Second Week Report on my online course

This week was harder than week one.  I’m still spending as much as twice the time in prepping and teaching my face-to-face section in my online section.  I’m hoping this will diminish once we get up to speed.

One lesson I’ve learned (which I thought I already knew, but didn’t):  I need to be more intentional about communicating with students.  There’s a lot that face-to-face students pick up just from attending class that doesn’t work online.  It’s hard to figure out what stuff is transparent face-to-face, but which I need to be explicit about online.  Work in progress, I guess.  Few to none of my online students have had an online course before, so they don’t know what to ask.

The week started badly when my last two unacccounted-for students showed up last weekend, missing the first week of class.  This was not ideal either for them or their classmates, since we’ve been doing group activities and their presence has messed those up, or more precisely, adding them in in mid-stream won’t work well.

I began to feel overwhelmed Monday.  I think I need to be active in the course every day, at least in the beginning of the term when students need constant reinforcement.  I really needed to sketch out the next few tasks of our class discussion, but I simply wasn’t able to get to it Monday due to the press of other classes and other professional obligations.  Tuesday I wrote a detailed post of what students needed to do.  This assignment shouldn’t have been that difficult, since it simply asked them to choose one of the things they did for last Friday’s assignment and post it publicly on our discussion page.  In incredibly bad timing, we suffered a problem with the software, really a switch turned off which should have been turned on.  @Timmmmyboy bailed me out on that, but it cost us 12 hours (overnight when students tend to work) to get it right.

A few students did the task right away as soon as the software was working.  The rest lagged and a handful still haven’t done it.  Two students dropped the course, in response to the assignment, I suspect.  I told the class the task wasn’t easy and that it would take a few tries to get it right.  I sent an email Friday telling the students what a good start it was for the first assignment and setting up the next steps, basically asking students to consolidate posts and draw a few conclusions that I basically framed for them.  I’ve only received one consolidation post over the weekend.

We are almost done with one cycle of analyzing a course topic.  We’re a week behind the face-to-face course, but hopefully we can catch up when we get used to the methodology.

This week has given me some thoughts about the well-known finding that online courses have a lower completion rate than face-to-face courses.  Imagine a student takes an intro-level large lecture course.  Their assessment is based on one or two mid-term exams and a final exam.  The student may or may not read the text.  They may or may not take good class notes.  Heck, they may or may not attend lectures regularly.  At what point do they decide they can’t do the work and must drop the course?  Probably not before the (first) midterm, at which point they may well decide it’s too late to drop the course.

My online course is different.  Their first deliverable is due within the first two days of class.  The first substantive assignment is due before the end of the first week.  The cognitive load ratchets up at the beginning of week 2.  Given this scenario and comparing it to students’ other face-to-face courses, some probably decide this is too much work.  So they drop.  I can’t worry about that now, but perhaps next time, it would be helpful to present the approach we’re using synchronously the first time so I can handle questions in real time.  If we used something like Adobe Connect, we could record the session for the students who can’t make the live one.  Something to think about for next year.

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4 Responses to Second Week Report on my online course

  1. Alan Levine says:

    Steve, your reflections match a lot of my experiences in ds106. I’ve taken a tougher stance on deadlines this time around and setting up much more clear expectations.

    The big thing is putting the responsibility on the students to be proactive on reaching out when they are struggling. And looking for modes of communication outside if a lot of time consuming one on one email.

    I’ve also been experimenting with open office hours via google hangout, not a huge response so far, but effective for the ones who showed up.

    Keep at it! First time through is toughest

  2. onepercentyellow (Leslie Lindballe) says:

    Fascinating! I’m so excited to hear your struggles, especially as I prepare a course for myself studying the responsibilities of educators in online settings. The time factor has always been something I’ve worried about, especially with the long bits of text that so often happen in this space. I think you would do very well to have some kind of synchronous session right away. I think the tradition – the familiarity – of showing up for the first day of class is something that really helps students put on their thinking hats. I know for myself, it can be difficult to ‘start’ my online courses – even the grouped study ones. I know when the first day is, but somehow since the people and the course are not immediately present, I feel I can somehow ‘do it tomorrow’.

  3. Robert S Rycroft says:

    Is there a protocol for instructor-initiated drops for an online course?

  4. Wendy Drexler says:

    Steve – I feel your pain. I really want to meet with you when your course is finished to debrief your experience and brainstorm some design ideas.

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