Online Learning Advisors Practical Guide to an Online Education

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Reminding the students of requirements for the current module, such as projects or exam dates, is very helpful to the students. It takes about ten minutes a week for either of these tasks, yet the benefit provided is far more valuable. Proactive communication yields fewer questions, saving dozens of hours answering the questions individually. Instructors should keep their interaction with the class as open as possible.

It is also important to communicate to the class each time grades are posted. Within that communication, remind students to contact the instructor if a grade is missing. This puts the responsibility back with the student for finding and submitting any missing work. Likewise, for the threaded discussion to be successful, the instructor should become a facilitator and review the discussions without controlling them. Many online instructors have found what many gardeners realize: at times, hands-on action produces results but in many cases, too much activity can be as harmful as none at all.

This particular role of the facilitator in the online classroom can be difficult for a traditional instructor to accept. It takes a good deal of time for some traditional faculty to feel truly comfortable in allowing the discussion to take place outside the classroom and without their intervention, but that is fine—experience will eventually guide them. For good discussion board facilitation, the instructor should randomly and selectively reply to students and provide prompt explanations or further comments regarding the topic of discussion.

Many instructors assign assistant facilitators and summarizers for each discussion session, providing opportunities for different kinds of student involvement. Good facilitation of online goes beyond content. It is also important to add positive emotion and visual cues. The online environment can be limiting when the communication is mostly text-based. Emoticons serve the same purpose as nodding a head in agreement or offering a welcoming smile as would occur in a traditional course.

When online learning is facilitated incorrectly, students can feel isolated and cheated of a valuable learning experience. This could lead to feelings of separation and disappointment that negatively impact learning. It is also possible to describe you body language in the email. It is also beneficial, as Hiss suggests, for online instructors to keep their sense of humor. Time delays in a threaded discussion can be frustrating for students.

This is especially true if the response was misunderstood and the students have attempted to clarify. Online instructors should try to post daily or on a regular schedule that has been communicated the students. Some instructors create homework discussion threads for content support, which provides a forum for students to help each other. Instructors who engage students in collaborative groups should facilitate development of social skills. This begins at the onset of the course when the learning community is formed and students recognize the online classroom as a safe place to interact.

Group skills should be modeled by the instructor and outlined in the course syllabus. For example, if a two paragraph introduction is expected, the instructor should model that in their own introduction to the class in the opening discussion. Most students enjoy the online social interaction and find that it encourages their learning experience. Independently minded students find that the asynchronous nature of the course enables them to participate more readily than in the face-to-face classroom.

In creating groups, Ko and Rossen recommend that instructors divide students into groups instead of allowing students to pick their own groups.

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Students may find it difficult to meet online and form groups quickly. Many instructors search the introductory material to find common elements among students to hasten the group cohesion. Groups should not be too large or too small. The most effective group size appears to be four students per group. Utilizing these suggestions, the group work should begin early to promote a positive learning experience in the online classroom.

The final stage of online instruction is assessment. It is a rewarding experience to watch learning take place in the minds of students. It is why many instructors choose relatively low pay for teaching compared to lucrative jobs in the for-profit world. Just like gardeners in autumn, assessment is a time of reflection and satisfaction for a job well done.

Tiny seeds sown early in the season are actively growing and producing. What worked well and what needs to be improved for next season? This can be accomplished by keeping a journal and by soliciting feedback on instruction and course content.

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Self-examination and contemplative thought are successful approaches for course improvement. A recommended practice is to keep a journal that records items that should be redesigned or altered the next time the course is taught. The instructor should make notes of assignments that worked well and those that struggled, and critically evaluate the effectiveness of content and instruction.


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A good place to gather the feedback is inside the course management system. It is helpful to survey for student feedback during the course, not just at the end with course evaluations. The instructor can develop a discussion thread for students to post feedback anonymously about the course, including possible suggestions for improvement. If a student does offer feedback, the instructor should acknowledge the feedback and be appreciative for the remarks.

Feedback instruments should provide the students with a way to communicate what they like the best and the least about the instruction of the course. All online instructors should look for possible course revisions.

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Course content should never stay static. If using end-of-course summary feedback, the instructor must receive this feedback in time to reevaluate the course for the next semester and add suggested changes, if necessary. Another possibility is an end-of-session discussion regarding the focus of the next session, thus allowing for minor course revisions even as the course continues to be taught. Online teaching has brought a new modality to distance education. It has also brought frustration and anxiety to the instructors attempting this new methodology.

Instructors who are comfortable with the traditional methods for teaching in the classroom struggle to engage students over the Internet. While many of the same techniques apply, teaching online requires additional techniques for success. These techniques are similar to the same steps a gardener takes to develop a garden. In the online classroom, the ground is prepared with a carefully designed syllabus and policies, the seed is planted in the first session of class, and the learning community is nurtured to grow and become self-sufficient.

These steps yield students who are engaged and working toward completion of the learning objectives. By utilizing these strategies for teaching online effectively, an instructor will engage the online learner, nurture a successful learning community, and alleviate the frustration and fear that goes along with teaching online. Bischoff, B. The elements of effective online teaching. Weight Eds. Boaz, M. Effective methods of communication and student collaboration.

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In Teaching at a distance: A handbook for instructors pp. Boettcher, J. Faculty guide for moving teaching and learning to the web. Brewer, E. Moving to online: Making the transition from traditional instruction and communication strategies. Hiss, A. Talking the talk: Humor and other forms of online communication. Jarmon, C. Strategies for developing effective distance learning experience. Ko, S. Teaching online: A practical guide. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. McCormack, C. Building a web-based education system. Moore, G. You can teach online. Palloff, R. Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the classroom.

San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Lessons from the cyberspace classroom: The realities of online teaching. Salmon, G. Developing e-tivities : The key to active online learning. London: Kogan Page Ltd. Schweizer, H. Designing and teaching an on-line course: Spinning your web classroom. VanSickle, Jennifer. Making the transition to teaching online: Strategies and methods for the first-time, online instructor.

White, K. Face to face in the online classroom. Kaye Shelton. Shelton is a certified online instructor, teaching online since , and also practices as an online education consultant. Her education includes a B. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational computing at the University of North Texas. She has published and presented regionally and nationally on the subject of online education and has served as an advisor regarding online education programs for many peer institutions. Shelton has trained more than instructors how to teach online successfully.

She and Mr. Saltsman are currently co-authoring a book for online education administration. George Saltsman. His education includes a B. He has published and presented regionally and nationally on the subjects of online education and educational technology. Oct Index. Home Page. Kaye Shelton and George Saltsman Abstract This paper summarizes some of the best ideas and practices gathered from successful online instructors and recent literature. Keywords : online education, distance education, online teaching, online instructor, online faculty training Teaching Online Teaching online is a little like gardening.

For this paper, the following is assumed of the online course: The course meets online during a regularly defined semester or quarter. Preparing the Soil—Develop and Structure the Learning Environment The first step in online instruction occurs long before the seeds are planted. Contact Information The syllabus should include administrative items such as office times, contact information, and preferred modes of contacts.

Course Objectives Well-defined course objectives are an important element in any course syllabus. Attendance Requirements Attendance requirements should be clearly stated, as attendance is necessary for courses that utilize online learning communities. Late Work Policy The instructor should create a policy for late assignment submissions and missed exams. Course Schedule One of the most important elements of an online course syllabus is the course schedule. Orientation Aids An orientation note or hints for success for the student should be written and available for the student Jarmon, Communication Practices An inbox consistently full of email will be overwhelming to any instructor.

Technology Policy A technology policy should be stated in the syllabus that directs students to a helpdesk or resource other than the instructor for technology problems. Sow the Seed — Opening the course The second step for successful online teaching is opening the course and the initiation of instruction. Introductions The instructor should spend time getting to know the students individually the first week of class and encourage the students to do the same.

Establish a Tone of Excellence The first several weeks also set the tone for academic participation. Nurture the Growth — Nurturing the Learning Community The third step of teaching online is to nurture the learning community. Provide Ample Communication Online students are eager for communication. Add Emotion and Belonging When online learning is facilitated incorrectly, students can feel isolated and cheated of a valuable learning experience. Respond Quickly Time delays in a threaded discussion can be frustrating for students.

Model Behavior Instructors who engage students in collaborative groups should facilitate development of social skills. Create Appropriately Sized Groups Most students enjoy the online social interaction and find that it encourages their learning experience. Keep a Journal Self-examination and contemplative thought are successful approaches for course improvement.

Solicit Feedback on Course Content All online instructors should look for possible course revisions. Age: Are students getting older or younger? One administrator shared that "In the past, we have seen a major shift from older to younger students. Now we are seeing more of a balance in traditional students and adult learners who are returning to school. This includes students enrolling from outside the U. Of these, the local trend seems strongest, with statements from administrators like, "The majority of the online students are from the hyperlocal area … show[ing] us that they could attend campus, but opt not to" and "Resident students are taking online courses to supplement course schedules and reduce time to graduation.

Reducing the time to degree completion is a recurring theme. Race, Class, Language, and Disabilities: This year, several schools noted a wide variety of student populations entering their online programs in increased numbers. These include more students with disabilities, learners for whom English is a second language, underrepresented minorities, and economically disadvantaged students.

How is your school serving the diverse needs of students enrolled in online courses? How do schools prepare faculty for online classrooms that potentially include high school, dual-enrollment students and working professionals in addition to traditional learners who are all enrolled across a wide array of time zones and need a variety of support services?

Why do students choose to learn online rather than on campus? For the third year in a row, the convenience and flexibility offered by online programs topped the list of reasons. Students shared additional reasons for choosing an online format, which included a range of transportation issues, challenges related to having a disability, and a desire to attend a course or program that was only offered online.

Are online students concerned about choosing online learning instead of on-campus options? For those who did report concerns, the "quality of instruction and academic support" topped the list. This year, we saw an increase in the number of currently enrolled students reporting synchronous components in their online courses i. This year, participants who graduated from online programs shared that they primarily "contacted schools directly e.

In addition to the options we provided, some students added that their research was narrowed by schools that their employers were already working with or recommended. Others indicated that they enrolled in online options at schools where they were already taking classes. Online program graduates have an interesting perspective that leads to relevant advice for new students and those thinking about online learning options.

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What lessons did online alumni learn from their experiences? For the third year in a row, alumni said they would "compare more programs" and "do more research about cost and financial aid. What are the biggest challenges students face when deciding on an online program? In all three years of our data collection, the top two responses have been "estimating actual costs" and "applying for financial aid and identifying sufficient funding sources. Lessons learned by online program alumni include the need to compare more programs and better understand the financial aspects of their college decision.

Students use a variety of methods to learn about online programs and usually use more than one resource. How is your institution leveraging these resources? Alumni also shared some regrets about not talking to more people before enrolling in their online programs. Are there ways to connect prospective students with current students and alumni at your institution? Employer partnerships may be beneficial before, during, and after enrollment to sustain conversations about career outlook, employment opportunities, and relevant academic work.

Do learners think online education is better than, equal to, or inferior to on-campus education? Responses indicate that a majority of students feel that online learning is "better than" or "equal to" on-campus learning. Our school survey provided some insight into how institutions make the decision to offer a new online program and challenges to implementation.

Deciding to offer a new program is just the first step, however. Our school survey respondents identified marketing and recruitment goals and meeting cost and management demands as the top challenges two years in a row. What is the demand for online programs in the higher education industry? In each of the past three years, the majority of school administrators have said that the demand has increased compared to the previous year.

We also see more two-year schools increasing their budgets this year than in the past two years. They are seeing opportunity for programs in healthcare, business, and computer science fields. A majority of schools consider specific student characteristics when designing new online programs. That trend has continued since we started this study in This may be one of the most significant challenges ahead. As student populations include a wider range of student characteristics, the need for support -- for both students and faculty members -- will increase.

However, administrators might not always be mindful of these increasingly diverse student populations; for example, although some school administrators have seen an increase in international students over the past two years, program creation accounting for this group seems to be decreasing.

Our online student alumni participants provided some insight into the challenges they faced while completing their programs.

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