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Ensuring Effective Communication in the Online Environment

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Ensuring Effective
Communication in the Online
Strategies to make sure your
students not only hear you,
but understand you
“Regardless of the technology in use,
the more that instructors involve their
students in the learning process
online the more likely that students
will achieve a successful learning
Communication - Methods
E-Mail (external or internal)
Office Hours (in person)
In order for your students to even
begin work on your course, you must
begin by doing what?
Orienting students to the technology
that will be used
Orienting students to your course
Informing students of your policies,
procedures, guidelines, expectations,
Another way to look at it There are 3 types of
in Distance Education
Instructor – Student
Student – Student
Student – Technology
Which is most important?
Why interaction?
“Interaction in a distance learning environment is a
key factor in the success of the course. Students
may feel apprehensive about using the
technology in a web-based class... Incorporating
interactive strategies early in the course helps the
student overcome these misgivings, and can also
serve to unite the students so that they see
themselves as part of a whole. Social interaction,
especially between students, can complement
instructional interactivity goals.
Why interaction?
If the students feel more relaxed with each other
and the technology, they are more inclined to
engage in meaningful reflection and discussion on
course topics and concepts. When students
reinforce the subject matter in their own words
through interaction with their peers, they gain a
deeper understanding and higher retention level.
Online students consistently ask for more
student-to-student interaction. This interaction
keeps the student from feeling like they're simply
plodding through an online tutorial or taking a oneon-one independent study course.”
Hi-ho Silver!
Avoid the
by building
in plenty of
General Strategies to increase
interaction in your distance classes
Quickly require students to communicate
with you
Require students to send you an email the
first day of class. You can build in an
exercise in which they must respond to
your school's conduct policy, or to verify
that you have their correct email or other
contact info
Provide (and require!) feedback
Require periodic emails, phone calls, or inperson visits
General Strategies to increase
interaction in your distance classes
Plan for immediate involvement in a
simple, small group task
Set up forums for class discussion
groups (more about this to come)
Post a question each day/week to
start off the discussion
7 Steps to Increasing Student
Show optimism and personality in
email and course materials.
Raise interest with thoughtprovoking issues.
Use short extra-credit questions to
engage students in online reading.
7 Steps to Increasing Student
Inject humor into course materials.
Get proactive in communicating with
Involve students in course design and
Make students aware of each other.
Create a learning community.
Before letting students lose and
encouraging them to interact, with
one another and with you, ground
rules should be established.
Such as?
General dos and don’ts
Editing policy
Response time – will you be
responding? And, if so, when?
Grading policy – if posting in a
discussion is required (and it should
be), how is it graded?
Cheating – how cheating will be
handled should be addressed and
what is considered cheating should
be defined
Activities and Assignments
With any activity, begin by identifying
the purpose – either explicitly or
What might be some goals of your 1st
assignment (s)?
Familiarize students with course
layout and policies.
Gather general information on
Activities and Assignments
Ensure that students know how to use
all communication tools and that they
know where/how work is to be
Permit students a chance to introduce
themselves, to get to know one
Getting-to-know You - Virtually
What ice breakers do you use in
Can they be modified for online?
Discussion posting
Contact students by email
Share autobiographies online.
Everyone contributes their favorite
Initiate a group building product. For
example, the first person writes one
line of a limerick. A second person in
the group has to provide the next line.
And so on until the product is finished.
Discussion - Options
Discussion provided within your CMS
(Course Management System;
Blackboard, WebCT, etc.)
Discussions – Pros and Cons
The pros and cons are really one and
the same
Easy to design
Instructor may be fully involved or
only limited so
Low tech
Discussions – Pros and Cons
Easy to design – tempting to just
throw up a topic and be done with it
Instructor may be fully involved or
only limited so – how much should the
instructor be involved?
Low tech – tempting to give little or no
Problems with Discussion
Level and type of interaction may be
Instructor may need to constantly
oversee activity
Some questions left unanswered
Is constant support and moderation
Achieving Maximum
- http://itlearningspace-
Participation guidelines in an online course are
critical to its successful outcome. As online
instructors, however, we cannot make the
assumption that if we establish minimum
participation guidelines of two posts per week, for
example, that students will understand what that
means. We must also include expectations about
what it means to post to an online course
discussion. "A post involves more than visiting the
course site to check in and say hello. A post is
considered to be a substantive contribution to the
discussion wherein a student either comments on
other posts or begins a new topic (Palloff, R. and
Pratt, K., p. 100)."
Achieving Maximum
Be clear about how much time the course
will require of students to eliminate
potential misunderstandings about
course demands.
As the instructor, be a model of good
participation by logging on frequently and
contributing to the discussion.
Achieving Maximum
Be willing to step in and set limits if
participation wanes or if the conversation
is headed in the wrong direction.
Remember that there are people
attached to the words on the screen. Be
willing to contact students who are not
participating and invite them in. Create a
warm and inviting atmosphere which
promotes the development of a sense of
community among the participants.
(Palloff, R. and Pratt, K., p. 107)
Establishing Guidelines and
Everything must be as clear as
possible – how do you ensure that
you are communicating effectively?
How do you know when you are not?
You keep on getting the same
questions again and again.
What do you do?
Should you change policies midcourse?
Orienting students to the
How might you do this?
Explain it to them in written form
Refer them to an orientation or tutorial
Direct them to use some of the course
Establishing Guidelines and
Where is work submitted?
How will late work be dealt with?
What are your policies on cheating?
How should students contact you?
How soon will you respond?
Participation – graded?
If graded (and it should be!), how?
Consider your own experiences –
under what circumstances are you
most likely to be an active participant?
Communication Failure
What do you do if some of your
students just don’t “get it”?
Consider building in means to protect
against this – help your students to
recognize what is needed for online
Aid your students in becoming “ideal”
Facilitating Every Student in an
Online Course
One obstacle to successfully facilitating an online
course is the need to adequately promote online
learning skills in those students who do not fit the
profile of a "successful" online student. Not every
student is the "ideal" student whether you are in a
face-to-face or an online environment. In fact, this
ideal student is probably in the minority in any
class. Therefore, the online course facilitator is
charged with the task of developing the skills of
these non-ideal students while creating a learning
environment suitable to various needs,
preferences, and abilities.
Facilitating Every Student in an
Online Course
What makes a student an “ideal” online
student? What skills are needed?
Time Management Skills
Discipline and Motivation
Synergy and the Online Learning
Communication Skills
Time Management Skills
How can you structure your course to
facilitate the success of the student with
poor time management skills?
Lesson Length
Organize course material in manageable
“chunks” for the student who may only have 3045 minutes to devote to the course on a given
Taking the Lesson With Them
Make the pages of your course printable.
Time Management Skills
The Effective Syllabus
Make your syllabus as user-friendly as possible
– consider indicating how long an assignment
is likely to take, as well as how long the
completed work should be
Make Suggestions
Provide students with suggested guidelines for
logging in and time spent on course activities
Provide Clear Posting Requirements
Discipline and Motivation Skills
A challenge in any class – but even
more so when you never see your
Motivation Beyond the Grade
Make material meaningful, provide
Make Your Presence Felt
Direct Questions
Be proactive with those lagging students
Synergy and the Online Learning
Provide a Course Philosophy
Structure Discussion Into the Course
Structure the Discussion
Be Engaging (even funny when
Break the Ice
Fix Problem Situations Quickly and
Foster Effective Communication Among
Communication Skills
Be a Model
Be positive and remove unintended or
unnecessary emotion from your posts,
however, do not be afraid to add emotion when
it can lead to a more positive virtual
Always think twice before posting even
mundane responses to student posts.
Maintain the instructor "presence" in the online
course and remember that the students can not
hear or see you think or type, they can only
read your posts (and hear your words if audio
transmission is used).
Communication Skills
Be a Model
When necessary, be prepared to provide
individual attention to problem students
or students with special needs.
As White and Weight (7) put it, do not
react, but respond. Provide a unifying
voice for the students and address
issues fairly, quickly, and effectively.
Respond with clarification or extension
when needed.
Communication Skills
Be a Model
Give Instructions
Provide for Communication in the
Course Requirements and Philosophy
Break the Ice
Provide Motivation and
Synchronous Communication
In person
Limit group size (I've seen viewpoints
ranging from 4-12 people as an optimum.
My experience says 5-10 is manageable
and effective.)
If necessary, employ some form of "crowd
control" or ask students to take turns in a
specific order of by a given system to
minimize chaos.
If possible, use audio for the instructor
feed. This allows the discussion to take
place in text while the instructor can still
access the auditory senses of the students.
Allow some socializing before and after.
Possibly have the synchronous chat room
constantly available, but post specific times
for course discussion.
Many online students are online because
of schedule restraints. Therefore, do not
expect to be able to have all of your
synchronous sessions at a specific time.
Be prepared to stretch sessions out over
time with multiple times for each discussion
with students organized into groups based
on availability.
Post an agenda in advance to keep
the chat time organized and to give
students a chance to prepare.
Preface individual responses with to
whom it is addressed.
Always have a backup plan. One can
still not count on the reliability of
synchronous systems.
Start major topics yourself with
explanatory post.
Narrow topics to smallest units to
reduce clutter in the discussion forum
Restrict most forum topics to course
activities and topics.
Organize forums so that they
correspond to the course flow.
Be aware of cultural patterns in the
manner in which people post.
Respond frequently, but save "nice
job" posts for individual student
forums or emails.
Pre-Course Orientation
Support Services
Most importantly…
Disability Accessibility
Network Access and Bandwidth
Regardless of the particular delivery mechanism, computer
mediated communication is interaction stripped of social context
cues and human "presence", yet for learning to occur students and
faculty must become familiar with the environment, and each other
and be able to make both sense and meaning of the learning
experienced they are engaged in.
Scaffolding for students interaction and meaning-making activities
must be provided by the online instructor by modeling appropriate
interaction and facilitation techniques on screen, and by providing
metaphors and analogies to personalize and humanize the
transactional space. To do this effectively teachers must first realize
some of the basic differences between teaching face-to-face and
facilitating online interactions, become themselves adept at the use
of the computer conferencing technology and be aware of various
teaching and facilitation techniques that are, and are not, suitable
for online classrooms.
Ensuring Effective Communication
Reflecting – what will you do
differently the next time you are
teaching an online course?
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