Each semester, we face the challenge of getting our students properly registered with their login credentials
for their learning management system, adaptive quizzing platforms, course software or websites, and online textbook resources.
I think that most of us provide detailed instructions in our syllabi
, on a course website or (even better) a no-password public web page. But despite our best efforts at providing fool-proof instructions, there always seems to be a large group of students who just can't seem to get off on the right foot
and hit one or another snags in trying to get logged into everything and squared away.
I've found that supplementing your written instructions with a personalized video walk-through
of all the steps necessary works wonders. By simply going through each step as a I describe it out loud while it's all being captured by video capture software, students can see exactly
which buttons to click, which forms to fill (and what data to fill in), and can be warned off of possible pitfalls
during the registration procedure.
I usually sign up using an email I set up using the name of my pet fish, Clyde. But sometimes that doesn't work if I need a purchased product code or need an official student email address or other credential. In those cases, you can sometimes get a trial product code or fake student credential from the powers in charge of those things. For example, at one college we had one fake student in the system—which allowed us to test our courses.
There are many free plugins
out there that allow you capture your voice and your browser activity in real time as a video clip. Here are a few that I've used:
By taking just a few minutes to walk (and talk) through the process while the browser screen is being captured, you can reduce student anxiety
and give them a more positive "first impression" of your course. An added benefit is that you'll spend less time answering panicked calls and emails from frustrated students—giving you more time to prepare those brilliant class activities!
Here's a sample of a screencast
in which I show my students how to get started with an online anatomy program that comes with their textbook. Notice that I start with a photo
that's open in a viewer window that is in front of (overlaying) the browser window. After the introductory discussion, I close the photo viewer, revealing the browser, where I walk the student through the registration process.
When it's time to roll the course in your LMS (learning management system) over to a new semester, do you just wing it?
Yeah, I've made that mistake.
I always think that...
- I'm going to remember all the steps to copy my course contents from a prior course over to a course and
- I'm going to remember to make all the tweaks needed within the new course.
I always missed something, though. And that something (or somethings) always messed with my students. Maybe my "this course is now over" message was broadcast halfway through the course. Oops. Or an online test closed before the course even started. Or something weird that unnecessarily confused or startled or panicked my students.
Rarely happens now, though. That's because I have a checklist. First, I find my "master" checklist template. Each time I roll over a course, I print out (or digitally copy) the master to make a new checklist marked with that course and semester. This helps me make sure that I don't miss something. Especially if I have to break the rolling-over process into several sessions.
Sometimes, I make the semester-specific list part-way through the previous semester.
For example, I may want to add or delete a learning activity next time around. That goes on the list for next semester. I may want to change a link to a different resource in future courses—and that, too, goes on the list. There may be an upcoming change in school procedures, the textbook edition, some new thing
I want to try, or who knows what, and I don't want to forget
that when I'm doing my rollover processing.
Sometimes I update my master list template when I find some other aspect of the course that should always be checked after importing a prior course into a new course shell. Thus, my list becomes more and more effective over time.
Here are examples of thing that go on my list:
- Specific steps to take, and the correct order of steps to export from the prior course and import to the new course. I include which options should be checked and which should remain unchecked.
- Change dates to the later dates of the new semester. Depending on your LMS, this may be a matter of telling your system to do that conversion automatically.
- Check the dates to make sure they really are correct. I've never had the auto-dating feature of an LMS get all the dates exactly right. Their algorithms just aren't that sophisticated. But mostly, the problem is that your school's academic calendar is rarely identical, day-by-day, from one semester to the next.
- Check the dates in specific areas. If I remember to change my online quiz dates, I may forget to change all the dates to release my course announcements. Or if I remember to do that, I may forget to read all the announcements to see if they reference dates that need to be changed.
- Check hyperlinks to make sure they go where they need to go. For example, I may have an announcement that has an embedded hyperlink to a course file. But that file's URL will have changed because it points to the course files in the old course. This can be a big problem (I speak from experience) if your students are accessing files from old courses. Various LMSs handle such files differently, but it never hurts to check all links.
- Make sure I've set up all my external resources. If I link to a publisher's learning platform or to any other external resource, I make sure that any setting up I have to do there is done. For example, I may have to set up a new "course" in my adaptive learning platform. Or create a new blank set in a wiki that I want my students to build.
- Copy course files. I have a folder for each new term on my hard drive. Each semester, I copy over the folder (all the contents) and give it a new name that identifies the new semester. Then I go in and delete all semester-specific files, such as gradebook backups, assignments I've downloaded, correspondence with students, etc. Then if I have updates to make to course documents (syllabus, handouts, etc.) I still have copies of all the documents of all past semesters.
The checklists make me happy
for several reasons. I love, love, love checking tasks off a list. It is reassuring to see visible evidence of all the work I've done and that I really am ready for a new semester. And I can sleep better (like that's ever a problem) knowing that I've done everything possible to avoid glitches
that have happened in past courses.
A recent post at Extra Credit: The Canvas Blog discusses their findings that the use of video in online courses may help increase student retention—at least in larger courses. This reminded of a phenomenon that I noticed over the first few years I taught fully online courses: photos and video can help connect students and teachers.
After decades of teaching traditional face-to-face courses and web-enhanced courses, I transitioned to fully online courses. The first thing I struggled with was the seeming lack of personal connection with my students, and among my students.
I found that if I used a clear and "happy" photo in my LMS (learning management system) profile, students started recognizing me around town and reported that they felt more "connected" to me than before. And more connected to me than their other online teachers with no profile photo—or an unclear or "not happy" photo.
Then I started prodding all my students to post profile pictures. Face pictures, not vacation photos taken in front of Niagara Falls and not photos of their dog or favorite child. No avatars, either. And you know what? I felt more personally connected to THEM! And they found they felt a bit more connected to each other.
Then something wonderful and unexpected happened. It was a course I teach in an online graduate program that trains anatomy and physiology professors. I had been using the iSpring plugin for PowerPoint to create short presentations that introduce each learning module in the course. There was a software upgrade that allowed me to embed a video of me narrating alongside the slides and outline. I thought I'd try it to see how it worked.
I got immediate feedback from nearly every student in the course! They loved, loved, loved it. Not because of my amazing face or resonant voice—they just loved finally seeing and hearing me as I presented the introduction. They reported feeling more connected to me.
That program has a required summer seminar at the home campus near the end of the program. When I go there now, the students who have taken my course in previous terms tell me that they feel like they already know me well because of those videos. They tell me they can better pick up on my style of conversation, my sense of humor, what I think is important in the course, and my enthusiasm for my subject. And they appreciate that.
So now I'll never go back. I'll always find a way to include video of myself somewhere in each online course I teach. Because part of teaching is being there for students. And video helps me do that.
Want to know more?Want Lower Dropout Rates? Use Video (Part 1)
- Jared Stein. Extra Credit: The Canvas Blog. 24 Oct 2016
- Blog post that interprets results of a study by Instructure on the use of video in Canvas courses.
iSpring for PowerPoint10 Ways to Increase Student Engagement Online
- Dr. Al-Malood. Faculty Workshop. 16 Feb 2014
- Podcast and blog post, with point #5 explaining the importance of profile photos.
In classroom discussions, any question that gets asked is answered by me addressing the whole class.
I don't ignore the questioner, but I make sure that the answer takes everyone into account—not just that individual. In my online courses, I like to have an open discussion forum that I usually call something like, Kevin's Virtual Office.
Here, students can ask their questions and, again, I answer the whole class.
There are several reasons I've found this to be a successful strategy in online and on-ground courses:
- I can leverage many content questions into an effective forum for clarifying common misconceptions about the topic. If one student didn't quite "get it," you can safely assume there are others. And I can bring in related misconceptions that my experience tells me are likely to be out there.
- By addressing the whole class, you avoid losing student attention. Although student questions can breathe new life into a classroom activity, there's also the risk that students will notice your focus on only the questioner, and drift away—perhaps never to return to the fully engaged mode.
- Overarching themes and "big picture" concepts can be woven into the answer, thus giving students a better context for the topic at hand. Depending on the question, the answer can expressed in a way that brings many other ideas together to illustrate how the main themes of your discipline are being played out in this particular context.
- If it regards course policies or procedures, I can take the opportunity to explain my rationale. Many students embrace unfamiliar learning strategies if they understand the reasons you have adopted them.
- You can teach problem-solving skills. Some answers can be easily found in the syllabus, textbook, handout, or some other handy resource and you remind students of this fact for future questions they might have. By walking through a process to arrive at a not-so-obvious answer, however, you can teach additional skills. Perhaps by asking questions of several students during the process, or going through some logical steps, you can model how a student might answer their own questions that occur during study times. This is a well-known mechanism for teaching critical-thinking skills.
- You can trigger more questions. By addressing the whole class, you demonstrate that you want everyone to understand fully. This may provide an inviting atmosphere in which other misconceptions or confusions can be brought up and addressed—a sort of "just in time" teaching opportunity.
One thing that can throw us off is when a student asks a question in a public forum that really should be asked privately. This can be tricky. Depending on the exact nature of the question and/or answer, I may still use it as learning opportunity for all members of the class. But if sensitive, personal information is revealed, I assume that the student did not realize that the whole class can read it. So I usually take the student down from the forum (if I'm able) and respond privately (by email) to directly to the student.
One other issue that is important is making it clear that I expect students to regularly watch Kevin's Virtual Office and read all the threads posted there. I explain at the beginning of the course, that most questions help everyone and that I'll be responding to everyone when questions are asked.
I recently brought up the use of clickers
—student response systems
—with my class of professors-in-training
. The discussion mainly focused on how clickers can improve learning and participation,
but I also mentioned how the data could be used secondarily as a way to record class attendance.
One of my students, having never had any experience of clickers, brought up a good point: why not have a buddy work your clicker on your behalf while you are still snoozing away in your bed?
This thought occurs frequently to students.
Ultimately, there will always be students trying to game the system to slide through with less effort.
But there are some ways to work around this that I've found helpful (and moderately successful). Here they are:
1. Explain that colleges take attendance for the purpose of reporting to state and federal authorities. Students therefore, may be committing fraud through click-cheating--especially if they receive any type of financial aid, scholarship, or grant. That could apply to both students involved.
While the students are all scratching their heads over the first clicker question in class, take a quick head count.
Then check your response total. If you count 25 and you're getting 30 responses, it's a good opportunity to have the fraud conversation
again. And the academic integrity
conversation. And the "do you really want to risk expulsion
?" conversation. If you have 300 students, get a TA, student, or colleague to sit in the back and count for you—perhaps holding up a card with the magic number at the back of the lecture hall.
3. If #2 occurs (and we all know that in life, #2 does happen), then start looking around at who might be managing two or more clickers. Call them out on it—you only have to do that once to set a pretty solid boundary. And they'll realize you are indeed looking for this behavior. Many students who try this won't think you're smart enough to look for it and thus are pretty brazen about it.
Perhaps this should have been #1. Unbelievably, many students just aren't aware that such behavior is not acceptable.
Really. More often than you think. A LOT. So be clear up front that you won't tolerate it and (most importantly) why
you plan to be such a badass about it (integrity as a course objective