checking email, posting to the discussion forum, setting up a blog. If they can complete the list of tasks in a timely manner, the idea is that they should be able to handle following directions and completing the tasks for the course. Below is an example of an orientation for a lit class.
Keeping a progress list is crucial to everyone’s sanity. Students, as well as the instructor, want to know if they’ve completed items on the list, so I create a spreadsheet with the items across the topics. Once a student completes the student information form, they make it on the list. And then I fill in the rest as the complete it. I generally update the list twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. On a daily basis for these first five days I send out emails reminding students to complete the orientation.
Another technique I use to reach out to students is text messaging. I ask students for their cell phone numbers in the student information form. If they provide it to me, I add them to my Gmail address book and create a group (ENH114 Fall16). My Gmail contacts are attached to my Google Voice number and inbox, so I can use that to send text messages to students individually or as a group. I also set up a Remind class for students who fill safer using that than giving me their cell phone number. Most students use both. I use text messages to probe students about missing assignments or not engaging in the course enough throughout the week, and I use Remind to send out blanket reminders about due dates for assignments. Using text messaging is not as time-consuming as one would imagine, and the fear is that instructors will be constantly fielding questions via text all day long. That simply isn’t the case. In the first three weeks of the semester, I’ve received less than 10 texts – average 3 a week.
I schedule the Remind announcements 3-4 weeks at a time, so only once a month do I have to go in deal with that.
Lastly, time commitment seems to be the biggest challenge for students, especially the students who sign up for an online class because they work full-time and have a family to care for and think online courses are the only way they can do college. I tell them it’s not a great recipe unless they are willing to make sacrifices, but I also try to help them out by giving time estimates for each module, each week and each lesson/activity. I start with the big picture which is general a 3-4 week module.
Below is example of the text I provide each week:
Plan your time: Unit 1.1 should take you about 5 hours to complete. After completing the course orientation in the first part of week 1, you should turn your attention to this unit. You should have a good 4 days to complete the three lessons in this unit. You should also plan to start the Lesson 1.1.4 Discussion this week.
Then at the assignment level, each lesson has a time estimate as well:
Instructions: Please view the entire video (5 minutes) as Melvyn Bragg explains some of the features of African American language as it developed during slavery and provides examples of the African American vernacular as used in the works of many authors. Take notes as you view the lecture and afterwards, take 5-7 minutes to write a summary paragraph between 200-250 words about what you learned from the video. Viewing this video, taking notes, and writing the summary should take approximately 20 minutes to complete.
Overall, I think these strategies have been successful, although there are no full proof plans or guarantees. Three weeks into the semester I had three students drop, presumably because they realized they were in over their heads. And then I had six students who were failing despite my constant emails and texts asking if they needed help and reminders that work was due. I wasn’t able to reach all six, so my retention numbers are in the dumps once again despite all my efforts to improve it – three week in! Guess I’ll just have to be satisfied that 14 of the original 22 (64%) are passing and doing great at week 7. Two are still ignoring me, and the rest dropped. Ten of those 14 in the class have A’s, so that’s something to be proud about I guess.