How often do you find yourself asking these questions about online course expectations? You are not alone. This is a common question for many people looking to get started in an online course or program of some sort. I’ve stopped several friends and colleagues along the way to ask them what they think online course expectations are, and their responses have always been somewhat different.
In the column, Blumenstyk reported responses to a question she asked at the Minnesota eLearning Summit: “What do the professionals who work in the trenches wish their colleagues knew about online education?”
The answers pointed to the need for online higher education programs to allow for more robust and diverse learning communities, as well as the need to equip faculty with the skills to develop and teach online curriculum (or to teach in any environment, for that matter).
But I think that the answers overlooked the biggest misunderstanding of all: Most institutions of higher learning are missing the boat when it comes to achieving the full potential of online learning.
In the past, a large proportion of online courses were simple transfers of classroom materials and methods into an online environment. Assign the reading, add a video lecture (or worse, a text lecture), ask some discussion questions to be answered in an asynchronous forum, follow up with a multiple-choice assessment — and you’ve created a course. This is starting to change, but too many programs still conform to this mold.
It takes hard work and expertise to do this well, and I don’t want to take away from that, but I think there is much more we can and should expect from online learning experiences.
Here are five baseline expectations we should have for online learning:
1. Put your learners first
All online learning should be learner-centric. It’s traditional to design a course from the top down, where a subject matter expert determines what the learner needs to know, then creates material to impart it.
But those traditional higher education models often neglect to look at learning from the learner’s point of view, to ask, “Where is the learner now? How will they interact with this learning opportunity? What kind of experience will be most suitable for them? How will they apply what they’ve learned in a real situation?”
2. Anticipate learner variability
Learner variability means that what works for one learner might miss the mark for another. Instructional design teams can now take into account learner variability in ways that were not possible before.
It can be challenging to accommodate learner variability in the classroom, but when we intentionally seek to understand variability prior to designing a digital learning experience, we can use technology to help align the experience more closely with each learner’s needs, interests, and preferences.
3. Create an active experience for your learners
Instead of passive, lecture-based learning, we should use technology to improve online learning by engaging students with hands-on, project-based approaches that build community and improve learner engagement. Few people learn well in isolation, with most learning more effectively through social interaction with others. One of the major affordances of technology is connecting people across different schedules, time zones, and devices.
And in most cases, learners begin an experience with a purpose or goal in mind. Creating opportunities for learners to develop artifacts of the learning that are grounded in the real world strengthens that learning. It also boosts engagement by establishing clear connections to those goals and links to authentic applications of the learning.
4. Give your faculty a variety of roles
Online course delivery offers interesting opportunities for faculty involvement beyond lecture delivery and paper grading. Consider the science instructor who can now design interactions where students can drag and drop atoms to build complete molecules. Or the business professor who can design powerful “what-if” scenarios that respond to student input. Or the music professor who can reveal annotated sections of written music in synch with a recorded performance — or provide the means for students to annotate them as an exercise.
Beyond instructional materials, faculty can focus on interacting with students in meaningful ways outside the classroom and be available to answer questions and give guidance. With new technologies, faculty participation in learning can be more varied, creative, and valuable.
5. Have a plan for continual improvement
One of the initial steps in any online learning project should be developing a plan for making it better. Allow for the fact that the first time something launches, it is the worst it will ever be. It’s essential to have a plan in place to gather data and prepare a strategy for the next version. Good can become great, and great can become world-class.
I don’t think that online learning has reached the pinnacle of its achievement. We have not even met baseline expectations. Now that we know how to build platforms that deliver adaptive learning, complex simulations, and continuous learner support, we are finally ready to see what online learning can do.
But institutions of higher learning have to think beyond this. As great a leap as online learning has made, we can fully expect it to continue to evolve. Today’s great online program is likely to find itself behind the curve tomorrow if there is no blueprint for taking advantage of unfolding advancements in learning technology and learning science. It’s critical for institutions of higher learning to strategize for their own evolution as well.
At the 2018 Eduventures Summit in Boston, a panel of representatives from Harvard Business School (HBX),ArtCenter College of Design, Moravian College, and Extension Engine discussed the following tenet:
In a crowded market, higher ed institutions should create online learning that is differentiated, conforms to their core pedagogy, and delivers great learner experience.
This page has examples of statements related to establishing clear course expectations for student learning and behavior included in BGSU course syllabi. Example statements related to the following topics are provided:
The course title in red denotes the example syllabus from which the example was taken.
Expectations for Behavior
Students are expected to display tolerance and respect in all communication. Communicate with others the same way you would in a traditional classroom. Comments and language should be respectful and appropriate for a college community. All comments should also follow acceptable grammar and spelling. (LIB 2210)
Example #2 For this class to be effective, you must be an active participant. You are expected to contribute to each class session. This includes asking questions, answering others questions, and adding relevant information. The more spontaneous you can be with your contributions, the better. I will periodically call on people to find out what they are thinking and to bring them into the conversation.
Another part of being an active participant is how you react to others. There are things that we can all learn from each other, so we must treat each other with respect and dignity. This means allowing everyone to share their ideas and carefully considering their input. No on should ever be put down for his/her contributions. (CDIS 4760)
Expectations for Learning
By the end of this experience you will:
- Understand and remember key concepts and terms that apply to research in communication disorders
- Identify and give details on questions being asked by individual research studies
- Create your own research questions to determine ways to answer them
- Be able to read and evaluate research articles and presentations
- Understand how research in communication disorders is conducted and how it relates to clinical practice
- Gain hands-on experience with research in communication disorders
The purpose of this course is to enable students to find, evaluate, and use information resources to develop the skills necessary for becoming information savvy, and for becoming life-long learners. Students completing the course will be able to:
- Determine the nature and extent of the information needed
- Access needed information effectively and efficiently
- Evaluate information sources critically and incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
- Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
- Understand many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information critically and legally
For each module, you will study the textbook chapter and the accompanying instructor presentation and web links which will be available to you. At the end of each module, you can test your understanding of the concepts by doing practice problems which will be posted online. Solutions to these practice problems will also be posted online. Review sheets summarizing the important concepts will be made available to you.
Expectations for Technology
You are welcome to use laptops, cell phones, and other forms of technology within the classroom. However, they should only be used for completing classroom activities. You are not allowed to send or receive texts or calls that do not pertain to the class. If you are expecting a call that you must take, notify me before the session starts, set your phone to vibrate, and leave the room to take the call.
I reserve the right to confiscate technological devices that are not being used for classroom activities. You will receive them back at the end of the session. (CDIS 4760)
To be successful in this online class you should be confortable using a computer for the following functions:
- Using a word processor (changing font, spell check)
- Using email for communication
- Sending an email attachment
- Navigating and searching the Internet
- Downloading files and appropriate plugins
- Taking screen shots of your deliverables
- Converting material to PDF documents
Clickers. Each student must have a TurningPoint clicker. They are available at Falcon Outfitters. The purpose is to do class polling, get feedback, take attendance, take quizzes, etc.. You must register your clicker on Canvas using the 6-digit Device ID number (on the back of the clicker) before class on T 8/28. For instructions, please open Canvas and go to Modules > Canvas > Registering Your Clicker. Contact the Learning Commons if you have problems: www.bgsu.edu/learningcommons, [email protected] (enter “Canvas” in the subject line of the email), 419.372.2823.
What you can expect from your Instructor:
- I’ll reply to your questions within 24-48 hours except during holidays or weekends.
- I’ll provide clear and concise instructions and exercises for you to follow.
- I’ll return graded assignments within two weeks from the due date.
- I’ll monitor discussions to clarify students’ postings, highlight good or interesting comments and ideas, provide insight, and ensure every voice is heard.
- I’ll provide the necessary components of successful interaction: explanation, demonstration, practice, feedback, and assessment.
- I’ll provide a range of practice opportunities–from self-corrected multiple-choice items to free form expression on a concept.
- I’ll provide metacognitive, cognitive, and social strategies for learning.
- I know the platform you’re using very thoroughly so that I can anticipate and make good guesses about the origins of any problems you’re likely to have and some answers for them.
What I expect from my Students:
- You’ll learn what the minimum technical requirements of the course include. Take the student orientation tutorial for this learning management system before getting started. Read the information in the Help tab (online manual) to learn how to use a tool. Seek other training services for basic computer and word processing skills.
- Your discussion posts will be consequential and full of content. For example, simply responding “me too,” or “thanks,” doesn’t include content. Use good grammar and spelling when posting online. Use the spell check feature.
- You’ll follow the rules of Netiquette as we establish our community in the course. For example, no bullying online.
- You’ll complete required tasks in a timely manner. Be proactive with a back-up plan in case you’re unable to access the Internet in your regular place of study.
- You’ll preplan for testing situations to ensure uninterrupted span of time. For example, you won’t be able to access the Internet in remote locations such as on a cruise.
- You won’t plagiarize the work of others and claim it as your own. Cite sources using the writing style guide required for your field of study (e.g., American Psychological Association’s manual for social science). Use the latest edition.
Protocol for resolving technical issues:
- First, make sure it’s not a browser issue (e.g., Google Chrome), and try a different browser to see if this solves the problem. If so, then you need either to update your regular browser or clear its history, cookies, and cache.
- If after updating your browser or other browsers don’t work, make sure it isn’t your computer. Restart your computer. If the error persists, try logging in from a different computer to see if you receive the same error message.
- Read log error messages and record problem specifics and forward this to tech support and your instructor. Take a screenshot, if possible, to illustrate the exact problem.
- Remember that your peers can help you, too!
- Last, after someone (or you) fixes the problem, make sure you refresh/reload the Web page, as the system will remember and display the exact same page (with errors) you were looking at the last time you logged in.