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Motivating Students Without a Classroom: 5 Tips from Top Online Teachers
Online classes are a swiftly-growing pedagogical area for educators, with a significant number of K-12 schools offering this option. While the increased flexibility of online learning is a boon for both students and teachers, the lack of face-to-face interaction between students and teachers can inhibit learning. These disadvantages can be addressed with mindfulness toward the course construction and teacher habits.
5 ways to motivate students in your online classroom
Use these hints from seasoned online teachers to ensure that your students have the best potential for success.
1. Set clear expectations
In a first announcement for the class, introduce students to the best practices that can make them successful. Suggest the number of times they log in and interact with classmates, go over time commitments for both reading and homework assignments, and set your general expectations and goals for students so they know what to expect from the class. Share your available hours, any online tutoring or meetings that might be available, and information on your grading policies and turnaround times. This is also an excellent time to give them a brief tutorial on where assignments, discussions, video links or reading material are located.
2. Be available as much as possible
Instructor presence can be a driving and encouraging force for online students. Dr. Judith Boetcher’s guide 10 Best Practices for Teaching Online suggests that consistent use of communication tools — instant messaging, emails, and discussion board postings — helps create a strong teacher-student bond. Referring to student discussion board postings and referencing students by name as you would in a classroom discussion is a small but worthwhile way of fostering community and really makes students feel that you value their work. Boetcher suggests that checking in with students or making announcements every day or every other day is an excellent practice. If you prefer a more hands-off approach, ensure that students know how and when they can contact you with questions.
Additionally, Boetcher recommends a check-in with students a few weeks into the course just to see how things are going. Asking for student feedback is another way to help them feel valued. Different online communities have different needs as well, so be prepared to make subtle changes to the class to make students feel more at home.
3. Incorporate all learning styles into your courses
One great aspect of teaching online is that you know the learners in your community are plugged into the vast resources of the internet: don’t be afraid to use them. Florida International University suggests appealing to different learning styles by using a classroom that embraces multimedia including videos, audio clips and even animations.
With the wide variety of tools from YouTube to Bitstrips, teachers can create targeted multimedia resources for their online classrooms to make the e-universe a little more human.
Onlineteachingtips.org proposes creating a Website of the Week that highlights lecture material. For an online class, this website could actually be a YouTube clip, an animation of material students have read in the text or an article highlighting a current event that corresponds with their learning.
In my online classroom, after students have learned logical fallacies, I post a sample argument from Letters to the Editor or an Opinion page and have a small competition and discussion to encourage them to identify logical fallacies. This reinforces what they’ve learned and shows them that there are real-world applications for their e-learning.
In Tips for Humanizing Your Online Course, Rob Kelly suggests encouraging students to engage in “non-task communications” that are focused on community building. Introductions, chat sessions, and other forms of social interaction help create cohesion and teamwork in your students and really encourage a tight-knit learning community.
4. Prepare thoroughly
A final significant point about online learning: often it is as much if not more work than traditional classroom teaching. In 6 Tips for the Online Teacher, Richard Rose notes that preparation is key, particularly as online teaching is often asynchronous. This limits an instructor’s ability to clarify and respond to students. Consistent presence can help avoid students getting too far off course, but full preparation really helps avoid misunderstandings before they start.
5. Pay attention to student feedback
Finally, be willing to review your course for best practices. Onlineteachingtips.org suggests keeping a journal along the way, making notes as to the most and least effective assignments. Pay close attention to student feedback throughout the semester to ensure that you can create the best possible learning community so that the online course is as effective as it possibly can be.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.