Newsletter 8 – Simple Improvements to Online Teaching

Laura van Assendelft, Professor of Political Science

October 2013

I teach in Baldwin Online and Adult Programs as well as in RCW. Most semesters I am teaching the same course in both programs. I want to deliver the best online course to my students, while at the same time, making it manageable for myself as the professor.When I first started teaching online, I found that there were two types of online students who really frustrate me: the ones you never hear from, and the ones you never hear from until the last week of classes when they try to submit an entire semester of work, expecting instant feedback. I also didn’t like it when I graded all of my first exams for my students on campus, and weeks later the first exams from online students trickle in one at a time. Here are two things that I changed over time, and I share them because even though they seem like simple changes, they have been so effective for me.

1. A syllabus with specific due dates (even in summer courses)
Baldwin Online and Adult Programs students often have complicated lives and appreciate the flexibility of taking courses online. However, without structure, some of these students will find time management difficult and shortchange themselves by cramming weeks of work into the final hours of a course. My solution has been to use the same course schedule and specific due dates online as I use on campus. I thought I would be met with resistance, but I find that my students appreciate the structured schedule and they are able to meet the deadlines. Whereas students on campus have to attend class and take exams on scheduled days and times, online students still have the flexibility of completing their work on the day and time of their choice, as long as they submit assignments and tests by the due dates. By requiring due dates, I can grade assignments in batches, rather than incrementally, making my grading more efficient and consistent. And it remains my prerogative to allow extensions based on individual circumstances.

2. Week by Week
I organize my courses by topic, but now I label each topic by week and communicate with all students by email on the same day each week (in addition to individual correspondence as needed). Every Monday I “close” the previous week by recording participation in the online blog, posting my summary comments, and then posting an announcement on Blackboard which is emailed to all students that summarizes the previous week and what is happening the next week. Example:
“We are now finished with Week 5 Civil Rights and I hope that you have taken some extra time to look at the video clips from Eyes on the Prize embedded in the smartboard notes. As we begin Week 6, make sure that you are reading chapter 6, taking the quiz, and also beginning to work on your second writing assignment. Remember that the guidelines for this assignment are posted on Blackboard, but let me know if you have any questions. Also, remember to be using the exam study guide week by week to review before moving on to the next topic. “

I also email students who did not post in the blog for the previous week, or have not taken their quiz yet. It takes very little time to “maintain” the online course in this way, but it helps to keep my students on schedule. Several students even emailed me at the end of this summer to thank me for the weekly schedule and constant communication.

About the Committee:

The Instructional Technology Committee is an ad-hoc faculty committee made up of representatives from the faculty and the Instructional Technology staff at Mary Baldwin. The Current Committee is:Carol Creager
Doris Dodson
Bob Klonoski
Chandra Mason
Reid Oechslin
Rachel Potter
Beverly Riddell
Laura van Assendelft
Ken Beals
Ben Herz
The charter of the committee is to:

Provide a forum for input to the Instructional Technology staff on the relative value of technological improvements from a pedagogical perspective.
Be a champion and example for technology enhanced teaching within their schools
Try out new technologies that seem promising
Develop and share best practices & rubrics for technology enhanced teaching
Recommend equipment and management for mixed use (instructional and non-instructional) space
This committee meets as necessary.