#bestpracticemonday LMS Skills are Learned Not Inherited – 3 Ways to Help

Blackboard on the BrainI am old enough to remember thinking of computers as something that fit into a large room and young enough to remember when my family received its first computer that sat on a desk in my father’s office. My children are familiar with touch screen interfaces, wireless internet, smartphones and tablets. With all of the technology that students coming into the university setting seem to have at their fingertips, it is easy to assume that as digital natives they are already familiar with how a Learning Management System (LMS) works and how to navigate their way through an online class.

One thing I have learned through supporting faculty and facilitating online courses is that you cannot assume that students were born knowing how to maneuver within the confines of a Learning Management System. LMS skills are learned and not inherited. Taking this into account there are steps online instructors can take to give students the resources & skills they need to be successful in online courses.

1. Use a Getting Started Area/Unit to Orient Your Students

Getting StartedHaving the words Getting Started or Start Here show up in your course are automatic clues for your students on where they should go and what they should do. They immediately give the students a sense of where they should be going and what they should be doing. Leverage this part of your course to communicate to students about how your course will work. Explain to students where readings, lectures and videos will be found as well as how they will participate in and submit items for assignments and activities. Communicate expectations, course policies and general advice in this unit that will help your students be successful. An added bonus here is you can use the Getting Started unit to model how the rest of your units will work.

Instructions2. Layer Academic and Mechanical Instructions Throughout Your Course

With students, everything revolves around context. They are becoming used to getting contextual information about the restaurant where they are eating, the traffic they are driving in, and the television shows they are watching. That is why it is important to not just put instructions in your course syllabus. They need to placed at the unit and assignment level as well. A big key here is not just revealing the academic instructions that tell the students the requirements of a particular assignment or activity, but the mechanical instructions that tell the students how to use the particular tool to complete the assignment or activity.

3. Be Sure Your Students Know How to Get Technical Assistance

Technical SupportIn order to make online courses more interactive and engaging for our students we have added new activities and technologies. We do this to ensure that students have the same types of learning opportunities as students in the face-to-face environment. With any new technology or new tool there will be obstacles, snafus and technical glitches that arise. It is more important than ever that your students have the resources that can help them work through any of these issues. Post online support desk contact information and hours of operation prominently in your course (At SHSU Online we include a Need Help? link in every Blackboard course). If available provide a link to the student documentation for your LMS (The Getting Started with Blackboard Orientation course at SHSU for example).

Even though your students may not know what a LMS is, you can help them by providing the resources and information that can equip them to be successful in your course. Using a Getting Started area, layering mechanical and academic instructions and connecting your students to tech support are practices you can incorporate to help your students learn how to operate within the Learning Management System.

#bestpracticemonday: Teaching Online – “Running” into Problems

Running Technical GlitchSo I run 3 – 4 times each week. This past week on my shorter run, I was studiously trying to avoid being run over by less-than-aware drivers when I stepped into a bad spot in the road. Before I knew it, I rolled my ankle and scraped my hands on the pavement as I went down. Because I was close to traffic and didn’t want to get hit, I immediately got my bearings and took some deep breaths. I was only about a quarter of the way into my run and I wanted to finish so I begin what I can only describe as a “hop-limp” running style as I continued on my way. After about 30 yards I was approaching normal, but running carefully just to be sure. Eventually I was back at my normal pace and finished my run somewhat later than normal and a little scraped up.

So now you know more than you ever wanted to know about my exercise habits. The funny thing about my adventure is that it is analogous to how online instructors should handle technical problems when they arise. When you “run” into problems while teaching an online course, follow these steps:

Get Your Bearings

Get your BearingsWhether it was a technical glitch or one of your activities/assessments didn’t work as expected, it is important to get your bearings. Whatever the problem take a deep breath and realize that it will be okay. Reflect that same thought to your students by posting an announcement about the issue and/or communicating with them via e-mail or other method. Reach out to your support network to find out what happened so that you can answer questions posed by your students. If you don’t know, it’s okay to let your students know that you don’t know, but that you are in the process of finding out what happened. Figure out where your students were when the event happened so that you can move onto the next step…

Keep on Moving (the limp-hop)

The Limp Hop - Walking wiht a bootIn most cases you are under a time constraint when teaching online just as you are in a face-to-face course. You have a set amount of work to do in a limited amount of time. So even if you have a partial work stoppage due to a technology glitch or outage, it is important to keep moving forward. How can you do this? Try using another tool to finish the activity that the students were working on when everything hit the fan. *Best Practice Alert: If you are using a technology intensive tool for a course activity/assessment, it is always a good idea to have an alternate activity planned in case something goes wrong. Think of it as like having printed slides of your presentation just in case the projector doesn’t work in your face-to-face course. Find another way to continue the activity so that your students won’t miss out on the the learning experience. For example, if you were using a blog, try switching to a discussion forum.

What really goes without saying here is that you keep the lines of communication flowing. During downtimes and technical glitches of tools, the students just want to know that they won’t be penalized and that the world is still turning. Even if the course seems to be inching along, a follow-up e-mail letting them know that you are still with them does much to lessen anxieties. It may seem like a glacial pace compared to what you were doing when the problem occurred, but continuing to move forward at any pace will give your students a sense of comfort that you are still in control of the course and they are still in control of their learning.

Getting Back in the Groove

Get Back in the GrooveOnce the problem has passed it is important to ensure that you and your students are back in the normal rhythm of your course. Communicate with your students and let them know that all systems are “go” and that they should return to normal course interaction practices. If the tool that had the problem is to be used in an assignment let the students know that you will watching for any issues that may arise. You will notice a familiar refrain when it comes to doing these things. Each step in the disaster recovery process involves communicating with your students! It may take some encouragement on your part, but your students should slip back into the familiar course interactions that they are used to.

As with most situations when you deal with technology, it is not a matter of if it will fail you, but when it will fail you. Keep in mind, how you respond to these problems and glitches often has more of an effect on your students than the problems themselves. Make sure to get your bearings, keep on moving, and get back in the groove and everything will be all right. You may have a few scrapes and soreness, but you and your students will come through it and finish strong!

#bestpracticemonday – Getting In Sync with Your Online Students

Getting in Sync with your Online Students

Being on the same page with your online students is one of the most important things you can do as an instructor of an online course. Having a finger on the pulse of your students’ learning experience is key to student engagement and student success. If students know that you are “right along-side” on their learning journey their anxiety levels decrease and their satisfaction levels increase. There are a number of ways to get in sync with your online students, here are just a few:

Communicate Expectations Throughout The Course

ExpectationsDue to accreditation requirements, your objectives will show up in your course’s syllabus so the students will be able to find them there. However, you can really reinforce what the students will be getting out of course units and items by placing Unit and even Content Item level objectives. Starting out each unit by letting students know what they can expect from it will remind them why they are involved in those activities and reinforce with you the desire to align your curriculum.

If a student knows why they are doing what they are doing, there will be less ambiguity for them and more satisfaction. Expectations helps the student to “sync up” to the course goals and objectives and thereby connecting them to you and the course on a foundational level.

Ask Your Students How They Are Doing

How is my teaching graphic?A great way for you and your students to “sync up” is to ask them how they are doing. Find ways to reach out to your students and ask them how it’s going. Part of this you can do just by gauging the types of posts you receive in your “Virtual Office or “Course Q&A” discussion forum. You can identify trends and problems by perusing the posts that come in and respond to them during the course. You can also interpret the results you receive in the gradebook for this information.

You can be more proactive and just ask the students. This may be a novel concept, but it works! Asking your students could take the form of an anonymous survey, or even a weekly reflection assignment that has as one of its goals the identification of high and low points of the week in your course. You can also poll your students during an informal chat sessions or webinar. Getting feedback from your students and acting on it (when merited) is a great way to get “in sync” with your online students.

Get Synchronous With Live Conversations

Person talking througth cansIt is easy to get stuck in the rut of a post-reply mentality when it comes to your online course. Whether it is reading and replying to discussion posts, giving feedback on submitted assignments or just posting an announcement and replying to the subsequent e-mails, falling into the rhythm of asynchronous communication is not hard to do.

Meeting with students in “real-time” plays an important role in any online course. It provides a sense of community for your students, reassuring them that they are not alone on their learning journey. The students are able to hear you as a human being and not some depersonalized text on their monitors. Establishing “office hours” for your course is a great best practice where you can let your students know certain times that you are available to meet synchronously. These can be conducted via an LMS chat program, Skype or other instant messaging program, a web meeting software (Blackboard Collaborate) or any number of web-based tools.

When you take the time to make yourself available, listen and respond to student concerns, issues or just to let them vent, you are reducing frustration and anxiety, getting the students more comfortable with you and your teaching style and getting “in sync” with their learning journeys.