Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces: What Do You Do?

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Sandy Gambill, Sr. Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

It’s hard to open a newspaper this fall without coming across an article about trigger warnings or safe spaces on college campuses.

Perhaps the most well-known set of readings is from the University of Chicago, where the dean of students, students, and faculty have all weighed in. (See links below.)

This has led the staff of the Reinert Center to wonder how faculty at SLU feel about trigger warnings and what strategies they are using in the classroom. We invite SLU faculty to anonymously submit their thoughts on the form linked below. We will summarize the responses in a blog post later this semester.

To share your thoughts anonymously, go to: https://goo.gl/forms/4AsWCB3rLci2XLri2

University of Chicago links:

Dean’s letter [LINK]

Students’ letter [LINK]

Faculty Letter [LINK]

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Who Are You Excluding? Seeing the Diversity in Your Classroom

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

When developing this year’s theme of Inclusive Teaching, Reinert Center staff and advisory board members considered this question: Who are we excluding in our courses?

Even without being aware of it, our courses may create unnecessary obstacles to learning for some or many of our students.

For instance, my classroom might be a space where extroverts are implicitly rewarded for jumping into class discussions quickly, verbally.  Or my exams may be designed in ways that implicitly reward students whose language proficiency allows them to read English as quickly as I do.

The content in my course might artificially distort students’ views of who is allowed or encouraged to be scholars in my field. Or I may ask (at the start of a term, as a way to build connections with students) where students’ families used to go on summer vacations, not realizing that I am potentially alienating students in certain socio-economic classes who may not have had the means to go on summer vacations.

By not explaining that I assign student groups randomly, I may inadvertently lead minority students in my class to wonder if they’ve been placed in a group as a “representative” of their racial or gender or nationality group. Or when using my perceptions of a student’s physical appearance to determine which pronoun to use in referring to her or him, I may unwittingly reinforce a binary view of gender identity and create an exclusion for a student who experiences gender in a non-binary way.

These are just some of the ways our choices in course design and instruction may – without our intending to – reward certain kinds of learners or identities and perhaps disadvantage others. We all do this; in many ways, it’s unavoidable. Intuitively, we often design courses that would work very well for the kinds of students we ourselves were but not necessarily for diverse group of students who enroll in our courses. Therefore, it can be useful to examine our course design and instruction choices through the lens of different kinds of difference, in order to identify – and mitigate – possible sites of difficulty.

Particularly on campuses with a majority-white (or majority-female or majority-Christian) student body, it can be difficult to see the different kinds of difference within our classrooms.  Here are just some of the kinds of diversity we encounter, whether differences are immediately apparent to us or not:

wordle

The list goes on. And no student, no instructor, is just one of these things. Identity is inherently intersectional.

In the end, we cannot know all the different kinds of difference that are represented within a single group of students in a single classroom. But we can become aware of our own personal biases, assumptions, and expectations, as well as the ways in which these may create barriers for students.  And we can engage students in a range of activities and discussions that help us to better understand who they are and what they need to be successful in achieving the rigorous learning we want for all students.

To see some common strategies for uncovering the diversity within a classroom see this Resource Guide on Seeing the Diversity in Your Classroom [LINK].

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Faculty Book Group: Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi

41LWsXm9NpL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

October 21, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.

Des Peres 214

The Reinert Center will host a conversation for faculty (full- and part-time) on the effects of stereotypes and how stereotype threat enters into our classrooms as we discuss the book, Whistling Vivaldi, by social psychologist Claude Steele.

We will be giving away a copy of the book to the first ten people to register and commit to participating in this discussion on October 21, 2016.

Click here to register to attend. [LINK]

 

Image courtesy of Amazon.com

Intersectionality in Action

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Intersectionality, a term coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), “provides a critical lens to interrogate racial, ethnic, class, physical ability, age, sexuality, and gender disparities and to contest existing ways of looking at these structures of inequality” (Dill & Zambrana, 2009, p.1). A recent edited volume by Elon University Professors Brooke Barnett and Peter Felten invites readers to develop the knowledge and capacities necessary to create inclusive campus communities and learning environments mindful of these complex intersections. Of particular interest are the chapters focused on learning intersectionality, which offer different practical accounts of teaching about and for inclusion. Below is a brief excerpt from the editors’ introduction that states the goals of the volume and general organization of its chapters.

From, “Intersectionality in Action: A Guide for Faculty and Campus Leaders for Creating Inclusive Classrooms and Institutions”:

“This book explores the practices and perspectives necessary for rethinking higher education to focus on the intersections of identity. Building on the emerging literature on intersectionality and on the rich scholarship about diversity and inclusion and rooted in the context of a range of different campuses, this book includes chapters by an array of experts from different institutions and roles. Each chapter offers action-oriented analysis focusing on particular campus intersections, rather than attending to specific demographic groups. Chapter authors also build on their own local expertise of doing this work on campuses that often do not have deep pockets or rich histories of such efforts.

The book is organized into three parts:

  1. People focuses on the broad concept of diversity, considering how we recruit and engage the students, faculty, and staff in the campus community and how we work with governing boards and others to promote inclusive excellence.
  2. Environment focuses on inclusion, including residence life, the local community, the working and learning environment, and external factors, such as national and international news events or town-gown relationship.
  3. Learning focuses on perspective taking and learning about difference in the core curriculum, the disciplines, and the co-curriculum, as well as professional development for faculty and staff.

The practices and scholarship in these chapters capture some of the power of using intersectionality to think about and organize diversity and inclusion work on campus. Moving from theory to practice is rarely easy, but it is fundamental to the mission and purpose of higher education” (pp. xv-xviii).

Please stop by the Reinert Center to look at our copy of this volume. Also, contact us at cttl@slu.edu if you would like to schedule a teaching consultation to discuss intersectionality.

References

Barnett, B., & Felten, P. (2016). Intersectionality in action: A guide for faculty and campus leaders for creating inclusive classrooms and institutions. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago legal forum, feminism in the law: Theory, practice and criticism, vol. 1989 (139-167). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Legal Forum.

Dill, B. T., & Zambrana, R. E. (2009). Emerging intersections: Race, class, and gender in theory, policy, and practice. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

 

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Ignatian Pedagogy as Critical Pedagogy

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education and social movement that combines education with critical theory. First described by Paulo Freire, it has since been developed by others as an approach to inclusive teaching practices. Critical pedagogue Ira Shor defines critical pedagogy as:

“Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse.” (129)

With this definition in mind, I would like to highlight a brief exploration into the ways in which Jesuit education through Ignatian pedagogy can be seen as critical pedagogy, in the same ways that feminist, queer, postcolonial, and anti-racist theories have, too, given birth to their own strands of critical pedagogy. The excerpt below traces Ignatian pedagogical principles as parallel with and influential to, Freirean pedagogy (the “godfather,” so to speak, of critical pedagogies).

From, “Paulo Friere and the Jesuit Tradition: Jesuit Rhetoric and Freirean Pedagogy”:

Much like the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm, the problem-posing method and all of Freirean pedagogy moves through a learning cycle that sets as an ideal the process of moving through that cycle: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation. These terms are used with specific intention by Ignatian pedagogues, as each term encompasses many layers of meaning. […] Working not only as a means for judgment of the type, quantity, and quality of student learning by the teacher, evaluation also, perhaps more importantly, is a time for self-assessment by both student and teacher about the learning of the class in order to reenter the cycle at a deeper level of awareness. All of these specific terms, with their multifaceted meanings, must work in concert with each other within the complex web of the paradigm. When analyzed carefully, it can be seen that the learning cycle Freire sets up in his theories includes similar complex elements, beginning with a sharp and intentional awareness of context and moving to the core of his theories, praxis (action + reflection), and ending with a transformational experience that interpolates us to continue the cycle, going ever deeper into knowledge and naming (word) of the world.

We can continue noting the additional parallels in these two pedagogical approaches by reaching deeper into the rhetorical tradition of eloquentia perfecta and comparing it with Freire’s pedagogy of the wordEloquentia perfecta goes beyond just perfect eloquence in words. It calls us to use speech or communication that focuses on truth, accuracy, and comprehensiveness as a path into the world, especially used in order to stand for the silenced, excluded, or impoverished. We cannot forget Ignatius’s and the Jesuits’ preferential option for the poor. At the same time, as mentioned above, Freire’s concept of the word is action + reflection, or praxis. He states that to speak a true word is to transform the world (88). The idea that speaking (not to be confused with chatter) is the right of all, and that speaking evokes dialogue that has the capacity to change the world, which is to be transformed and humanized, especially for and from those whom have been silenced, excluded, or impoverished, parallels what the Jesuit rhetorical tradition has been advocating for centuries.

Thus, the Jesuit rhetorical tradition of eloquentia perfecta is “education as the practice of freedom.” It works together with cura personalis “as [opposition] to education as an act of domination—denies that a person is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people” (Freire, 81). Cura personalis, the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm, and eloquentia perfecta now carry the Jesuit rhetorical tradition, and with them the Ignatian educator, toward collaboration, in this case as teachers and students, in order to address the world through real education and real understanding of all of the world, including and especially those parts beyond the ivory tower. As educators who see the parallel approaches of the Ignatian and Freirean models, we are called to be and to teach our students to be what Superior General Hans Peter Kolvenbach has called “whole persons in solidarity for the real world,” beginning with how and what we teach in our classrooms and programs. With Kolvenbach’s statement, we must acknowledge that what we see as parallel pedagogical theories are actually intertwined theories in our contemporary educational reality. (244-45)

Through this lens, we can see the ways in which Ignatian pedagogy acts as another example of critical pedagogy, which places the multilayered tenants: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation, as well as the ideals of eloquentia perfecta and cura personalis, at the center of inclusive teaching practices meant to challenge students’ understanding of how and why they create the knowledge and skills they are called upon to do through their educational journeys.

Works Cited:

Pace, Thomas and Gina M. Merys. “Paulo Friere and the Jesuit Tradition: Jesuit Rhetoric and
Freirean Pedagogy.” Traditions of Eloquence. New York: Fordham, 2016. 244-45.

Shor, Ira. Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1992. 129.

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Two Questions for Starting the New Academic Year

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Last week, new faculty and students officially joined our community, and just like that, the campus is back to life. Personally, I love the start of a new term, a new academic year; possibility is a powerful thing, and fresh starts can be motivating.

If you’re new to teaching, or new to SLU, I invite you to learn more about what the Reinert Center does [LINK to Programs and Services] and how you can get involved [LINK to Events]. We’re eager to help you discover the right teaching choices for you.

If you’ve been teaching for a while (or longer than a while) and want to explore ways to reinvigorate your teaching, you might be interested talking with someone about new pedagogies [LINK to Consultations] or in applying for an Innovative Teaching Fellowship [LINK] to teach in our Learning Studio [LINK] next year. (The next Call for Applications will be issued in early September.)

If you’re interested in designing and teaching courses in inclusive ways, you may be interested in our theme for this year – Inclusive Teaching. Earlier this month, I shared a few initial thoughts about our approach to the theme [LINK]. All year, we’ll offer programming and publish web-based resources that focus on practical strategies for creating inclusive and equitable learning environments.

No matter what your level of teaching experience, I invite you to reflect on two key questions as you begin the new term:

What matters most to you this semester?

You can’t do everything this semester. What are the highest-value goals you have for your teaching? Your interactions with students? What actions will help you to keep those at the forefront of your work with students?

When will you reflect?

Seriously … when? Often, we intend to reflect critically on our teaching, but the time pressures of class prep and grading and meetings and scholarly work can push those good intentions to winter break. Take a moment now to schedule half-hour check-ins with yourself every few weeks. Consider what’s working for you and what’s not; identify small, concrete steps you can take to enhance your experience as a teacher this semester.

Write down your responses to both of these questions. Keep them in view as the term unfolds. Doing so will help you stay in touch with the good intentions you have here at the beginning, when possibilities still feel endless and realities aren’t yet preventing you from achieving them all.

Best wishes for reflective new term. We look forward to seeing you at a Reinert Center event soon.

A Review of Recent Articles from The Teaching Professor

The-Teaching-Professor-Newsletter-Cover-Imageby Sandy Gambill, Senior Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The Reinert Center maintains an institutional subscription to The Teaching Professor newsletter so it is available for free to anyone with a slu.edu email address. Here is an overview of articles you may have missed this summer that might be useful as you plan for classes to begin next week.

Teaching a Course Students Don’t Want To Take
http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/the-teaching-professor/127/Teaching-a-Course-Students-Dont-Want-to-Take-14123-1.html

This is a collection of easy-to-implement strategies and tips to motivate students in courses they might be hesitant to take such as large survey courses that a student may not see as relevant or courses with a reputation for having difficult-to-master content.

Grading Advice for Those Who Grade A Lot
http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/the-teaching-professor/126/Grading-Advice-For-Those-Who-Grade-a-Lot-14036-1.html
If you teach a course where your students produce work you need to grade on a regular basis, this list of recommendations for handling the workload could be useful.

Does Participation Promote Engagement?
http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/the-teaching-professor/124/Does-Participation-Promote-Engagement-13963-1.html
This article presents the findings of two recent studies investigating the relationship between class participation and student engagement. It might be of interest if you are considering how or if to offer credit for oral participation.

Why Won’t They Ask Us For Help?
http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/the-teaching-professor/124/Why-Wont-They-Ask-Us-for-Help-13962-1.html
This article presents the results of a study investigating why students don’t come to office hours or delay asking for help until it is too late. It’s of particular interest at the beginning of the semester if you are looking for strategies to increase student attendance at office hours.

You can create your free account to The Teaching Professor by following these steps.
Go to  www.magnapubs.com/newsletters

  1. Click ‘Create an Account’

  2. Complete all fields under “Required Information” and then click the blue “Create Account” button

  3. You will receive an e-mail at the e-mail address you entered while creating your account

  4. Open the email used to register your account and find the new e-mail sent to you from Magna

  5. Click the link in that e-mail to complete your registration

  6. Enter your email or username and password (case sensitive) and select ‘Login’

  7. Select the “Group Subscriptions” tab at the top of the page

  8. In the red box, enter the Authorization Code: SLU7M2P4  (case sensitive)

  9. Select Activate to access the subscription

Acknowledging Difference on the First Day

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

One of my early teaching mentors encouraged me to prioritize difference during the first class of the semester. “But, how?” I asked, with a heavy feeling of accountability. She told me I needed to reflect on my goals for the course and their relationship to matters of difference to answer that question. Instead of giving me specific strategies, she offered two guiding purposes for initiating a conversation about difference with my students. First, she said it was an opportunity for me to share with students my perspectives on difference. Second, and more importantly, she said it was an opportunity for my students to share with me their perspectives on difference. “Be prepared to listen as a way of acknowledging their voices,” she said. “Listen to their concerns, ideas, and questions. Write things down to process and return to later. Show them you care.”

Show them you care.

I always come back to that last point when designing activities and discussions for the first day of class. For me, how I show students I care about difference depends on the context of the course, the current discourses (e.g., cultural, political, social) shaping matters of difference for all of us, as well as my own critical commitments as a scholar and teacher. I show students I care about difference by being transparent with them about my thinking in each of these areas. It is important for me to find ways to create a classroom environment where difference can be acknowledged among everyone in the class. You may be wondering just as I did, “But, how?”

Deanna Dannels (2015) at North Carolina State University suggests three first-day action items to help set up this type of classroom climate:

  1. Use an icebreaker to highlight multicultural voices in the classroom, including your own.
  2. Discuss explicitly your view on discrimination (and put it in the syllabus).
  3. Model intellectual and multicultural curiosity and tolerance.

These are three effective strategies to acknowledge difference on the first day. They are applicable across a variety of disciplines and fields of study, and each can be designed to support specific goals you have for your course – even if the goals do not explicitly address difference. I agree with Dannels (2015), “Acknowledging difference is not a one-time ‘checklist’ item as a teacher. It can and should be an important part of every class you teach” (p. 154). However, it is up to you do decide how you will acknowledge difference with your students. Consider making it a “front burner” topic as you prepare for the first day of class this fall.

Show them you care.

Dannels, D. P. (2015). Eight essential questions teachers ask: A guidebook for communicating with students. New York: Oxford University Press.

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Inclusive Teaching: Reflections on the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 Theme

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Each year, the Reinert Center chooses a theme of broad interest to SLU educators, around which we focus programs and resources. This year, our theme is Inclusive Teaching. In what follows, I offer a few thoughts to orient you to the theme and provide a brief overview of how we’ll approach the topic.

So, what is inclusive teaching?

When we hear a term like “inclusive teaching,” we often think of other terms. For example, during a reflection on this topic last spring, members of the Reinert Center’s Advisory Board said the term brought to mind diversity, diversity education, cultural awareness, flexibility in teaching and learning, the challenging of assumptions, student agency and choice in assessments, equal access to education, social justice, universal design, interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and meeting the needs of all students, among other terms. As these terms make clear, the term inclusive teaching is itself broadly inclusive of a variety of areas of focus and of concrete teaching and learning methods.

For the purposes of our work over the coming academic year, we define inclusive teaching as:

The intentional use of course design and teaching methods to create equitable learning environments where all learners can be successful, regardless of differences in identity, background, and ability. This includes an explicit commitment to recognizing and reducing barriers and minimizing the potential for (accidental or intentional) exclusion.

We see inclusive teaching as a continuous commitment to be enacted, in small and large actions, across all aspects of “teaching,” relevant for everything from syllabus design to assessment methods, from instructional strategies to classroom layout. All the decisions we make about courses and how to teach them are implicated. At a Jesuit university, in particular, a commitment to inclusive teaching is one we should all strive to enact, every term, in every course. But like any other aspect of instructional development, the process of becoming an inclusive teacher is a developmental one: we’re all works in progress, continually learning, continually enhancing our practice. Hopefully, the Reinert Center’s focus this year will help to move all of us from our current practices (however inclusive they may be) to even more inclusive approaches.

What will the year look like?

In order to highlight particular aspects of inclusive teaching, we will examine different subtopics each month, beginning with questions about whom we may be including and excluding in our courses. Then we will move through concepts like implicit bias, stereotype threat, and micro-aggressions, culminating in considerations of privilege and power in the classroom, and what it might look like to share agency and decision-making with students. (Click here [LINK] to see the main subtopics for the year.)

All year, we will strive to highlight concrete, evidence-based strategies for reducing exclusion and enhancing inclusion.  So many of us have bought in to the idea that inclusive teaching is an important goal, but we often struggle to identify the practical steps toward creating inclusion in rich and meaningful ways. The good news? Research has shown time and again that the instructional strategies supporting inclusion are the same as those that are just plain good for learning. We don’t need to simplify or “water down” the goals of our courses to create equitable access to achievement and success. Indeed, inclusive practice can contribute to student success in academically rigorous courses.

We also will aim to expand instructors’ awareness of the many categories of “difference” we encounter in our courses (both online and on-ground); to deepen understanding of the potential impact of these differences on student engagement and learning; and to raise or deepen instructors’ awareness of the ways in which our courses may exclude different kinds of students, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

How will we do all of this? Primarily through focused workshops, panels, and other events [LINK] and through new web-based resources on our website [LINK] (short Resource Guides and annotated bibliographies; sample course materials; and targeted posts on this blog), some of which will be linked directly to events. Additionally, Reinert Center staff will be available to consult one-on-one [LINK] with instructors about how to apply principles of inclusive teaching in their own particular contexts.  Because we believe deeply that teaching is a situated act, not all strategies will be right for all instructors. It will be important to discern which are appropriate for your course, your students, your teaching styles.

Why this theme, why now?

There are many compelling reasons to focus our efforts on inclusive teaching at this time, including:

Dr. Pestello’s recent call for departments to identify concrete ways to make SLU more welcoming and inclusive for all,

An institutional commitment to an increasingly-diverse student body (which will likely mean more international students, more students from traditionally under-represented groups, more first generation college students, more non-traditional students, veteran students, students with disabilities, students from diverse economic and class backgrounds, and so on), and

A clear emphasis in the University’s strategic plan on diversity, inclusion, and student success, and a reinvigorated, campus-wide commitment to racial equity on campus and across our region.

Perhaps most pressing are the growing requests from faculty and others on our campus who feel both deeply committed to creating inclusive learning environments and at a loss about how to enact this commitment practically and effectively.

Closing Thoughts

On majority-white, majority-American campuses like SLU, it can be easy not to see “difference” in our classrooms. It is important to complicate our collective understanding of who the learners are in our courses and what the implications of these differences may be for student learning and engagement.

Of course, a theme like this one has the potential to highlight tensions, within our classrooms and within our teaching practice. One inherent tension is that of how to raise awareness of difference and promote inclusion (with a focus on what’s good for all students) without seeming to erase or minimize difference. It is important to state from the outset that, like culturally responsive teaching (about which you can read more here [LINK]), inclusive teaching is not “colorblind” or “gender blind” or “class blind.” On the contrary, inclusive teaching sees differences (as well as our own perceptions about differences) and seeks actively to ensure that differences do not become barriers to learning, implicitly or explicitly.

A theme like this one can involve a tricky balance – and it’s one we’ll grapple with together as we go through the year.  Please join us. This work is worth doing, and it takes all of us to move from inclusive classrooms to a truly inclusive campus.

Teaching Online: A 24 X 7 Job

15419366855_1b6f7b81f1_mby Sandy Gambill, Senior Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

When working with professors to develop online courses, the questions I get asked most often have to do with student contact.

      • How will I communicate with my students?
      • How will I keep this from becoming a 24 x 7 job?

These are certainly valid concerns, especially when research shows that teaching presence is a key factor in student satisfaction in online courses. Here are 5 tips to help you help you strike a balance between students feeling like you’re not available, and you feeling like you’re teaching seven days a week.

  1. Communicate in advance. Often we wonder how students will even know the course they signed up for will be conducted through technology such as Blackboard, much less when the course will be available. To help alleviate this confusion and get everyone on the same page, consider emailing the entire class a week or two in advance of the course beginning. You can do this through Banner or Blackboard itself without your course being open in Blackboard. Introduce yourself, remind students that they signed up for an online course, give them your contact information and the contact information for technical issues. This is also a great time to attach a syllabus if you have it ready. You can also list any books or materials needed, and tell them when you will have the course open in Blackboard.

  2. Consistency in course layout. My goal for online courses is always to make the technology somewhat invisible so students spend time working with course concepts and activities, rather than hunting for the information they need. It probably matters less how your course will be organized (for example, a content area for each week or unit accessible from the navigation bar or files organized in folders on the homepage) than that you choose a method, explain it to students and then use it consistently throughout the course. Consider creating a short narrated video, using a tool such as Tegrity, to walk students through the course organization during the first week of class.

  3. Take advantage of the technology to move communication from one-on-one to group. The Announcements tool in Blackboard is a good mechanism to assist with this. If one or two students email you asking the same question, chances are you’ll soon be hearing from others. The Announcement tool will let you post your answer in the Blackboard site as a permanent record, while at the same time allowing you to automatically email the announcement to every student in the class. If you are going to be unavailable for a short period of time, make an announcement so students will understand they can’t reach you.

  1. Create a schedule for each week. One of the great things about online courses is that the boundaries of time and space dissolve. This is also one of the drawbacks in that it can be difficult for students to manage their time. If you want students to work consistently in the course, interact with each other instead of using you as the sole authority, and avoid last minute deadline scrambles, consider creating a timeframe for the course that mimics a face-to-face course. For example, a new week will always begin on Friday at 6:00 p.m., with homework or assignments from the previous week being due at that time. A mid-week deadline, worth a point or two, is also a way to keep students working at roughly the same pace and interacting with one another in the course rather than waiting until the last minute. If the week begins on Friday at 6:00 p.m., what would you like students to have completed by Monday at 6:00 p.m.? Read material they might take a quiz over? Make an initial blog or discussion post?

    If you do not want to be available on Sunday or another day of the week, build that into your course schedule. Midnight or 11:59 p.m. has become a popular deadline for online courses. Consider if you want to have something due at a time you are not likely to be awake. How will students get help if they have issues?

  2. Offer virtual office hours and review sessions.  Setting up some synchronous sessions in an asynchronous course through a tool like Fuse is a good way to conduct review sessions or hold private or group meetings with students. Consider holding mandatory group or individual meetings (depending on the size of your class) during the first couple of weeks so students have an opportunity to meet you in person (virtually) and ask questions. For review sessions, ask students who can’t be online in real time to submit questions in advance to make sure everyone has their concerns addressed. You could then record the review sessions for students who are unable to attend.

If you would like to discuss how you might implement these tips or if you need other assistance in planning your online course, please contact the Reinert Center to set up an individual consultation.

Resources

Richardson, J., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in

relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction.JALN, 7(1), 68-88 (LINK)