Launching effective and engaging online and blended learning courses requires good instructional design practices and proven online teaching strategies. Boettcher and Conrad (2016, p. 81) state “The guiding themes for course beginnings are presence, community, and clear expectations.”
Presence – establishing social and teaching presence at the start of a course is vital for both students and instructors to get to know one another, develop trust, and create a sense of community in the virtual classroom (Richardson and Swan, 2003). This should be done using teaching strategies like icebreakers for students, and introduction activities for both learners and instructors (Palloff and Pratt, 2007).
Community – Research suggests that achieving a sense of community is beneficial for students in online courses as it increases their satisfaction with the learning experience (Gray and DiLoreto, 2016). Developing an effective online learning community requires that the instructor creates a safe environment for students to communicate their ideas (within established guidelines) and establish a social presence. This learning community is usually a forum or discussion board monitored and guided by the instructor, but where the students are the main contributors.
Clear Expectations – This is where the established guidelines come in. Students fare better in virtual classrooms when they know up front the rules of engagement for the learning community, assignment expectations, deadlines, grading standards, and unforeseen events procedures. This information is provided to students at the outset of a course, but giving reminders and clarifications throughout the course is a good practice to maintain communication channels open and for the course to run smoothly (Boettcher and Conrad, 2016).
Another major consideration for delivering online and blended courses successfully is the use of technology. The rapidly changing state of technology and tools available for developing and delivering online courses can be daunting to Instructional Designers and Instructors. Selecting the right tools is essential for course success. An effective strategy is to choose only those tools that will help achieve the course objectives and won’t hinder students’ ability to reach performance goals (Boettcher and Conrad, 2016). It is vital that educators involved in delivering online instruction be well-versed with the technology they will be using and requiring students to use, being able to troubleshoot issues and provide support to learners when needed.
Boettcher, J. V., Conrad, R. M. (2016). The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips, 2nd Edition. Jossey-Bass.
Gray, J. and DiLoreto, M. (2016). The effects of student engagements, student satisfaction, and perceived learning in online learning environments. NCPEA International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 11(1). Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1103654.pdf
Palloff, R. M. and Pratt, K. (2007). Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA.
Richardson, J. C. and Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN), 7(1). Retrieved from: onlinelearningconsortium.org/sites/default/files/v7n1_richardson_1.pdf
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