Techniques for keeping your online students in class
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Techniques for Keeping Your Online Students in Class Scott Finn, M.S. [email protected] Kerry Hogan, ME-PD [email protected] Western Wisconsin Technical College, La Crosse, WI Online Classes The growth of Online course offerings continues to be remarkable

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Techniques for keeping your online students in class l.jpg

Techniques for Keeping Your Online Students in Class

Scott Finn, M.S. [email protected]

Kerry Hogan, ME-PD

[email protected]

Western Wisconsin Technical College, La Crosse, WI


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Online Classes

  • The growth of Online course offerings continues to be remarkable

    • According to a National Center for Education Statistics Report, all but nine percent of public two and four-year institutions plan to offer online courses

    • Enrollment doubled from 1995 to 1997


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Course Retention is an Issue

  • No good statistics exist in this realm yet, but an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that administrators generally agree that completion rates in online classes are 10-20 percentage points lower than traditional classes

  • Why?


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What is a Class?

  • Can an instructor simply ask students to read a book, answer a question or two and perhaps write a paper and call that a class?

  • Even if the textbook is augmented with lecture notes (in whatever form) is that enough?

  • Is it necessary to engage the learner interactively in order to foster a learning experience?


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The Romance of an Internet Course and action, there is no class.”

  • Many would like to believe that an Internet course can be set up under the following tenets:

    • Open Enrollment – enroll when you want

    • Work at your own Pace – do the coursework whenever you want to


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Inherent Problems with this Notion and action, there is no class.”

  • Open Enrollment is a NIGHTMARE for administrators and faculty members alike

  • Pace

    • Human Nature dictates (for most of us anyway) that procrastination reigns

    • People need due dates or most will never finish


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  • Pace (continued) and action, there is no class.”

    • If students are at all different points in a course, it is virtually impossible to build any kind of interaction.


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What needs to be done? and action, there is no class.”

  • The basic difference between an Internet course and a traditional face-to-face class is that in a traditional classroom

    • Student-to-Student interaction is implied

    • Traditionally, pace is fairly strictly controlled

  • The same attributes need to built in to an Internet class

  • This is more difficult, but can be accomplished


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Interaction and action, there is no class.”

  • In an Internet class, instructor-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction typically takes place via email

  • The missing piece is student-to-student interaction


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Web Pages and action, there is no class.”

  • Make a web page for the class

  • On one of the web pages, list:

    • The name of each student

    • That student’s email address

    • A picture

    • A short bio

    • Their hometown

  • This helps them to get to know each other and provides vehicle for communication


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Email and action, there is no class.”

  • There is an inherent assumption of technical literacy on the part of the student and the instructor (that can be a BIG assumption)

  • Put students into study groups (assign study buddies) and have them work together on a project


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  • I teach computer programming and action, there is no class.”

    • I come up with two programming assignments for the same subject

    • I pair students up and assign one program to each person in the pair

    • They do their program and email it to their partner (and to me) for feedback

    • I also have them do ½ of their respective programs and then send the unfinished program to their partner

    • The partner then completes the program


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Discussion Lists and action, there is no class.”

  • A discussion list provides email-based interaction

  • Students subscribe (or better yet, you subscribe them – to avoid errors) to the list

  • A message sent to the list address is received by all subscribers

  • Replies go to all subscribers


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Using a Discussion List and action, there is no class.”

  • Post a thought provoking question to the list (i.e. “In one sentence or less, define Technology”)

    • Have students send their answers to the list

    • Take it one step further and have them pick one or two of the responses they found interesting and respond to them

    • This can provoke a very lively electronic discussion

    • Most of the students will go well beyond what you have asked them to do


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  • Have them read a chapter or two of the textbook and action, there is no class.”

    • Ask them to post and explain one concept they found particularly interesting

    • The first one to hit a given topic gets it and all others must find something different – this avoids duplication

    • This is a great way to have students collectively summarize what they read


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Bulletin Boards and action, there is no class.”

  • A bulletin board is an electronic message gathering tool

  • Students can post messages/questions and all who look at the board can see the posts and reply to them (and see the replies)

  • Bulletin boards can be used like discussion lists

    • Posting general questions:

      • “What does this mean?”

      • “How do I?”


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Chat Rooms the question part of an assignment

  • Chat rooms provide live electronic conversations

  • These can be used for:

    • Mini Lectures

    • Question and Answer Sessions

      • Have students answer each other’s questions, “Joe can you answer John’s question?”

    • Help/augment the communication among students in study groups

    • Harder because it’s live

    • If required, give students several time options


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Observations the question part of an assignment

  • The instructor has to find ways to minimize direct email contact because left unchecked he/she will be bombarded with email

  • Students will learn more from each other. Make the Internet course a learning environment by giving them opportunities to interact with each other


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  • You may find that students who wouldn’t participate in a traditional class offer wonderful commentary electronically

    • They have time to think about a response

    • ‘Shyness’ isn’t a factor

    • All have an equal chance to participate

  • Deeper conversational intimacy may be attained electronically

  • Electronic communication must be assigned or the students will likely ignore it


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Pace traditional class offer wonderful commentary electronically

  • Two major issues here

  • The students have to be at about the same point in the class in order to effectively interact electronically

  • Most human beings need a deadline to work against

  • Students simply will not (as a rule) finish an Internet class that is a ‘free-for-all’


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In closing traditional class offer wonderful commentary electronically

  • Most of this isn’t difficult, but it can be a lot of work

  • Using these techniques will turn mere content into a class


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“No matter how good my lectures were, and no matter how much my students praised me, it wasn't what was supposed to be happening, and it was what I knew was happening in my on-line classes. I have since stopped teaching live, because it is such a pallid version of real teaching, the teaching I do on-line.”

Skip Knox


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References advantages they have to offer, keep you from teaching and providing a learning environment

  • Bertram, B. (May, 1999). Education online: learning anywhere, any time. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 42(8), 662-665

  • Knox, S. L. (August, 1997). The pedagogy of web site design. ALN Magazine [On-line]. Available: http://www.aln.org/alnweb/magazine/issue2/knox.htm

  • Rodrigues, S. (November, 1999). Evaluation of an online masters course in science teacher education. Journal of Education for Teaching, 25(3), 263-270

  • Tolela-Myers, M. (March 21, 2000). CyberU: what's missing. Washington Post Online [On-line]. Available: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49560-2000Mar21.html

  • Scott Finn’s web site – http://learn.western.tec.wi.us/finns


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