List of Student and Teacher Expectations for Online Courses

(Originally posted in 2015, I thought this blog was relevant now at the beginning of the semester for all those teaching online this term.)

What you can expect from your Instructor:

  • I will reply to your questions within 24-48 hours except during holidays.
  • I will provide clear and concise instructions and exercises for you to follow.
  • I will return graded assignments within two weeks from the due date.
  • I will monitor discussions to clarify students’ postings, highlight good or interesting comments and ideas, and provide insight.
  • I will provide the necessary components of successful interaction: explanation, demonstration, practice, feedback, and assessment.
  • I will provide a range of practice opportunities–from self-corrected multiple choice items to free form expression on a concept.
  • I will provide meta-cognitive, cognitive, and social strategies for instruction.
  • I know the platform you are using very thoroughly, so that I can anticipate and make good guesses about the origins of any problems you are likely to have, and some answers for them.

What I expect from my Students:

  • You will meet the minimum technical requirements of this course. Take the student orientation tutorial for this learning management system before getting started.  Seek other training services for basic computer and word processing skills (e.g., JagSkills).
  • You should always use good grammar and spelling when posting online.  Use the spell check feature.
  • All your messages will be consequential and full of content! For example, simply responding “me too,” or “thanks,” does not include content.
  • You follow the rules of Netiquette. For example, no bullying online.
  • You will complete all required tasks in a timely manner.
  • You will not copy (plagiarize) the work of others and claim it as your own.  Cite your resources using the American Psychological Association’s (APA) manual for publications. It’s currently in the 6th edition.

Protocol for Technical Issues:

  • First, make sure it’s not a browser issue (e.g., Google Chrome), and try a different browser to see if this resolves the issue.  If so, then you either need to update your regular browser or clear its history/cookies/cache.
  • Read the information in the Help tab (online manual) to learn how to use a tool.
  • Read log error messages and record specifics of problems and forward this to the tech support and instructor. Take a screenshot if possible to illustrate the exact problem.
  • Remember that your peers can help you, too!
  • Last, after someone fixes the problem, make sure you refresh the Web page, as the system will remember the exact same page you were looking at the last time you logged in.

Sandra Rogers

Updated 11/19/2915

Quality Matters for Online Instruction

Quality Matters (QM) logo

What is it?

Quality Matters™ (QM) is a peer-review process for providing feedback and guidance for online course design.  According to the QM website, it originated from the MarylandOnline Consortium project in 2003. They received a grant from the US Department of Education to create a rubric and review process based on research and best practices.  In 2014, it became its own nonprofit organization.  Through a subscription service, the organization now provides training, resources, conference events, and research collaborations.  They currently have 5000 QM certified reviewers to assist subscribers with the peer review process of their online courses.

Who uses it?

QM provides specific rubrics and guidelines for the quality assurance review process for K-12, higher education, publishers, and continuing education programs that offer distance education.  QM has a new program to bring the rubric and process to students.  The QM process is specifically for hybrid and fully online courses; it’s not for web-enhanced face-to-face courses.  QM currently has 900 subscribers.  Subscription prices are adjusted to the size of your online programs.

How does it work?

A subscribing institution (or individual) requests a QM review of their course and submits an application.  QM recommends that you familiarize yourself with the rubric through the training process in advance of the review.  They also recommend that the course for review not be new—that it has been through a few semesters to work out the bugs.  A QM coordinator for your course assigns you a team of reviewers consisting of a team leader and two other certified peer reviewers, one of which is an subject matter expert.  They read your self-report about the course and review your course using the rubric and guidelines.  The rubric covers these general standards: 1. Course Overview & Introduction, 2. Learning Objectives (Competencies), 3. Assessment & Measurement, 4. Instructional Materials, 5. Course Activities & Learner Interaction, 6. Course Technology, 7. Learner Support, and 8. Accessibility & Usability.  The team contacts you with questions throughout the 4-6 week process.  Then they present you with your evaluation with time to address any major issues before finalizing the report.

What are the benefits?

Those courses that pass the review process receive recognition on the QM website.  Even if you meet the standards, the peer reviewers provide you with recommendations for further improvements.  Instructors can use this feedback for other courses they teach or debrief with colleagues about it.  This serves as an ongoing continuous improvement process.  This is something that institutions can promote to their clients and instructors can add to the curriculum vitae.  From personal experience in becoming a QM certified peer reviewer, I can attest to the benefits of knowing the best practices and accessibility requirements for online course design.  It has helped me to become a better online instructor and provided me with a wealth of knowledge for my work as an instructional designer.  I’m grateful to the Innovation in Learning Center at the University of South Alabama for training me on the QM process and providing the opportunity to become a certified peer reviewer.

Join me at SITE 2016 in Savannah, GA!

Photo of Sandra Annette Rogers
Say hello if you see me.

Two of my proposals were accepted for presentation at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference in Savannah, GA.  I’d love to connect with any of my readers who are also going to SITE. This will be my second time to attend this conference and my first time in the city of Savannah.  I can’t wait!

Here’s my current schedule for the conference: (All times are Eastern Standard Time.)

1. Brief Paper: Rubric to Evaluate Online Course Syllabi Plans for Engendering a Community of Inquiry, March 22, 2016 at 11:50- 12:10 P.M., in the Hyatt Regency F.

2.  Poster Session: Saudi ELLs’ Digital Gameplay Habits and Effects on SLA: A Case Study,  March 23, 2016 at 5:30-7:00 P.M. in the Hyatt Regency Harborside Center. See my poster below.

Research Study: Plans for an Online Community of Inquiry

4 Things You Can Do to Make Your Online Course More Accessible

The following suggestions are recommended in meeting the Americans with Disability Act (1990).

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability …shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… (Section 504, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794). ” Follow these basic guidelines for compliance and to improve learning for all:

  1. Describe images and hyperlinks with alternative text.
  2. Use San Serif fonts for online text.
  3. Check and repair all portable document formats (PDFs) for accessibility.
  4. Caption all audio and video.

Images. Alternative (alt) text helps people that use assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) as their learning accommodation.  For example, screen readers like Microsoft’s (MS) JAWS (Job Access with Speech) read the description aloud to the user with vision impairment.  Make sure you concisely provide alt text for each image in your online course. This includes images on a course page within a PowerPoint or Word document. For some learning management systems (LMS), it’s not a requirement when adding photos.  For example, Schoology does not.  We’ve contacted the developers to add the requirement as the image is added to the LMS instead of as an additional task afterward.

Hyperlinks. When you add links to your course, think about simplifying information by providing the specific name of the Website instead of a confusing Web address, also known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator).  Take into account that the assistive technology will read aloud the long URL if you do not give it a name. Imagine listening to an entire URL reading: “h-t-t-p-semicolon-forward slash-forward slash-secure-period-ecollege-period-com-forward slash-shc”.    This would cause extra cognitive load on the listener. Here’s a good and bad example:

The exact name of the Website will aid all learners in understanding where the link will take them.

Fonts.  Sans-serif fonts are recommended for online text to provide accessibility. Sans-serif fonts don’t have the “hats and shoes” on certain letters that serif fonts include.   This is because serif fonts may waiver and become difficult to read on low bandwidth or poor Internet connections.  Schoology provides Arial as the default font, which is sans-serif.  For a complete list of typefaces, see Wikipedia.

PDFs.  Are your PDFs readable? Conduct a word search within the Find box of aPDF for a word you see in the document. Type Ctrl+F if you don’t see a Find box.  If you receive the message, “No matches were found,” then the document is a scanned image, which cannot be read by persons who use assistive technology.  Use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to repair “unreadable” PDFs.  It has an accessibility checker that you can run to repair the document.

Ensure your MS Word documents are accessible before you save them as a PDF.  MS Word versions 2010 and later have accessibility checkers that will highlight any issues your document has. Within MS Word, select File > Info> Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.  Fix issues like missing alt text for images.  See Adobe Accessibility Quick Reference Card for information on earlier versions of MS Word that you may have at home.

Captions.  Caption all media.  Closed captioning is the preferred format (instead of open captions), so the user can turn it on or off according to their needs.  If you don’t have your media captioned, at the very least, provide a script until you caption the video or audio file.  However, transcripts don’t provide equal access to the lesson because the words and images from the video aren’t in sync to enhance meaning.  See list of free captioning services below.

  1. Captioning Key is funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program. It provides a PDF document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning. http://www.dcmp.org/captioningkey/
  2. Amara.org for captioning any video on the Internet: http://www.amara.org/en/
  3. CaptionTube for captioning YouTube videos: http://captiontube.appspot.com/
  4. Subtitle Workshop for captioning any video: http://sourceforge.net/projects/subworkshop/

 

Sandra Annette Rogers, Instructional Designer

Instructor Feedback for Teacher Presence

Cartoon headshot of blogger, Sandra Rogers
Be ever present in the online courses you teach.

Instructor’s online behaviors were not a focus of research until the momentum of online teaching occurred (Baker, 2010).  Based on research on human learning (Ormrod, 2012), one can draw on several theories for delivering targeted instruction at the right time: Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, Ebbinghaus’ serial position effect (primacy and recency effect), and the presence or absence of retrieval cues in Cormier’s information processing theory.  Students need “right time” feedback that targets their instructional needs.  Moreover, feedback formats should vary to enhance the lack of richness in text-based media commonly found in online environments (Arbaugh & Hornik, 2006; Chickering & Gamson, 1987).

As cited in Moore and Kearsley (1996), Moore’s 1973 transactional distance theory explains how electronic communication tools promote student-student and student-teacher interactions. They theorized that the geographical distance matters less than the course structure.  Online courses that provide e-tools for communication close the distance and provide psychological closeness between the teacher and the class similar to closeness created in traditional courses (Lemak, Shin, Reed, & Montgomery, 2007).  Arbaugh and Hornik (2006) suggested video conferencing, voice messaging, and some other types of multimedia.  Bernard et al. (2004) found a larger effect size for course completion rates with synchronous sessions when compared to asynchronous ones.  Baker reported that students in synchronous courses reported higher levels of instructor immediacy levels.  If synchronous sessions are tied to higher course completion rates, then, perhaps online instructors should intermittently offer them.

Arbaugh and Hornik found that online teaching requires the instructor to take on a facilitator mode and manage discussions in a conversational style to augment student interactions.  The informality of the conversation could lessen the psychological distance between the students and their instructor. Moore and Kearsley likened distance education to a transaction that could create a psychological space for potential misunderstandings.  Therefore, the risk for misunderstandings could be increased when teachers wait until week’s end to post their responses.  Hence, this may not be a very good practice.   The lack of, or delay in, instructor feedback is a critical component in distance education.

Why do some online instructors not provide a format for class discussion?  There’s a multitude of possible reasons from a lack of ability, unrecognized benefits, a preference for lecture-based instruction, or lack of time.  An alternative would be to provide an online discussion moderated by a teaching assistant or participants in the class. In a literature review by Thormann, Gable, Fidalgo, and Blakeslee (2013), student moderation generated more frequent and in-depth discussion for the learners. They found that student ownership of the course increased. Understandably, some participants reported dissatisfaction if the instructor rarely participated.  Therefore, the teacher still needs to participate in the online discussions even with a student moderator.  The US Office of Education (Means et al., 2010) conducted a meta-analysis and review of 99 online learning studies.  They found larger effect sizes for studies that included collaborative or teacher-directed learning activities than those with independent study.

See my PowerPoint presentation for more tips on incorporating your teacher presence in your online courses: Effective Online Communication.

References

Arbaugh, J. B., & Hornik, S. (2006).  Do Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles also apply   to online MBAs?  The Journal of Educators Online, 3(2), 1-18.

Baker, C. (2010).  The impact of instructor immediacy and presence for online student affective learning, cognition, and motivation.  The Journal of Educators Online, 7(1), 1-30.

Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Borokhovski, E., Wade, C. A., Tamim, R., Surkes,  M. A., & Bethel, E. C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three types of interaction treatments in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79, 1243-1288.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987).  Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Wingspread Journal, 9(2), 75-81.

Lemak, D., Shin, S., Reed, R., & Montgomery, J. (2005).  Technology, transactional distance, and instructor effectiveness: An empirical investigation. Academy of  Management Learning & Education, 4(2), 150-158.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/opepd/ppss/reports.html

Moore, M.G., & Kearsley, G. (1996).  Distance education: A systems view.  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Ormrod, J. E. (2012).  Human learning.  New Jersey: Pearson.

Thormann, J., Gable, S., Fidalgo, P., & Blakeslee, G. (2013).  Interaction, critical thinking, and social network analysis (SNA) in online courses. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 14(3), 294-318.  Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1306/2537
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This article was written by Sandra Rogers.

Personalizing Distance Education

People at computers falling through crack in the roadAre your online courses too stuffy?  Clark and Mayer’s (2011) personalization principle refers to the practice of making e-learning more personable to increase learner outcomes.  The authors recommended the following research-based personalization practices: informal written language (e.g., active language, use of contractions), human voice, polite language structure, and the use of agents (intelligent tutors built-in to the system).  Most of the research findings made sense to me; I’ve always thought that instruction should be more personable.  However, I was amazed to learn about the significant impact on the use of personal pronouns.  Mayer, Fennell, Farmer, and Campbell (2004) found that simply changing the word “the” to “your” in a lesson script aided transfer. Clark and Mayer propose research be conducted as to the long-term effects of personalization practices on students within a course.

Will these positive outcomes diminish over the length of the course?  I don’t think so.  As long as all content is kept in the same conversational style the effect should remain.  I base this on my understanding of human nature and the literature cited below.  We appreciate polite language that is simple (active) and concise.  We also prefer to hear the human voice to that of an android.  The authors identified a few research studies on gender preferences for agents, but these were single studies and not generalizable to all content in all learning situations.  Personally, I was disappointed to read the findings that both men and women prefer to learn from male voices on the topic of technology.  However, it wasn’t surprising, as our family, schools, and society shape our understanding of the world.  At the workplace, I’ve encountered the stereotype that assumes that only men can explain/know technology.

I think it’s also important to add an image of yourself to the syllabus or About Me section of your e-course.  I haven’t found any research basis in this yet, but I think it helps the learner connect with the human side of the instructor.  As an instructional designer, I  recommend that faculty add a photo to their course and email account.  From my own e-learning experiences, I actually recognized an instructor at a conference from my memory of their thumbnail photo in their emails, so I believe imagery is a powerful tool!  What about you?  How do you make distance education personal for your students?

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011).  E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3rd. ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Mayer, R. E., Fennell, S., Farmer, L., & Campbell, J.  (2004). A personalization effect in multimedia learning: Students learn better when words are in conversational style rather than formal style.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 389-395.

Face-to-Face to Online Course Development Checklist

 

I created this list for instructional designers working with faculty in higher education who are moving their courses online for the first time.  This is not a comprehensive list but rather a checklist for talking points.  I hope you find it helpful!

  • Will the course shell be shared with others in your department?
  • What are the course learning goals and objectives? What are the objectives for each unit?  Review syllabus, lecture notes, and assignments.
  • What do you want your students to achieve through online activities and interactions?  Discuss reuse/redesign of existing activities such as a pen-and-paper vocabulary log conversion to an electronic glossary/flashcards.
  • What is your ability to develop multimedia presentations? Discuss training and helpful resources.
  • How familiar are you with the online learning management system? Discuss training and helpful resources.
  • Share sources of support for pedagogical assistance for faculty.
  • Share sources of online technological and academic support for students (e.g., Smarthinking, TurnitIn, Orientation tutorials, LMS 24/7 Support Desk, learning strategies, or job aids).
  • What are the departmental timelines, constraints, testing requirements, and online resources?
  • Share samples of monitoring tools: weekly activity checklists for students and teachers, tracking sheet for teacher’s response to students in forums, and LMS site statistics and test item analysis.
  • Share sample rubrics for collaborative projects, forums, and individual assignments, as well as resources for creating rubrics (e.g. Rubistar).
  • Share copy of Netiquette, sample rubric for forums, and effective set-up of threaded discussion to engender a community of inquiry.
  • Share your university’s  accessibility guidelines for e-learning.
  • Invite faculty to view your model course as a student (teacher-as-learner role).
  • Share sample semestrial course checklist for design/redesign.

 

Sandra Annette Rogers,

Instructional Designer

My First Research Project in Instructional Technology

This Friday, I submitted my first research proposal to my university’s institutional review board (IRB).  My title is Planned Communication Actions and Levels of Interactivity in Online Course Syllabi. The purpose of the study is to determine the inclusion and strength of interaction treatments (e.g. student-teacher, student-student) in online course offerings and the types of interactions that occur within them.  I’ll explore the instructional technologies used to communicate content and build discourse ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­in online courses in relation to these interaction treatments. The complexities of online learning require an analysis of all the potential interactions involved in the communication loop to maximize course efficacy and student satisfaction.  Since it’s problematic for a student to obtain access to live faculty courses, I’ll focus on course syllabi instead.

I will use faculty syllabi to conduct a content analysis of the mode, frequency, and diversity of instructional tool usage, as well as the types and frequencies of interaction treatments.   Cummins, Bonk, and Jacobs (2002) conducted a similar syllabi study that looked at formats and levels of communication of web-based courses.  They didn’t find much interactivity and reported an underutilization of the Internet and Web tools overall.  Since that study was over a decade ago, I hope to uncover increased faculty usage of instructional technology and the Internet, and higher interactivity levels to engender a community of inquiry online.

My goal is to identify the actual versus the theoretically optimal online learning environment and behaviors that foster a community of inquiry—the theoretical underlying premise being, the more interactive the course, the higher the level of student satisfaction and course achievement.   See my theoretical concept map below which indicates a correlation of student satisfaction to the strength of interaction treatments.  This is based on my literature review of meta-analysis conducted on this subject.

Theoretically diagram of effective online communication
Meta-Analysis indicated a strong correlation between these variables

 

Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

Effective Online Communication for Higher Education