You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but it's hard to keep a teacher from learning. Now that I am not teaching high schoolers, I have more time for my own educational pursuits, and the internet is bringing the classroom to me. At least it was, until our Southern California rain cut off phone and internet service. Unfortunately, the days I had set aside to complete the first lesson for my online genealogy course were spent organizing papers and filing. That ugly task is nearly finished, DSL is restored, and the sun is peeking through the rainclouds.
This semester I am enrolled at Monterey Peninsula College's distance learning program for a course in intermediate genealogy . I completed the first course this Fall, an introduction to basic genealogy and research. Now, we are moving back farther in time to research a family who lived 1820-1900. This class promises to be as challenging and rewarding as the first, and I am already excited about the material we will be learning.
Although I used classroom web pages for my students, this is the first time that I have been the student myself. The experience has given me new insights into some of the challenges of distance learning, and I have come up with a Student Wish List for Online Learning. These goals would apply not only to a full online course, but also to any kind of instructional materials presented online.
A Student Wish List for Online Learning
- Easy Login/Signup Instructions -- Why is this information often buried in lines and lines of text? Make it clear and obvious. See Google (or most any successful website) for an example.
- Easy to Understand Structure -- Students are accustomed to understanding course assignments in a certain form in the same way that cooks are accustomed to finding a list of ingredients followed by directions in a recipe. Typically, a professor hands out a Syllabus or Reading List broken into weekly assignments. This didn't change much from my undergrad days in the 1970s to my grad school classes in 2000. Now, more assignments are on the web, but they are still listed in a weekly format. Occasionally, a professor will break these into a group or unit of study, but the best syllabi offer clear, concise language. A student should not have to search for the link to the online reading for Week 2. Build the link right into the assignment line.
- One-Stop Shopping -- Assignments listed and linked in one place. Less confusion.
- Interactive Learning -- Those who don't like distance learning cite its "impersonal" structure. They must never have been a part of an active course. As both teacher and student, I have used online discussion boards and list-servs to foster interaction. More learning came out of those sessions at times, then a weeks' worth of face-to-face classes. If students seem reluctant, require a set number of postings. They soon forget the requirement and join in the discussion.
- Faculty Office Hours -- Instructors, be available to your students, either by email, chat room, or phone. It doesn't need to be 24/7, but regular feedback is vital to success.
- Rewarding Success -- Learners miss hearing "good work" or "interesting comment" from classmates and teachers when the only interaction is submitting papers and seeing a grade on the screen. Many online students are taking courses for enrichment, they truly want to know if they are moving in the right direction. Be generous with your comments.
- Realistic Deadlines -- It is easy to get sidetracked when you are attending school online. After all, you can go to class in your pajamas at 5 a.m.! I do so appreciate deadlines that are set with sensitivity to major holidays and with reasonable time between assignments.
- Resources For Further Study -- I love links and resources for more information. I don't always have time to read everything, but I do save those resources and often go back to them for additional ideas.
- Professionalism -- Students appreciate a professional instructor who guides forums to minimize off-topic chat, gossip, or commentary. Set rules and enforce them. Most students will appreciate your efforts.
- Patience -- If I don't understand a topic, or how to access information, be patient with my efforts. I will keep trying with your encouragement.I am appreciating the great effort that goes into a well-designed online course. If you can add to the list, share your own wishes and thoughts in the comments.This article was written in springnote.