Online learning gives students more options and flexibility and a growing number of them are taking advantage of online courses in order to pursue their degree in a way that works for them. According to the 2015 Survey of Online Learning, there was an 3.9 percent increase in the number of higher education students taking at least one online course. Additionally, there are no signs that this upward trend is going to change any time soon.
For colleges and universities, as well as for instructors, this means supporting students who aren’t attending a brick and mortar classroom on a regular basis, if at all. Having served as director of technology at an online university, I’ve seen firsthand how institutions have risen to this challenge by getting creative in order to enhance the online learning experience. Below are three recommendations for setting students up for success in an online course.
1. Set Clear Guidelines
Students in online courses are learning in a non-traditional setting, and because of this a traditional set of classroom rules may not necessarily translate well.
Institutions can address this by setting clear guidelines at the institutional-level through a code of conduct specific to online courses and programs. A well-defined set of standards lets students know what is expected of them and how they can maintain their academic integrity.
Because the classroom experience has evolved, what constitutes academic dishonesty is no longer black and white and there is definitely a gray area, particularly when it comes to online learning. Identifying parameters takes the guesswork out of following the rules for students, letting them focus instead on learning course material. For example, with so much technology at students’ fingertips it’s important to note the difference between using technology as a learning tool and when it is being used inappropriately. A good code of conduct will outline when such tools can be used, such as for assignments or papers, and when they are not allowed, such as on exams.
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2. Provide Support Tools
Along with a tailored code of conduct, institutions should provide students with support tools that address the unique needs of online learners. For example, the University of Florida adopted online proctoring with live proctors to augment their online assessment strategies and enhance students’ learning experience. By implementing remote proctoring, the university was able to offer innovative assessment delivery methods and students could take online exams that went beyond the typical multiple-choice test. This also provided students with the flexibility to take their tests from home, rather than have to travel to campus or a testing center. The use of live proctors also gave students a chance to receive real-time support during their test.
There is no one-size-fits all approach, and thanks to technology there are many available vendor solutions. Institutions can learn more about support tools for online students at conferences like upcoming EDUCAUSE Annual Conference or events by the Online Learning Consortium.
3. Encourage Collaboration and Use of Outside Resources
Simply because students are learning online doesn’t mean that they have to learn on their own. Connecting and building relationships among and across online students can not only enhance their course experience, it also sets up a support system and outside resources that can help deepen their understanding of the course material.
There is no one-size-fits all approach, but some ideas include conducting online meetups or study groups for students or hosting office hours via Skype. Fostering an open and collaborative environment can ensure that students are asking for the help they need when they need it.