Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaching Online (Part XI) - What could possibly go wrong?

     It is said that one who lives without expectation has no frustration. If your course goes perfect without a hitch then great, good for you, just do not expect it. Be ready for challenges that come and be flexible enough to deal with them. This is key for any instructor working with technology whether online or in a traditional face to face course. Communicate, be flexible, utilize students & resources, and do not get burned out.

     Students of all technical abilities take online classes, and if, when, something goes wrong they do not always know how to fix it...or may be the problem themselves. Then again, perhaps you have made a mistake that needs fixed. For instance, forgetting to unhide a link or resource on your course homepage (The most common thing to check when a student says "I don't see anything"). Important to note the difference between one or two students having an issue and every student having an issue. If some students are accessing and completing the work it is a "student" issue, if no one can access the info it is a "you" issue. Whatever the case, do not get burned out or frustrated trying to answer everything yourself. Be flexible and expect your students to be flexible. Things will go wrong, but how you deal with issues will determine the stress level of both you and your students.

What could possibly go wrong?
     Be proactive by having a help thread in the student lounge/discussion board where students can post technical or general questions that other students might be able to answer. Advertise the Help thread in your welcome message as the go to place for Q&A, and encourage students to be active in helping each other. If you feel the need you might even offer some incentives for those students who do help. Leveraging students knowledge to help each other can be extremely beneficial to both you and the student they are helping. It is one less thing to frustrate you/take up your time, and students often have a quicker response time which helps limit the frustration of the student in need.

     If students do ask you (and you do not know off the top of your head) have them try to search google first for the answer. Especially if the question is about something other than the actual course (ie. internet/wifi problems, personal computer error or issue, etc.).  As the instructor you should be as helpful as you can, but ultimately it is not your responsibility to fix personal computer or software issues. Over time you may find it helpful to begin a course FAQ section and as you or other students answer questions copy and paste the question and the solution over to a FAQ module for future use. Then if you have a semester with a student who provides great answers not only do they help students in that course, but students in future courses as well.

     It is also important to note that most institutions have some type of a help line/tech support which you and your students can access when needed. As a part of your welcome message/introduction to the course you should mention this and include a link to the institutions help/support desk from your course. At Lipscomb University the faculty/staff/&students can get technical support by going to the Computer Center Help Desk. Faculty can also get instructional support by contacting myself or Al Austelle in the Center for Teaching and Learning in Beaman 100. Don't be afraid to ask for help, the purpose of any Universities CTL is to help and support faculty.

     In addition to institution help/support most Learning Management Systems have their own help websites which you should include as a link in your course resources. If it is a widely used LMS such as Moodle or BlackBoard don't underestimate the power of YouTube. You will be able to find some great instructional videos covering topics such as discussion boards, uploading assignments, checking grades, and more. Refer students to YouTube to find answers or even include video links in your course to help students who need them. For institutions specifically using BlackBoard check out the BlackBoardTV channel on YouTube for great resources.

     Finally, make sure and schedule time for class work/office hours, even in an online course. Students emailing/messaging at all hours is nothing new, but this is especially true of online students who may even be in different time zones. If you have clearly stated hours it will limit their frustrations of wondering when you will reply, and keep you from burning out because you feel the constant need to stop and deal with each question as it comes in.

     Of course if none of these suggestions work you could always pass out these Stress Reduction kits to your students. Just make sure you keep one for yourself as well.

     Communicate, be flexible, utilize students & resources, and do not get burned out. All keys to successfully teaching an online course. Enjoy a few more "What could possibly go wrong" pics below. Next blog post we will discuss cheating and the importance of the idea that cheating me cheats you.

Note, always sit on the tree side of the limb when cutting down a branch!!!

Motorcycles save on fuel, but you certainly give up cargo space.

Pickup + Boredom always = What could possibly go wrong?