Communicating Student Responsibilities in Online Teaching

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

A guiding principle in online learning is to provide support for your students in a virtual environment but not do the work for them. This lesson explains how to step back and allow students to do the work by implementing structure and predetermined guidelines.

Flying From the Nest

Birds are not born with the ability to fly, rather they are born with the instinct to fly. They are nursed by mama bird, and when ready, they have to take that leap of faith from the nest. This scenario can be related to human learning. No, I am not saying people should start jumping out of nests, but like birds, we are born with instincts to learn, grow, and become a part of our community.

Why am I talking about birds in a lesson about online classes? Well, we need to think of our online students as baby birds. They are taking an online class which is independent by nature, and as teachers, we need to find the line where our help ends--the edge of the nest--and independent learning begins--the birds in flight.

As online instructors, we give our students the tools to think and learn, and they have to figure out how to put all of the information together. Let's take a look at some strategies to help our online students succeed.

Establishing a System

The number one tool you have in your teacher toolkit is your syllabus, and this is especially true when it comes to online courses. Your syllabus is the road map for you and your students that keeps everyone in the same lane and at same speed throughout the duration of the course.

When creating a syllabus, you want the content to reflect your expectations. Be specific when it comes to objectives, assignments, and pacing. Giving students a guide for the entire course can help them learn to manage their time, which is a learning process in and of itself when it comes to online classes. Let's look at a few tools that can help clarify expectations.

  • Calendars

Providing a calendar for your students is a great way to keep them on track. A calendar can remind students to start and submit assignments, along with teaching students how to manage their time.

Presenting a visual representation of assignments gives the students a clear timeline to help them manage their assignments for the duration of the course.
This image contains a calendar with set assignments and due dates.

  • Assignment Descriptions

A calendar is an excellent tool when it comes to online expectations, but a calendar alone isn't enough. We need to explain what we are looking for as they complete the items on the calendar. To clarify assignments, provide assignment breakdowns which describe all criteria for each assignment.

Think about each type of assignment that falls on your calendar. For example, maybe you have quizzes, reading questions, and discussion board posts. For each of those assignment types, write a brief explanation describing how and when to complete each task.

By providing explicit instructions regarding types of assignments, such as discussions questions, peer feedback, and reading assignments, students are more likely to succeed independently.
Example of assignment breakdown

Rubrics and models are also great tools to show students the kind of time, effort, and thought you are looking for in your course.

  • Grade Weighting

At the end of the day, students want to pass your course, and grades are the means to that end. Be specific when it comes to your grading structure and how you weight your grades. By providing the students with a weight for each assignment, they can physically see how important the assignment is in connection to the overall grade of the class.

Providing students with the weight of their assignments helps reinforce the importance of completing all work to the best of their ability.
Example of grading structure

Platform Setup

On most online platforms, teachers can set up a home page that displays announcements, updates, and even weekly calendars. Utilizing these tools can help reinforce student responsibility, while also giving friendly reminders regarding what's due that day and/or that week.

We don't want to do the work for our students, but we do want to make the process of finding and submitting work as easy as possible. The more accessible we make the work, the more likely the students are to complete the assignments without frustration.

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