Prepare Your Students for Online Learning
Many of your students may be new to online learning. They will need information and orientation to make effective use of the Blackboard, Moodle or other online site. Your students will need to be able to:
- see how the online site is integrated into the course, and clearly see its value
- understand why particular components of the course are online
- understand what they are required to do
- navigate the online site confidently
- participate in the different kinds of online activities (discussions, blogs, quizzes, group projects etc.)
- observe basic netiquette
- manage their online learning workload.
Explain how (and why) the online site is integrated
It's important that students see how all the course learning activities—lectures, tutorials, online activities, research tasks etc.—fit together and enable them to achieve the course learning outcomes. If they see the online site as an optional add-on to the course they are unlikely to participate very actively. Explain what advantages each of the items in your online site can provide.
Provide students with a course schedule or plan—this will help them see how the components fit together. See the Course schedule planning page for some example templates you may wish to use.
Provide an orientation activity
An online orientation activity:
- offers students a non-threatening activity to help them get used to the software
- helps students get to know each other as they complete the activity; this helps to build the sense of an online learning community
- helps you get to know your students better.
Design the activity so that it utilises one of the tools you plan to use in the course learning activities.
- If you plan to use a discussion board, run an orientation discussion on something light-hearted. Have students explain the origin of their family name, nominate their all-time favourite movie etc.
- If you will require students to use a blog to record their progress through a creative task, ask them to start a blog to introduce themselves and comment on each other's introductions.
- Will you use an online test or quiz for assessment? If so, set up a non-assessable test so that they can practise using the test/quiz tool; perhaps you could test some assumed entry level knowledge.
Using your students' names online, in orientation and later activities, is a good way to make your students feel acknowledged and visible online.
Provide clear instructions
Include clear and comprehensive instructions with each learning activity. Instructions should include:
- a basic description of the task
- how it relates to the course learning outcomes
- how it relates to program's graduate attributes
- what exactly the students need to do
- how long they have to do it in, with firm deadlines
- the assessment weighting, where applicable
- what to do if they have difficulties completing or submitting the task.
If you can, run through the activity with the students beforehand, in your face-to-face class.
See Online learning activities for more information.
Communicate your netiquette expectations
"Netiquette" is an abbreviation of "Internet etiquette". When teachers and learners observe netiquette, they behave online in ways that promote a productive and constructive online learning environment, recognise each other's rights to be treated with respect and courtesy, and respect each other's privacy.
Observing netiquette also means, more specifically:
- not uploading very large files for others to download
- keeping discussion and blog posts concise and to the point
- not using group communication spaces for one-to-one or personal communications
- refraining from dominating a class activity—not always participating first and most often
- using language that is approprate to the context of the course.
Clarify your workload expectations
Let your students know what you expect of them in your online course.
- Be clear about how often you expect your students to be online and participating in learning activities.
- What will count as participation? If you are running, say, a discussion forum, you might expect each student to contribute one main post and two follow-up posts responding to others' contributions.
- Provide a maximum word count for discussion posts—200 words per post is a good guideline.
These kinds of guidelines encourage interactivity and help students get over their initial shyness in contributing.