By Amy Erickson
What Students Want
“What do Students Want in Online Classes?” I wanted an answer to this question, so I tuned in to Jill Schiefelbein’s 20-Minute Mentor video. In her video, she discusses how she solicited feedback from 200 students. She asked students to share what they want and what they expect in online classes. According to the feedback Schiefelbein (2013) received, student wants fall into six categories: communication, consistency, organization, personalization, connection, and involvement (para. 14). There is some overlap here, but I think the points she made about communication, personalization, and consistency are valuable and worth sharing.
Talk to Me
Schielfelbein (2013) found that students want opportunities to communicate with you, with their peers, and with the course material (para. 18). The discussion boards provide such an opportunity, so engagement therein should be thoroughly and thoughtfully conducted. Because students want to connect with you, make sure that your interaction with students in the discussion boards is evenly distributed. Consider creating a simple spreadsheet outlining the weeks of the course alongside student names. That will allow you to keep track of your conversations with students and make sure you are reaching out to everyone in the class throughout the course. Such a spreadsheet will also help you track of the number of days spent in the discussion boards in order to meet Excelsior’s participation expectations.
Because students want to engage with one another, consider pointing students to peers’ posts in the discussion forum. For example, you could write something like this: “I think you and John are approaching this topic from a similar perspective. Consider reading his post and sharing some of the material you found that helped you come to this conclusion. Has your military experience influenced your perspective in any way? I know you and John are in different branches of the military, so I think this could be a really interesting discussion!” (For more information on improving discussion forum interaction, see Dr. Mandernach’s 20-Minute Mentor video titled, “What Are the Best Questioning Strategies to Enhance Online Discussions?”)
Students also want course material to be communicated in a variety of ways (Schiefelbein, 2013, para. 18). They are happy to read material, but they may also want other methods to reinforce their learning. Are there games, videos, or screencasts you could add to the discussion boards or announcements to enhance their learning? Students appreciate the opportunity to connect with the information in a variety of ways, and they also reported appreciating the repetition or layering of information (para. 24). Course developers do a great job of Excelsior’s ENG 310 Short Stories class. As you can imagine, reading Tolstoy can be daunting to a student in need of a 300-level English course. This specific short story assignment is coupled with module notes, quiz material, and a video from Films on Demand. Students feel that this variety of materials makes Tolstoy more accessible and they find they are better able to understand and appreciate Tolstoy’s work.
(For additional material on communication in the online classroom, see Waldeck’s 20-Minute Mentor video titled, “What is the Role of Communication in Teaching Excellence?”)
“The true differentiator between a positive and non-positive online course experience is how connected students feel to the instructor” (Schiefelbein, 2013, para. 41). This can be done by sharing your personal experiences with students, showing empathy, and soliciting feedback. Yes, students want to understand material, but they love hearing how you have experienced this in your own career (Schiefelbein, 2013, para. 45). They want to know how you came to be a professor and the things that inspired you along the way. They want you to notice if they have not accessed the class in a few days, and they want you to reach out with kindness and empathy to see if there is anything you can do to help. Students also appreciate when you solicit feedback from them. I would encourage interested faculty to view the supplemental resources given by Schiefelbein, as she shares multiple strategies for getting meaningful feedback from your students. Schiefelbein (2013) also encourages instructors to get course feedback from students to implement immediately, rather than waiting until the end of the course to hear about what should be changed.
Another way to personalize the course is to ask students about their own opinions or ideas on a topic. In one of my technical writing classes, students examine web content. Some of these students have built multiple websites in their careers or for volunteer interests. Asking students about their website experience and for any suggestions they have goes a long way. I’ve even asked students what they think of my own website and ask if they would be interested in getting involved. Reaching out to individuals can foster meaningful and memorable connections that will remain long after the class is over.
According to Schiefelbein (2013) students appreciate consistency in the online classroom. They want to count on things like weekly due dates and course expectations. Making these things clear throughout your course will help students organize their time. In addition to clear course expectations, students also want clarity when it comes to instructions. If you anticipate questions regarding assigned work, be sure to address these long before the due date. Again, students don’t mind repetition when it comes to instructions and they appreciate weekly reminders, too (Schiefelbein, 2013, para. 24). If you have found students struggling with a particular assignment, consider sharing examples as additional guidance. Another element that helps to clarify expectations is your feedback on assignments. Giving thorough, timely feedback that does more than simply point out errors will help students to understand expectations and improve future work. I also find it helpful to follow up with students to see if they have any questions or ask if my feedback made sense. (For more information on giving feedback, see Dr. John Orlando’s 20-Minute Mentor video titled, “What Are the Secrets to Providing Highly Effective Feedback to Students?”)
Over the past nine months, I’ve used these weekly articles to explore many of the Magna Publication resources available to Excelsior faculty. I hope you have enjoyed the tips, tricks and suggestions provided in the Online Classroom monthly newsletters and the 20-Minute Mentor videos. My goal was to help you with online instruction and inspire you to seek out these resources. I wish you all the best as you continue your journey with Excelsior and look forward to “seeing” you in future webinars. Thank you!