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Techniques for Keeping Your Online Students in Class Scott Finn, M.S. Kerry Hogan, ME-PD 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

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techniques for keeping your online students in class

Techniques for Keeping Your Online Students in Class

Scott Finn, M.S.

Kerry Hogan, ME-PD

Western Wisconsin Technical College, La Crosse, WI

online classes
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
course retention is an issue
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?
what is a class
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?
Michele Tolela-Myers, President of Sarah Lawrence College believes something is missing in the current formula for many distance education courses, "If education were only as simple as reading, then libraries would have replaced schools long ago.”
Skip Knox, "Without a sense of community, of common interest and action, there is no class.”
  • Tolela-Myers, “We educators are in the business of forming minds - not just filling them.”
  • Adding forced interaction to an Internet class is one way to increase course retention rates
the romance of an internet course
The Romance of an Internet Course
  • 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
inherent problems with this notion
Inherent Problems with this Notion
  • 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
Pace (continued)
    • If students are at all different points in a course, it is virtually impossible to build any kind of interaction.
what needs to be done
What needs to be done?
  • 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
  • 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
web pages
Web Pages
  • 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
  • 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
I teach computer programming
    • 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
discussion lists
Discussion Lists
  • 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
using a discussion list
Using a Discussion List
  • 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
Have them read a chapter or two of the textbook
    • 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
bulletin boards
Bulletin Boards
  • 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?”
The instructor can also post a question and make a reply to the question part of an assignment
  • Take it a step further and have them respond to a reply
  • Again with this, most of the time the instructor can simply watch from a distance – jumping in to moderate only when necessary
chat rooms
Chat Rooms
  • 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
  • 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
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
  • 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’
in closing
In closing
  • Most of this isn’t difficult, but it can be a lot of work
  • Using these techniques will turn mere content into a class
“The interaction between the learner and the learning material as well as the social interaction between two or more people are considered necessary for learning.”

S. Rodrigues

“Students graduating from a university often describe the opportunities to learn from other students and informal learning opportunities derived from being part of the university environment to be even more important than their formal coursework.”

B. Bertram

“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

Don’t let the allure of an Internet class, for all of the advantages they have to offer, keep you from teaching and providing a learning environment
  • Provide opportunities for students to work together so they learn
  • 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:
  • 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:
  • Scott Finn’s web site –