Mixed-mode and online courses need significant amounts of structure, much more than faculty might think. The structure helps to guide the students in following their own, authentic learning pathways through the material of the course.
You can build in more structure as the course progresses if you need to do so.
- If you do group work, structure the group work. Give students roles, and change the roles throughout the semester. Provide guidance for what each role should accomplish.
- Provide steps for completing assignments.
- Provide guidelines for ways to succeed in the class.
- Provide rubrics prior to giving assignments. Teach students how to use them.
- For each week provide a list:
- What we will learn this week.
- What assignments are due this week and when.
- What assessments are happening this week and when.
- If you see "stack-ups" where multiple important learning events occur on one day or within one week, push the calendar around. If you cannot push the calendar, announce this "stack up" two weeks early and remind students that it is coming (dates in the calendar are closer than they appear).
- Build in encouragement moments. "Look at how far we've come!" "Look at what we've accomplished this week."
- Create 4-5 minute recordings of solutions/answers/responses to known problem areas in the course and material. Post these for students to review. Be sure to explain in a different way from the way that you have explained "in class" so that learners get the information in a different way. (Suggestion courtesy of Jon French)
Setting expectations is crucial.
- What do you expect from your students? Be sure to include statements reminding them that in any context, they are responsible for their own learning. They will have to take up the work of reading and reviewing, practicing and demonstrating that they have progressed appropriately in their knowledge, skills, abilities, comprehension, and ability to apply what they are learning.
- Establish tech expectations. Have a "Quiz Zero" for these tech expectations and set-ups. Are students technologically prepared? If not, direct them to ITS (email@example.com).
- What do you expect from yourself? Be sure to have your May self speak with your December self as you set these goals and expectations.
- If you have graduate TAs, clarify your expectations for them. As part of their expectations, give them responsibilities for answering certain kinds of emails from students. Have them develop "expertise" in certain questions, and shift those questions to the TA.
If you have an undergraduate TA or technology helper, establish what you would like as support.
Treat any TA or support as your partner in making the learning experience work.
Look for cues to provide blanket information.
- After 3 of the same question, provide an announcement or message to the entire class clarifying where to look, what to do, how to find, etc. You can use different modalities, such as Blackboard announcements or embedded videos for this purpose. After you make the clarification, simply point students to the location of the information.
Manage the email.
- Require each student to have a learning buddy or a learning group (no more than 4 students). For questions, they first ask their buddies or groups before they ask you. When they send an email, require that they provide the name(s) of the co-learners that they have asked before emailing. No names = no answer.
- Establish a turn-around time for email, and keep in mind that 24 hours is probably too short.
- Establish use of the subject line. "Question" isn't a good subject line. "Assignment 1 - clarify step 4" is an excellent subject line.
- Be available in office hours when you anticipate that students are working on homework to answer questions.
Use a timer. Set amounts of time that you will spend on a task.
- Work in blocks. After you've been "on" for an hour, take a break. If you have TAs, alternate with them to take "shifts" answering emails.
- Try the Pomodoro method.
- Stand up and move away from your desk. Go get fresh air. Look at an object that is far away from your computer.
- Teach the syllabus. Do more than review it.
- Teach the structure of the course. Walk students through how to use the course.
- Every activity has a purpose. Every question has a reason.
- Every class meeting has a measurable outcome.
- Record review sessions. Direct students to watch the review sessions when they have questions.
- Unless necessary, avoid repeating. Encourage students to review material if they need to do so.
- Intend to rest. Plan pauses for yourself. Walk away from work.