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Tips for Providing Excellent Distance Learning Instruction Page 2
Introduction All education levels, from kindergarten to university, are using distance education as a way to provide instruction to the student. Many students are choosing distance learning as a way to get an education because of the flexibility that it provides. Adult learners don’t have to worry about missing class because a child is sick or the boss is making them stay behind or else. Parents of homeschoolers can get additional assistance with educating their children. Although distance learning provides students with flexibility and convenience, it can sometimes leave the students feeling isolated because of the lack of face-to-face interaction with the instructor and the fellow students. If the class is not organized properly, it can also leave the student overwhelmed with too much information. By providing excellent on-line instruction, students feel less isolated and more comfortable with the course. Here are seven tips that instructors can follow to provide excellent on-line instruction: • • • • • • • Create an effective syllabus Provide virtual office hours Pace the class like a traditional “live” class Encourage communication among the students Create effective presentations Provide feedback BE THERE!
Create an Effective Syllabus
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If you were creating a syllabus for a “live” class, you would include information such as: the learning outcomes, the required textbooks, the class rules, and the schedule of topics and assignments to be completed by a certain day. Other than the course rules may vary slightly, there is no difference between a syllabus for a live class and a syllabus for an online class. An effective syllabus should contain the following: • The Name of the Course – The student needs to know if s/he is in the correct course. • Your Name and Contact Information – The student will need to know how to reach you and how to address you (Are you Dr. Smith, Mr. Or Ms Smith, or John or Jane?). • The Course Objectives – The student needs to know what to expect from the course • The Textbooks Required for the Course – The student will need to know what materials they will need for the course. • Rules of the Course – The student will need to know about deadlines, how to turn in assignments, and how to address questions to you. • The School Policy and Procedures (if applicable) – The student will need to know the policies on misbehavior such as cheating and harassment. The student will also need to know how to get answers to questions that pertain to the learning institution, such as refund policies and degree requirements. • The Lecture, Assignment and Test Schedule - The student will need to use this as his or her schedule to perform work. • Grading Scale – The student needs to know how he or she will be evaluated.
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An effective syllabus for an on-line course should also be easy to read. Use a traditional font (such as Times New Roman or Arial) with bullets and spacing to highlight important points.
According to the article, Facilitating Every Student in an Online Course, by Virgil E. Varvel Jr., a syllabus is viewed as a “contract” between the student and the teacher on the course. Since a syllabus is treated as a “contract” between the student and the instructor, Timothy Bumar, Distance Learning Coordinator at Westmoreland County Community College, suggests that the instructor get an acknowledgement e-mail from the student to ensure that the student read and understood the syllabus. If you don’t receive an e-mail, you can follow up with the student to see if he or she has any questions. Provide Virtual Office Hours Students will be working on their coursework at various hours. While you are sleeping at 11:00 PM, a student may be working on his or her assignments. If you are unclear on when you will be available, you may be unintentionally giving the wrong impression to the student on when you are available. According to a survey performed by the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, one of the biggest complaints from students is they didn’t know when they would receive a response to their e-mail from their instructor. By establishing virtual office hours, students will know when the lectures will be published, when to expect their assignments to be graded, when they will receive feedback from their assignments, and when they will receive a response to their e-mail.
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The best place to publish your office hours is in the syllabus. Here is an example of how to set up virtual office hours: Monday: Wednesday: Friday: Saturday: 8:00AM 9:00AM 3:00 – 5:00PM 3:00 – 5:00PM 5:00 -- 6:00PM 3:00 -- 6:00PM Publish Lecture Materials Grade Assignments Respond to E-Mails Respond to E-Mails Available on Instant Messenger Respond to E-Mails
Pace Like a Traditional Class DON’T post all the lecture materials and assignments for the entire course at once. Although the “quick learner” may prefer this, most of the students may feel overwhelmed with all the information at once, and they may become frustrated with their learning. If you were teaching a “live” class, would you give the students all the presentations and materials for the entire course on the first day of class? Conversely, DON’T miss posting the lecture materials. Students are expecting their lecture materials at a certain time, and if they don’t receive it, they may feel abandoned. The best thing to do is to publish the lecture materials and assignments at the beginning of their scheduled week. For example, publish the lecture materials and assignments for week 5 of the course at the beginning of week 5. Encourage Communication Amongst the Students As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest drawbacks of distance education is students often feel isolated from the instructor and their fellow students. One way to make the students feel like they are part of the class is to encourage communication with each other. Distance education tools, such as Blackboard and WebCT, have communication utilities such as message boards and tools to send e-mails to fellow students. Have
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students use these tools.
If the students have instant communication tools like AOL’s
Instant Messenger, encourage the students to share this information and use this tool for instant communication.
Note that sometimes, because of fear of receiving spam or for privacy issues, students may not want their information to be available to the public. If a student feels uncomfortable with sharing his or her information, respect his or her privacy, and encourage the student to use other forms of communication, like the message boards. Create Effective Presentations If the presentation is too dry or too hard to read, you may lose your audience. Use presentation creation software, like Microsoft’s PowerPoint or Sun’s StarOffice, to create a slide show of the week’s lecture. When creating the slide show: • Use sans-serif fonts, such as Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana, with a minimum size of 24 points. • Break the text up into pointed, bite-sized chunks. If there is too much information to read, the student may get lost. • Use voice narration. For hearing-impaired students, create transcripts of the slide show. The transcripts are also useful for the other students to use as “notes”. • Use some animation, such as text appearing at certain times, but don’t get too busy. A line of dancing frogs may be cute, but it may distract from the lesson.
Another option is to also include animated presentations such as screen captures or videos of lectures in the presentation. However, you will need to take into consideration
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the technology that you and your students are using. If your students are using a dial-up modem to connect to the Internet, it may take too long for them to download the video, which could give the impression to the students that they are wasting time with getting materials instead of spending time learning the subject. Provide Feedback According to the survey taken by the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, the instructors who received the most favorable reviews are those who provided feedback on the students’ progress. Give students your thoughts on how they did their homework. Send e-mails to students who are in danger of failing the course or who may not be participating in the course. Distance Learning software such as Blackboard and WebCT have tools for the instructor to use to get viewing and log in statistics for each student. Send congratulatory e-mails to students who are doing exceptionally well. Be There Making your presence known in the course is a way to make the student feel less isolated. It may also discourage the student from cheating. Sending e-mails to your students is one way of making a presence in the course. Posting frequently on the message boards used in the course is another way.
For real time communication, hold chat sessions. Be aware that not all of your students may be able to participate in chat sessions due to scheduling conflicts. If you have instant communication software like AOL’s Instant Messenger, and you feel comfortable
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sharing this information with your students, allow your students to send you an instant message.
By following these tips, students may get a better experience with their distance education class, and you may receive better reviews from the students.
RESOURCES Teaching Tips for On-Line Instructors, The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium http://www.ctdlc.org/Faculty/TeachingTips/tellfaculty.html Facilitating Every Student in an Online Course, Virgil E. Varvel Jr. Pointers and Clickers, 2001, Illinois Online Network
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