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How to help your students be better online learners

We know that students learn better in all types of courses when they are designed to promote active learning. Instead of thinking about your online course as a lecture course online, think of it as an active learning classroom online to help your students engage and be successful.

Here’s our list of important tips from the instructional design experts in UGA’s Office of Online Learning that will help your students become better online learners.

The Basic Foundations

The basic foundations of any course are student ownership of learning, student engagement, efficacy, and the connection between the student and the instructor. Understanding these components will allow for an easier start when designing an online course.

Setting Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations for the course, including discussions, projects, homework, and any other assignments allows for students to be engaged and have less anxiety when it comes to the course.

You can set clear expectations by providing rubrics which give the student a clear understanding of how the students are being assessed and allows them to be more confident in their work.

Another way you can set clear expectations is by showing examples and non-examples for assignments. Examples provide students with a guide to how the instructor wants the assignment to look and what content the assignment should hold.

Instructor Presence

The connection between you and your students is a basic foundation of any course but it is also a crucial step in designing an online course.

Professors who have never taken nor taught an online course may struggle with the connection they have with students. Many face-to-face instructors wonder how to transfer their big personality to an online format.

One way to transfer seamlessly is by creating a fun introduction video. Use this video to introduce yourself, provide wacky or creative facts about yourself, and include some key components of the course. The introduction of components of the course provides a sense of orientation for you students while also introducing course expectations. This video tends to reduce anxiety for the students and help them feel prepared to start the course.

How present you are can also lead to how successful your students feel in the course. If a student feels like they can not be successful in an online course they can disappear. Being present and helping students work through issues can prevent drop off and lead to better learning outcomes and ultimately student success in a course.

Opportunity For Choice And Reflection

A component of student success is allowing students to have options for choice and reflection in their learning. A way to structure your course to allow for choice is creating clear and concise modules that include steps for completion, time expectations on assignments and readings. This structure allows for students to choose when it would be best for them to complete the module.

Another opportunity for choice that you can provide is to design student interaction into your course. Decide how, what, and when you want students connecting. It could be through projects, discussions, group chats, etc. but no matter the medium or subject of the meeting, allow some room for student choice while they are connecting. This allows students to produce more authentic work and connections with their classmates.

Opportunity for reflection in an online course can be very beneficial to a student’s success. A reflection allows for students to connect their online course material to how it will benefit them in their future and how they can achieve their goals with the information from that course.

Feedback From Students And Instructor

Allowing constant feedback from students can help you better understand your students’ successes and struggles. It also allows you to adapt things in your course that are not working for the students since they are the most important component.

Providing feedback to your students can increase their likelihood for success in the course. For example, if an instructor takes a big project and breaks it down into smaller assignments with check-in points for instructor feedback, a student is more likely to be successful due to the ability to adapt their project rather than turning in a huge assignment that they completed entirely wrong.

Accessible Materials For Students With Disabilities

Students with disabilities deserve all of the same opportunities afforded to other students. Therefore, ensure that you have included closed captions on videos, accessibility for reading aids on assignments, and accessible PDFs, and any other instructional tools for students who may need them. Making all of your course materials accessible benefits all of your students. Making materials accessible when you initially create them is an excellent way to help all of your students be better online learners.

The UGA Libraries offers many distance resources for all UGA students, faculty, and staff. You can join UGA Librarians on Thursday, November 19, 2020 at 3:00pm for a webinar, UGA Library at a Distance: The Basics on how to access and use services at a distance, the library catalog & ebooks, research by subject, multi-search, optimizing Google Scholar, and EndNote/RefWorks. This may also be helpful for your research GAs! Register in advance.

Support Positive Mental Health

Students’ mental health plays a crucial role in student success. Maintaining positive mental health can be a particular challenge right now as students are also dealing with the individual stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you see a student struggling for reasons beyond their class load, here are some resources you can suggest.

One resource is CAPS: Let’s Talk which is a service provided through the University Health Center which allows online counseling consultations through Zoom for a multitude of things. CAPS services go beyond student conflicts and are free to UGA students through the students health fee.

Another resource is BeWellUGA, they provide not only counseling but also free workshops that are available to students. They also provide free wellness and prevention programs through the University Health Center for students.

If you need additional support or have questions about teaching online at UGA that you can’t find on this site, email us at