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Teaching Tuesdays: Welcoming Students to Your Online Course, Part 1: Orientation

The P3 Collaboratory is pleased to continue “Teaching Tuesdays,” our summer weekly series centered around best practices for remote instruction and teaching effectiveness.

The process of ensuring that your students feel welcomed and engaged by your course ideally begins before the course starts. As we discussed last week, transparency – clear and thorough directions tied to pedagogically informed strategies and goals – is essential to a successful student experience. Students taking courses in an online format often underestimate the time and effort required to succeed. To combat this misperception, we recommend beginning your course with an orientation model to help students understand the platform, course features, learning goals, and expectations. The work of orienting students to these facets of online learning should happen early and be reinforced throughout the term.

An orientation module should contain:

• General information about online learning:

  • Since some students will have little experience with online courses, provide a list of proven strategies to help them make the most of their time in your course. Duquesne University has created an excellent list of Tips to Give Your Students to Succeed in Online Learning.

  • In order for you to gauge and tailor the level of technical assistance your students will need to successfully complete your class, consider administering a skills survey to assess your students’ familiarity with online tools as part of the orientation phase. Chapter 4, “Learning to Use Online Tools” (10pp) in Conrad, R.M. and Donaldson J.A., Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction provides a sample survey as well as a number of games and activities to help train students in their use online tools before the course begins.

Communication and workload expectations:

  • Abundant (but not excessive) communication is the bedrock of online learning. Orientation materials should establish group communication standards and procedures from the outset and should underscore any reoccurring patterns, such as weekly discussion posts. For example,

Monday: Review the recorded micro-lecture and take a short quiz

Tuesday: Read my feedback on the quiz and complete required readings for the


Wednesday & Thursday: Be sure to participate fully in our online discussion


Friday - Sunday: View my feedback on the discussion forum and turn in your

reflection assignment.

Keeping this general pattern in mind will keep you on track and help you be

successful in this course.

  • Ensure that your workload expectations for students are reasonable and that you have also defined what your students can expect from you in terms of feedback and responsivity.

How to navigate your online class

  • If possible, instructors should record a brief expository video, narrating as you navigate through the key elements of your course including the gradebook, instructor contact information, the course syllabus, supplementary materials, course calendar, course email, video chat tools, assignment uploading tools, collaboration tools, and where to go for technical assistance.

■ An example of this kind of introductory video can be found here.

Multiple tutorials on creating audio and video content for online courses

are available asynchronously through various Rutgers training units. Browse

the reference section below for some specific examples. Academic Technology

offer one-on-one consultations with instructional designers for faculty

wanting technical or course design assistance.

Your orientation module should, of course, contain your finalized syllabus, available as a downloadable file, and as a series of embedded dates, activities, and reminders using the native or integrated features on your Learning Management System (LMS).

  • In order to make the process of reviewing the syllabus more interactive, consider building a syllabus activity into your orientation module, for example, a scavenger hunt or short quiz. Sample questions or clues might include:

Whom do you contact for technical assistance?

How do you set up a meeting with your instructor?

What is due on November 16?

  • To provide additional clarity and answer FAQ, consider setting up a syllabus-related discussion board where students can pose questions or respond to instructor-created prompts, e.g., What are you most excited to see in the syllabus? What course project do you feel will be most helpful for your learning and/or professional goals?

Some relevant references/resources to explore on this topic include:

  • A helpful tool for answering the question “Am I done yet?” re: course orientation is the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, designed as a checklist for course design, but equally handy for thinking through student orientation and LMS set-up.

  • Chapter 7, “Procedural Scaffolding” (11pp) in Stavredes, T., Effective online teaching: foundations and strategies for student success contains a comprehensive course orientation template as well as various other planning tools.

  • TLT’s Intro to Kaltura and Basics of Lecture Capture tutorials will help instructors get started with the process of recording a course orientation or navigation video and help lay a foundation for further video/audio production projects.

  • "Architecting Online Courses" (University of Texas - Austin) and "Online Skills Mastery" (University of Colorado – Denver) are publicly accessible Canvas courses on the basics of online course design and teaching. Although both course offer excellent overviews on the design process, Course Mapping is an especially fruitful tool for structuring/restructuring an online course and thinking through where students will need additional support or guidance. Information about how to organize and present course material online is also vital.

  • When first developing online courses, faculty tend to add digital activities on top of traditional course requirements (e.g. assigned readings) without adjusting for workload; the resulting accumulation of digital and traditional assignments is sometimes called “Course and a Half Syndrome.” This presentation contains multiple strategies for calculating an appropriate workload.

As always, a snapshot of the synchronous TLT workshops being offered June 24 (tomorrow) - June 30 is below. Visit the links to register!

June 26, 11am (1.5 hours): Fundamentals of Designing Online Courses

Upcoming Center for Teaching Advancement & Assessment Research (CTAAR) workshops of interest are below. Visit the links to register; full workshop descriptions came be found here.

July 8, 3pm (1.5 hours): Engaging Students in Synchronous Sessions*

*A recording of the earlier workshop “Engaging Students in Asynchronous Sessions” is

available here.

July 14, 10am (1.5 hours): Pedagogy Before Technology: Designing Courses for Online Environments (A recording of an earlier “Pedagogy Before Technology” workshop is available here)

Next week’s “Teaching Tuesday” email will continue our conversation about how to best welcome students online but will shift focus to how to foster a classroom community and sense of “co-presence” from the course’s onset. Until next week!

Brought to you by the P3 Collaboratory for Pedagogy, Professional Development, and Publicly-Engaged Scholarship at Rutgers University-Newark

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