Friday, November 11, 2011

ADVICE TO JEN Experienced/successful prof to teach 1st online course: Ask for help; PlanB; Be clearer; Use feedback


  1. You are not alone!  Ask who can help you.  Ask what resources are available to you.  Ask what you can defer until you teach your 2nd or 3rd online course.
  2. Prepare for technological disaster.  Always have a Plan B, C, ...
  3. Plan even more and provide even clearer, more explicit explanations and instructions.
  4. Find Low-Threshold Applications and free resources.
  5. Collect just enough use-able student feedback.
  6. Consider “course choreography”: sequence, pace, and opportunities for interaction as you plan “presentations,” activities, and assignments.
  7. Think about the “little stuff” that can be essential for creating and sustaining a positive supportive environment for your online students.

Above is a summary of responses to this question that I asked Beth Dailey, Jane Harris, Ilene Frank, during our weekly ad hoc “Keeping Up” conversation this morning:
"What advice do you have for someone in Jennifer McCrickerd’s situation?  She is our guest presenter today on FridayLive!  She is already a highly successful teacher, highly respected colleague, a good sport about technological disruptions, and willing to describe her efforts to prepare to teach to teach her first fully online course this summer.  NOTE:  My 3 colleagues have taught many online courses quite successfully and helped many colleagues to do so as well.

Here's a slightly organized version of the chat transcript from which those 7 items were extracted

  • Talk with an experienced person.  Consider faculty colleagues, instructional designers, librarians, course design team,…
  • Colleague mentor available?  Formally or informally!
  • Ask someone to review your syllabus and your plans for each type of teaching/learning activity
  • “Yes, all three courses I teach online... my course set-ups are reviewed. I've gotten over feeling intimidated by that and have learned to be grateful for the second pair of eyes.”
  • How could we connect Jennifer to someone in this discipline who has exp teaching online?
  • When you are teaching the course, are colleagues forbidden to help at all?  A lot?  To co-teach in some way(s)?
Prepare for technology snafus;  e.g., your course management system will fail at the worst possible time.

Plan ahead
Provide even clearer, more complete fool-proof (hah!)  instructions and descriptions of your expectations for the students … than you already do in face-to-face classes.
“Stuff you just said into the air before - You have to write it all down (or speak it more explicitly).”
“In f2f, all we need to do is say what to do, in online, we have to say how where and by when”
“we know how to do things in a f2f class - we give announcements in class; we collect papers in class but online, we have to spell everything - what tool you will use how when”
“Yeah, you have to explain to them how to name a file even! Some students forget to put their name on their assignment!”
Clearly articulate your intended course outcomes - what do you want the students to be able to do?  “Backward design”

Look for free Low-Threshold learning resources
like Wade Maki's stuff
How about rubrics?

Yes a survey a couple of weeks into the course would be a good idea.
Earlier is better -
can nip problems in the bud
Set up a "lounge" area within the course so students can yak about off-topic stuff if they want to.
Yeah - teacher can see it and contribute as well.
it is amazing how having those conversations [invitational small group synch student feedback sessions] has resulted in other connections
also - if you have a complainer - back channel email conversations are key
I tend to think that she would benefit from having a conversation in real time with a small group
not real time - email
It might be a good way to get the inout she neds in terms of how she is doing

Consider sequence, pace, and opportunities for interaction as you plan “presentations,” activities, and assignments.
Consider how much should be specified and required, how much variation to encourage or permit, and how much improvisation to allow or rely on.  For your students and for yourself!
“when Jennifer is clear on her outcomes she can start to explore different ways to achieve them.”

Start to think about how to create a positive supportive environment
“It's the little stuff that aggravates everyone.”
“yes! creating community”
“Oh yes, just adding a plain old netiquette statement is a good idea.  yes - esp for young undergrads”
“Including multimedia is groovy!  It humanizes an instructor and enhances community”
Set up expectations on when students can hear back from you if they email. "I will check my email once a day" or "twice a day" - and "all seven days of the week" [but not between 1AM and 7AM]

For asynchronous online text discussion need two deadlines - one for posts and one for responses
It really helps! Even if you are going to be lenient about deadlines, people need'em.

That's one of the perks with helping someone move online - it's an opportunity to review pedagogy.

Photo of clothes hanging on an outdoor clothes line "Amish Clothes Line" By Bob Jagendorf
This photo was taken on September 18, 2009 using a Nikon D300.


  1. Anonymous12:29 PM

    I appreciate the very first piece of advice - to defer some things until later versions of your online class. So critical to focus on just a few key components rather than taking on too much the first time.

  2. Sally Gilbert10:50 PM

    Thanks Jennifer for the session you did online with us. It was stimulating and heartening!

  3. Charles Ansorge2:47 PM

    My first online teaching experience was a disaster back in 1998. The synchronous class was one where I taught a face-to-face group at our campus location and had four additional groups of 5-8 students that were simultaneously connected via a closed circuit network. It could not have been a worse experience for someone who prided himself in his teaching. Too many monitors to watch; too many distractions involved because of all the technology that was involved.

    I swore often while teaching this class and that's not like me. At the end of the semester I then swore once again that I would never repeat the experience again. It was going to be a "one and done" for me.

    I wish there had been someone around back then to offer the kind of wise counsel that you have in the posting. I really mean this.

    Back in 1998 I was encouraged to find a way to be successful in an online teaching environment because of the needs that we had on our campus for students to complete a gradate level statistics class. Fortunately I was smart enough to realize that this was a promising direction for the future and that someone needed to take on the task of learning how it could be done successfully. I pretty much taught myself what I needed to do. I had ideas I wanted to pursue and it's turned out that many of the ideas have been it possible for me to be successful.

    Not all of the ideas worked and this is why again I want to say how "on target" your points are in this posting. And the advice you received from Beth, Jane, and Ilene was very helpful.

    Keep doing what you are doing because I am more sure than ever that the direction we continue to go will involve more distance teaching and learning. We both want the instruction for doing this to be successful. Fortunately we now have some superb technology tools that make it possible for us to teach well. And the tools continue to improve and even more become available to those of us brave enough to try them.

    As I look back on these past 13 years since I first started teaching distance students I am grateful for giving teaching students at a distance a second chance. Life has been good; my experiences with teaching two graduate levels of asynchronous statistics classes have been mostly positive.


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