Sunday, November 29, 2009

Instructor Tips for the First Week of an Online Class.

In this post I share my notes from the front lines. I try to capture some of the realities I experience when teaching online. I hope these ideas help you as an online teacher and learner.

Getting Started: First Week

The first week of an online class is always intense. Students are nervous and disoriented. Learning the course patterns, understanding expectations, and getting your peers helps lower stress..

The first discussion is crucial to starting on a positive note.

Social Icebreakers

A social icebreaker is essential for an online class.  As a student, I'd drop a course without an icebreaker, because I know I learn best in a community oriented setting.

As an instructor I know that all students need to feel recognized and included. I also know the sooner we build an interdependent community the sooner the understanding and deeper conversations will begin.

The icebreaker discussion gives everyone in the class a chance to talk about something light and interesting. It's a chance to make a first impression and connect with others. This first conversation if often like walking through a crowded room where everyone is talking and sharing. We must all learn how to listen to what's being said and interact when we see a conversational opportunity.

I always like to start a class with a big social exchange. It gives folks a chance to learn the software while they get to know each other without the pressure of an academic assignment.

Why break the ice?  icebreaker

Icebreaker discussions tend to have a lot of posts.  Some students feel compelled to read and respond to everyone.  Some feel overwhelmed with too many posts to read. This is a teachable moment where folks can learn how to work in with online discussions  and use skim, skip, or save tactics. Of course as an instructor, you are compelled to read and respond to all. This first contact is important to establishing trust and should be taken seriously.

Some students are anxious to get into the academic elements of the course. They wonder why we are wasting time with this big discussion? This reaction is more common in the first courses of the E-Learning Certificate.  With experience we understand the critical importance of creating a social connection early in a class. Without some initial bonding, online courses can become very lonesome places.

(Reminder to self: Send a mid-first week email reminding academic to participate in the academic discussion as well as the Icebreaker.)

Conversing with Technology

We depend on discussion forums for deep, time shifted conversation. However, It's difficult to teach the details of D2L's discussion forums during the first week of a class.  People are already on information overload, and likely to skip or miss the tutorials we provide in advance. Expect your students to dive into the discussions. However, it's a mistake to assume students know how to manipulate the discussion software.  Many e-learners only know one slim way to use the software.

Quick Tips for D2L Discussion Settings:  When responding, it can be distracting and time consuming for readers to skim through the quoted text of all respondents.  You can manually delete quoted text, or you can use D2L Settings to globally change your discussion experience.

1. Click settings:

Next be sure the box at the bottom of the screen is NOT checked.

Changing Subject Lines

When you respond change the subject line of a message. This makes message threads easier to scan. Try to capture the essence of your post in the subject area in a way that will induce a reader to click on your response.  Some students quickly pick up on this professional tip.  Others don't.

Off to a Good start

After the start up it takes a few more weeks to really get the classes rolling. The intent is always to kindle conversation and ownership so the students power up the learning environment. My job is to coach each class as it becomes a community and to maximize the opportunity for everyone to learn from each other.

What do you think?

I invite your ideas and comments.  Let's share what we think!

~ Dennis O'Connor

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