Online Teaching Tip #29 – Why the First Weeks of Your Course are So Critical

Why the First Weeks of the Semester are so Critical

Here’s a quick way to get a picture of student participation in your class:

1. Click on your participants list in your course site.
2. Then sort you students by their last access date.

Here’s what you’ll likely see: most students are logging in once a day, or every other day. However, there will be one or two students who have not logged in for some time. With rare exception, these students will be struggling in the class.

Another interesting correlation is between professor engagement and student engagement. In courses where the professor logs in less often, and communicates less often, you’ll find that students access the course site less often, and that the number of days between logins increases. In short, professor presence directly impacts student presence. And the early days of the semester have the most impact on this dynamic.

Here are a couple ways your online engagement impacts the online classroom, especially in the early weeks of the semester:

1) You set the tone and the culture
In the first weeks of the course, you have an opportunity to set the tone of communication and the culture of the online classroom. This happens in your emails, by engaging introductions, facilitating online discussions, and adding custom elements to the course. Sometimes—but, not often—you may need to email a particular student to explain how they are coming across in their discussion posts and to give them some pointers on etiquette. In an online course, a student became accusatory and belligerent toward another student in an online discussion forum. Because the instructor was engaged in the discussions, he was able to intercept the behavior early in the semester and reset the tone of conversation in that group. At the end of the semester, the previously hostile student sent her professor a note of gratitude for making the course an excellent learning experience.

2) You have the opportunity to establish your presence in the online classroom
Supposedly, you have about 20 seconds to create a first impression in the face-to-face classroom. Students form opinions quickly, and those can be tough to change. In the first few weeks of an online course, students will figure out whether or not their instructor is really an active participant or a monitor; then, they will adjust their own engagement to match. If that social presence is not established early on, it’s a hard thing to course correct.

Email is a powerful tool for this. Timely responses and short, checking-in emails tell students you are interested in them as individuals and available to them as a resource for learning.

So, be engaged from day one so that you can set the tone and establish your presence in your online classroom.

Online Teaching Tip #28 – Calendar Your Baseline Participation

View image | gettyimages.com How Much Should I Participate? One of the first questions I get from those who are new to teaching online goes something like this, "How much time should I be spending in the online classroom?" It's hard to really give … [Continue reading]

Online Teaching Tip #27 – Dealing with the Disconnect in the Online Classroom

View image | gettyimages.com The Disconnect Because we don't see or hear our students in the online classroom, we can begin to forget that they exist. Or, at least, we feel less connected to them. This is one of the challenges of both online … [Continue reading]

Teaching Case Studies Online: A Resource List

View image | gettyimages.com View image | gettyimages.com Teaching Case Studies Online: A Resource List It's difficult to find a good set of resources for teaching online case studies. While researching how to structure and moderate online case … [Continue reading]

Online Teaching Tip #26 – Your Tone Matters in Teaching Online

A Story of Miscommunication … [Continue reading]

Online Teaching Tip #25 – The Power of Invitation

invitation

One of your primary roles as an online teacher is the role of invitor. I'm not even sure if that's a real word. If it is, perhaps it should be spelled inviter--but that just doesn't look right. So, we'll go with invitor. In the face-to-face classroom … [Continue reading]

Assess Your Online Course with the CHICO Rubic

chico_rubric

Here's an award winning resource to use to quickly assess your online course. The Rubric For Online Instruction was developed by California State Univeristy, Chico in 2003, and they have continued to revise it over the years. With it, you can break … [Continue reading]

Online Teaching Tip #24 – Give Them Structure

structure

I've been touching on some common bad habits that online teachers fall into. Tip #22 addressed the bad habit of checking email as the first thing you do in your teaching day or week. Tip #23 addressed the bad habits that flow from an obsession with … [Continue reading]

Online Teaching Tip #23 – A Bad Habit To Avoid

question

If you've read through some of these online teaching tips, or read my book, Excellent Online Teaching, you've picked up on the fact that I believe good online teaching is built on good habits. You've probably had a teacher in high school or college … [Continue reading]

Online Teaching Tip #22 – Never Check Email First

Checking email at the internet kiosks

If you want to be conventional, be sure that the first thing you do at the beginning of the week is to check your email.As an online teacher, I'll explain two big reasons why this is maybe the worst habit you could begin. 1. It puts you into a … [Continue reading]