As I get ready to start the semester, I started writing down a list of what was important in an online class. In some fashion, I think this will be added to my class, though I'm not quite sure how, just yet- it's too much for a syllabus, so most likely just a page in the course.
If You Wouldn’t Say it to Someone Face to Face…
Respect and kindness matters. Always. If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, don’t say it online. If you start a sentence with “I don’t mean to sound prejudiced but…”, just delete the sentence; it’s probably a prejudicial statement. WORDS MATTER. One of the most important characteristics of an online class is that we spend so much time communicating through the power of textual language. And it can be difficult to determine tone. Try to reread all of your posts prior to hitting submit. Even with that extra step, you may send something that you intend as a kind helpful comment that someone perceives and condescending and hurtful. If that happens, be open, listen, acknowledge what you said, explain, and reach out to me for help if needed. If you are even in one of my classes, and I say something you think sounds off, seems biased or that comes across as wrong- same process! Approach me ask a question, explain what you heard/read: I will listen. As an instructor, I am here to help my students, to support them, to guide them through my courses and to help them journey through the collegiate experience. My office hours are not in name only, and I am truly here for you- just ask.
If You See Something, Say Something!
Okay, it’s not the airport. But if you notice an error, a link not working, something wrong, please consider sending the instructor a quick email. I know I appreciate it! Especially when you notice it, not "I couldn't do the assignment because the link wasn't working and I didn't understand". Our view is often not the same as the student view, and sometimes links work perfectly well on our computers and they don’t on other computers for some reason. Crazy, I know, but it's true. It could also be a setting that we need to click, or something minor that we can fix (if we know!).
You Get Out of It What You Put into It:
A three credit hour class generally means 3 hours of "in class" time, plus 6-9 hours of "out-of-class" time- per week! Graduate courses are expected to be more challenging than undergraduate. If you are putting substantially less time and effort into the course- you'll get less out of it. In many cases, in many online courses, this is in the discussion boards. I know, they're tough. You've just read TONS of material, right? Now you need to process it, right up your thoughts, and then READ MORE? I get it- I felt the same way when I took my first online class (waaaaaay back when in, wow, 2004? 2005?) But the discussion boards are really a great way for you to interact with your peers and see different perspectives and ways to interpret the material- and that's so important. If you struggle with doing it all online, perhaps you can find a buddy or two in class to chat with "offline" and work through the material with over the phone... a verbal discussion could help you work through what you want to write for your prompts or in your response prompts.
Ideally, I'd suggest that you continually interact with the discussion boards, not only so that you can get the most out of the course, but also to begin building a sense of community. Many learning management systems (LMS) also have the option to subscribe to a an email recap- this is a great option as well (and one I frequently choose!) I can read the posts as they come in (or once per day) so I stay on top of the board, and then when I go in to interact, I already have some familiarity with the posts, so it's really a second read. The more you engage and interact and reflect with online discussion boards and community, the more powerful that medium will be. If you do your reading in isolation, write only your required posts to the minimum criteria, read the bare minimum, respond the bare minimum… what will you get out of the course? The bare minimum.
Um, Were You Addressing Me?
Discussion board replies can be kind of confusing (depending on if they are threaded, if new posts are started each response, etc.), but since online classes don’t have face-to-face contact, I encourage you to address your posts to a specific person. Sometimes within a post, you might even make comments to two people, the original poster and another classmate that has already replied. Address your classmates (and me, if applicable) by name. Also, sign your name! You don’t have to use “Dear” and “From”, but starting with the name of the individual that you’re addressing, and then ending with your name is helpful for the class to build connections and community. This will also help in remembering preferred names/nicknames!
Watcher, not a Joiner:
Instructors work diligently to craft readings and discussion posts/questions that will encourage peer discussion and collaboration as an instructional strategy. Thus, we tend not to join in the conversation unless intervention is warranted, serving as a facilitator of the content and experiences rather than a participant. This may vary by instructor- some love to join in on the conversations, but most that I know prefer the observer role. Instructors may weigh in on posts after the due date, send messages with your grades, write a recap post, or record a video in order to interact with students but this is generally AFTER the discussion board time period has ended. As a general rule, I will write a recap post or record a video, but this may vary based on the topic, course, time I have during any given week, or really, anything going on in life! When I record a video, I write out notes at the very least, if not a full script, to keep myself on track (and reasonably time conscious). One of my classes asked, if it wasn't too much trouble, to write up reflections instead of posting a video... and so I made my notes more of a letter and posted that instead of a video.
Posts should be substantive and not briefly addressing the prompts or “I agree” as a reply! How discussions are graded varies by university, and by instructor within the university. Check to see if there is a rubric or criteria posted. My classes are required to include evidence and connections to the readings, including in-text citations. Some professors may require full references (I personally require in-text citation and the full APA reference only if using an outside source and accept just the in-text citation for our assigned readings.) Some professors may have word counts or minimums, others may just ask that you fully address the prompt. I recommend copying the prompt, and separating it out by question, and answering under each question; this way you're sure you've addressed everything fully. Depending on the writing style required in the class, you may be able to post your response as-is (it would work for my class) or you may need to take out the questions and add some transition sentences to make the answers flow together in essay form.
Discussion Due Dates and the Community of Learners:
Discussion boards are a principal means for student to student interaction in an online course. Additionally, it is one time that students’ work and grades are dependent upon others. Thus, adhering to due dates and posting timelines is ESSENTIAL. If you post your responses late, this causes a delay for others that need to read and respond to your posts in order to complete their requirements. By enrolling in an online course, you're signing up for the responsibility of being a member of this online community of learners- please be respectful of others' time!
Back it Up:
It’s a good idea to write your posts in another document in case of technology issues and then copy/paste. That way if something happens (ahhh, technology!), you don’t lose what you’ve done! However, unless the discussion post specifically calls for it, or your instructor has indicated that it's okay, I wouldn't suggested attaching your word document as a response or linking to google docs; copy and paste into the post.
And finally... Communicate! While I can only speak for myself, I'm only human. But I'm pretty sure most other professors are only human too! We make mistakes, or may not explain an assignment as clearly as we thought we did- ask questions! I generally have a discussion board dedicated to asking questions about assignments or pointing out mistakes/broken links, etc.- if you have a question, chances are, someone else does too! Sometimes, other classmates answer the questions before I get to them! Even beyond the fact that we're human... we were students once too! I worked full time as I pursued both my MA and my Ph.D. My sister, at only 32 years old, passed away just weeks before I took my comprehensive exams. My good friend pushed my infant in his stroller around the hallowed halls of School of Education while I defended my dissertation, about a year later... I had to nurse him right before AND after the defense. We understand the difficulties of balancing work, life, school, family. We will often encourage you to engage in self-care rather than push you to fit a deadline. But we only know that something is going on if you communicate. If you tell us that you're struggling, and that you need assistance with flexible due dates, or if you need to talk through the assignments over the phone to make sure you're clear on the expectations.
I think that's it, though I'm sure I'll come back and add something to this, at least once!