4 Quick Tips to Level Up your Online Course this Fall

Here are a few quick tips to think about as you’re getting online courses ready for fall!

#1 – Use personal videos
If you don’t like the way you look on camera, try to get over it! It will get easier with time. You need to create presence in your online course and a quick and easy way to do so is to fire up your webcam, iPhone or DSLR and get talking. Keep it short. Reiterate a few of the things that are important to you in the course and give the students an idea of who you are and what to expect (more on that in a moment.)

I don’t stop with the videos after the first week, they’re an easy way to create systematic presence. For more, read my post on Video Voicemails from a few years ago.

Please use a tripod and focus on production value (I personally prefer Vimeo over YouTube for posting and embedding). A little setting up and thinking through the production goes a long way!

#2 – Tell students what NOT to expect
We spend a lot of time crafting syllabi that tell students what to expect over the semester. Online students in particular come to the course with a set of a priori expectations and assumptions that may not be a part of your course.  Now, this is all very vague and takes an experienced online instructor to know these norms, however, there is one easy place to start – and that is with feedback.  This is the most important piece I have learned and improved upon over the years.   There are unrealistic or undefined expectations in the student-professor relationship when it comes to feedback.  Students say they want more, professors think they’re giving it.  The problem (I have found) in online classes is that the conditions of feedback are unstated.  Once I started to say “You will receive cursory feedback on this, in this format, within this # of days” or “You will NOT be receiving feedback on X, because” things improved dramatically. Students reported high levels of satisfaction with the feedback in end of semester evaluations, even though it hadn’t changed! I was setting realistic expectations.

This is a learning process for me that is under constant evolution.  In one course I supervised last semester the TA spent copious amount of time writing incredibly helpful feedback to students in the Google Docs comments.  He would pose questions to the students in the feedback, which often went unanswered.  Seeing feedback as a dialogue is a wacky idea to many, SO, as an improvement this semester, we are making responding to feedback an explicit part of participation and evaluation.

#3 –  Make sure you have clear deadlines and due dates
I unfortunately have seen one to many confusing online courses.  In all of the courses I teach, each online unit has a “road map” – this is a simple checklist of what is to be read/watched and what is to be turned in.  If you’re not an expert instructional designer, it’s NOT easy to convey this in a CMS or on a syllabus. Make a checklist and everyone is on the same page.

#4 – Clarify communication channels
Be explicit on how you prefer students to contact you (email, tweets, texts, etc) and state your standard turn-around for email.  (During the semester I promise a 24-hour turnaround on course questions.) If you’re working with a TA, clarify if students should email both of you, or, if you prefer to have one point of contact.

That’s it – there is so much more, but, these 4 quick tips will give your online course a level up!

Do you have any quick tips and tricks? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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