Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and may not reflect the official policy or position of Excelsior College. Excelsior makes no claim regarding the suitability of the content for all audiences.
By Amy Erickson
Because the online classroom does not have continuous instructor presence, Excelsior course developers are meticulous about anticipating student questions and providing answers. Excelsior instructors and students can attest to the developers’ outstanding work of providing thorough instructions and top-notch resources in the course shells. Although this is incredibly helpful, if a student is taking more than one class, the amount of information can feel overwhelming. In the December edition of the Online Classroom, Dr. John Orlando shares a wonderful suggestion to help you highlight important material for your students in the online classroom: weekly newsletters. Dr. Orlando (2016) sees a weekly newsletter as a tool to help both instructors and students. Instructors can use the newsletters to reinforce challenging material, share additional resources, and provide answers to frequently-asked questions. Students can use the newsletters to ensure comprehension of course material and stay on track with course expectations.
In his article, Dr. Orlando discusses email newsletters, but don’t feel like you have to restrict your newsletter to email. You may want to post your weekly newsletter in the announcements or in the upcoming week’s discussion board. After all, students get a lot of emails and your newsletter won’t be deleted if you store it in the course shell.
If you are teaching a class with a great deal of weekly reading, consider creating a screencast, iMovie, or You Tube video for your newsletter. You can also create and share virtual checklists with your class by registering for a free account at www.checkli.com. Your checklists can remind students of important resources, upcoming due dates, and answers to questions surrounding course assignments.
Keeping it Real
Dr. Orlando (2016) recommends using personal elements in your weekly newsletter to help personalize the material and allow students to feel connected to you. I create a weekly screencast for my technical writing class. My students always tell me how much they enjoy hearing about my experiences with writing in the workplace. I share advice from my mother who once told me to never put anything in an email that I wouldn’t want to see on a billboard. I tell students about being a recruiter at the University of Texas and how my supervisor refused to recruit an individual whose email address was dumb.blonde362436. Students enjoy this personal touch and the importance of professionalism in communication is not lost on them.
Dr. Orlando (2016) also suggests using current events. Share details of local art exhibits, book tours, or concerts taking place in the area. When a group of Minnesota nurses went on strike last summer, I shared material about the strike in my Composition for the Nursing Professionals course. You may also want to solicit feedback from students about local events and stories that relate to course content.
Dr. Orlando (2016) also recommends sharing “life hacks” with students. What are some tips that you can share with the students to streamline their workload? “Beginning with something of practical value to students is a great way to get their minds engaged in the course” (Orlando, 2016, para. 7). If students are required to use the online library for an upcoming assignment, remind them how to use keywords and Boolean Operators in your newsletter. Perhaps share contact information for the online librarians, hours for LibChat, and a link to Find Answers 24/7.
What about asking students to contribute to the newsletter? You could ask for weekly volunteers to share materials in the newsletter, or you could use the newsletter to feature exceptional student work. Either way works to get students involved and looking to the newsletter for helpful information and guidance each week. Dr. Orlando (2016) recommends asking them for their own life-hacks, too. What resources have they found most useful? What apps do they use to organize their materials? Or, they can also share personal tips and tricks on balancing family, work, and school, or strategies to stay calm before an important exam.
We know our students are busy professionals, so a weekly newsletter aimed at simplifying their efforts will likely be appreciated more than we know.