In an on-campus course, it can be deadly boring to spend the first class meeting reading through the syllabus. However, there is important information in the syllabus that we want students to know and keep track of. In online courses, it can also be boring…and, therefore, students sometimes don’t go through all of the course materials as precisely as is need to be successful in the course. Here are a few things I have done, and am doing, in my online course this semester to help students with orientation.
Orientation videos: One of my biggest additions this fall was the inclusion of orientations videos for my online course. I created three 5-minute orientation videos, with each video walking students through a different aspect of the course shell, learning activities, and projects. Using Jing, I was able to create a screencast showing them all around the course shell. I interjected my sense of humor where possible, told a couple of stories, and provided explanations for my design decisions. These three videos not only oriented students to the course, but to me as well.
Course & syllabus scavenger hunt: Using the quiz feature in my learning management system (LMS), I created a course and syllabus scavenger hunt that students had to submit by the end of the first week. To complete the 12-question scavenger hunt, students had to read the syllabus, locate materials in the course shell, and watch the orientation videos. The results of the scavenger hunt reassured me that students were locating and tracking important course information, and alerted me to any misconceptions or confusions that individual students had about the materials. Example questions:
- In your own words, what are the learning objectives for this course? What is the reason for listing the ILT competencies with the learning objectives?
- Why is "creative" part of the course title?
- There are four projects for the course: Presentation Makeover Magic, Job Aid Makeover Spectacular, Presentation Prowess, and Design Lessons Learned. Which project are you most looking forward to working on? Why?
- Why are the weekly agendas for each week's learning activities hidden at the start of the semester?
Weekly announcements: At the start of each week (which in my online courses is Monday since I set up the weeks to go from Monday to Sunday in the course shell), I post a new announcement orienting students to the activities of the week. Even though this information exists elsewhere in the course, I like to provide a more personal announcement about the week. I start each announcement with a brief description of my weekend with a photo (usually of me and my family). Then I provide a reminder about how they should focus their time and energy. I end each announcement with a reminder about how to connect with me, and a wish for a great week.
Weekly agendas: For each week in the course, I have a weekly agenda checklist that students can print out to help them track what they should be working on during the week. Again, although this information exists in the course’s master calendar, it helps to have the week’s activities laid out in checklist format.
I don’t think it is very realistic to get to know people – especially in an online course – with one share-your-bio activity during the first week of class. Building relationships and community requires multiple opportunities to share and connect. So, every week or two, I reengage students in getting-to-know-you activities. Here are a few of the activities I am using in my online course this semester.
Superhero powers: For this activity, students responded to the following prompt:
What are your superhero powers? What is your superhero moniker? And, how do your superhero powers help you in life?Using VoiceThread, students share a photo and record their response (see below). Their creative responses are so fun…and the results are that we really learn about the assets that each person sees as her or his strengths. It is a very positive approach to a typical share-your-bio activity that also results in learning more about each person’s playful side and creative spirit.
Virtual paper bag: For this activity, I asked students to each pick five items that represent who they are and what is important to them. They pulled together visual representations of their five items for a virtual paper bag. They posted their five images to Flickr (or another tool of their choosing, as long as the rest of the class could easily access their collection in the end). Once everyone had posted their virtual paper bag collection of images, students reviewed each other’s collections, and engaged in discussion of why those items were selected and what the items "mean". The results were that students learned about each other’s passions, values, families, and the like; learned about differences and similarities; and learned each other’s stories. This activity helped students feel more connected then they did before. And they remember details about each other because of the items and stories...because of the emotion involved in the sharing.
“If you were a tree” Wordle: Similar to the virtual paper bag activity, for this activity I will ask students to create a Wordle word cloud using 20 words that represents who they are. This activity is scheduled for next week, and I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with!
Soundtrack of your life: As another way for students to get to know each other, I ask each student to share a playlist of six songs: two that represent their past, two that represent their present, and two that represent their planned/hoped for future. After students share their playlists, the group asks questions about the songs -- sort of a 20-questions activity -- to figure out why each student selected the songs she or he did. They students consider the group’s shared interests, differences, and so on (e.g., how many folks like jazz, or female songwriters, or sad songs). I use Songza for this activity, but there are many digital jukebox tools out there to choice from.
A 5-minute conversation: During the first few weeks of my online course, I invited students to participate in a 5-minute phone conversation with me. I did this so that the students and I might feel more connected and less distant from each other, and so we could hear each other laugh. About half of the students have taken me up on it so far, and my plan is to keep inviting students at different points throughout the course to make sure all who do want to talk have a chance to.