and providing feedback. A rubric:
- is a set of guidelines describing characteristics of a high quality assignment
- helps the instructor and student understand expectations
- helps to reinforce learning - they are an added opportunity for the instructor to emphasize the important values they hope to teach
- attempts to remove some of the subjectivity from grading subjective assessments
- helps clarify assignments for everyone and facilitates grading
These web sites discussing design and use of rubrics:
In the TC-DOLL class, Dr. Heeter negotiates the rubric for group projects. Here are rubrics previously used:
Example: Ground rules for EAD 801
We are all professional educators and should treat each other as we would treat colleagues we see every day (actually, maybe better!). We hope through the learning community we build in this course to model behavior we believe is necessary in our present and future school environments. Because we are lacking the interpersonal contact due to the online factor, it is worth ironing out some basic understandings.
- What we want to learn
- to gain as much insight as possible into organizational leadership, particularly in the areas of organizational learning and organizational development;
- to absorb, question and reflect upon real-world applications of the course content;
- to learn to manage the strengths and pitfalls of online courses;
- to hone a range of skills that will enhance our professional practice as school leaders, including self-evaluation, effective communication, and active listening;
- to work with others to forge an ambitious, active, inclusive and responsible learning community.
- What we need in order to maximize our effectiveness in this learning mode:
- clear definitions of assignments, processes and deadlines listed and posted in chronological order;
- flexibility in procedures (i.e. the chance for all to rethink deadlines, accommodating professional obligations and other external constraints);
- explicit guidelines for evaluation;
- feedback on the work of the whole class, the small groups and the individual student;
- student engagement to be proportional to the time one would spend in an on campus class.
- to be heard by and responded to with open and constructive minds.
- patience - 360 degrees.
- Member's responsibilities:
- to attempt to build on each member's strengths, and help each other improve areas in need of further development;
- to seek to work as part of a team in all aspects of the class;
- to take responsibility for individual assignments and share helpful information with others;
- to foster insightful, non-threatening discussion of ideas and experiences;
- to work ahead of deadlines, if possible, to facilitate group work, while being sensitive to time zones and varying work hours;
- to notify each other if we are unable to meet a deadline;
- to be respectful and use appropriate language;
- to listen and respond to each other with open and constructive minds;
- to abide by the agreement we all accepted before embarking on this course;
- to be patient with all - 360 degrees.
Whenever someone strays from our guidelines, any one of us should feel free to offer a private and then, if still needed, a public reminder of these ground rules, as well as a clear explanation of how he or she might have transgressed them; in addition, regular reflection on how we're doing and what might need changing.
What to do with these ground rules? Recommend posting them above your computer or in the front of your binder and referring to them often. It will help keep the focus of why we are engaged in this course and how we are going to do it. The trick is to actually use them. Many a time a group has painstakingly developed a mission statement, team agreements, honor code, etc., even going so far as to have it bronzed and mounted ... yet they go ignored in the "real" workings of the organization. Now that's a waste of time, if ever there was one.