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4. Going Live!

4.1 About this chapter

This chapter looks at good practice just before and during the running of an online course. Once the course is going live, there are plenty of things to do. Just to name a few; building communities, carrying out teaching activities, supervising group work, moderating discussions, recording videos, assessing assignments, etc.

4.2 Connecting with your team

After a break or a vacation it might be necessary to re-kindle with your development team. Or perhaps, you didn't get a teaching assistant until the last minute before semester start and need to advise him or her on the existing tasks. Read more on ways to collaborate with your teaching assistant here (teachIT workshop).

4.3 Opening your course in LearnIT

Students will automatically be enrolled in LearnIT based on their enrollment in tthe Course Base. They will login with their ITU or WAYF username and password here. Students who still have not received a login may write the Student Affairs and Programmes Department for further assistance.

Have all materials uploaded in LearnIT before beginning the semester: slides, assignments, ancillary materials, etc = Everything you intent for your students to learn week for week. Your students might be away for a period of time for different reasons and need to do November's work in September. Make the course as flexible for them as you can.

Be consistent in how you present things online. Use same icons, fonts, format, etc. Your students won't be able to sit in the classroom every week and ask you questions, so avoid misconceptions.

4.4 Building online communities

Successful online community building is connecting a group of students online and making them feel a part of something special. This 'something special’ aka the community spirit is usually the overlooked bit. Making students feel a part of a community and creating an environment for communication and interaction is ever so important when teaching online where you and the students never meet face-to-face.

Welcoming students

Communicate with students by using the course noticeboard in learnIT before the course launches. A short post from reminding everyone of when and how to start the course. Students often have a lot of questions about the online format as they may be as new to this as you are. A good idea could be to create a page in learnIT named "Overview of this course and FAQ" introducing to the course. Here most of the frequently asked questions will be along with course details and a course overview.

If you start the course off by a live (synchronous) online meeting invite the students to join this session and explain how to join. A link to the recording can be posted afterwards, but encourage students to participate the live session. One way of doing this could be to hold the meeting in Adobe Connect Pro, which can be used free of charge with an ITU account. Read more about how to use Adobe Connect here.

Also, ask the students to perform simple tasks in learnIT before the course starts like setting up their profile with a photo with a short personal introduction. Get the discussion forum going throughout the first week with small mandatory activities. The purpose is to make the students feel comfortable in an online setting as well as acquainted with each other. Be present and make sure to follow up frequently. As a teacher you HAVE to be involved online if you expect your students to be involved!

  • On the other hand, it's important to learn how to manage your time when it comes to teaching online. If it feels like the course is hanging over your head 24/7, because the course "never ends" it's just not fun anymore. A good advice could be to list a matching of expectations, i.e. what your students can expect from you and what you expect from your students.
Example of expectations:

What you can expect from me as a teacher
What I expect from you as a student
  • I will respond to all your e-mails within 24 hours.
  • I will give feedback on all your assignments within x hours.
  • Etc.
  • Active participation
  • You can expect that I will follow the discussions in the discussion board, but not necessarily comment on every posting.
  • Etc

  • Ensure that the students understand the need for self-direction. In a normal course, students show up for class every week, hand in homework, know you're going to ask certain questions, ergo they have to be prepared. But when they work online it's all up to them. They have to be self-directed. Fewer live classes does not mean less work done for either student or teacher.

Good practice: Discussion Forum

  • Create all needed forums before the semester begins: post starter questions to get people talking. A discussion board is a very good tool for getting talking back and forth. In hybrid classes, students are very dependent on learning from each other, building knowledge togehter, sharing their experiences, getting advice, ideas and coaching.
  • Interaction between online students does not happen unless your facilitate it.
  • Comment early and often - be moderator AND participant. Get in there early and start a good practice of writing things professionally: Clearly and in complete sentences (No chat or SMS language).
  • However, do not interfere TOO much in the discussions or respond to each student. You want the students to respond to each other and not ONLY to you. Step back a bit, but tell the students in the expectations section (see above) that you will be reading and give feedback every now and then. Not individual feedback, but feedback for the class. Keep individual feedback privately (otherwise students who didn't get individual feedback might think they did a poor job).
  • Create an "Ask me" forum, where they can ask questions, get advice from you, etc.
  • Require students to use full sentences in subject lines.
Here's an example why:
Re: Ideas?
Re:Re: Ideas?
Re:Re:Re: Ideas?
Who knows what the 10th thing is really about and why would you click on it an read it? How would you get any kind of debate going from something that is 16 Re's down the list? You can't. That's why students have to write in full sentences, both when they make a posting and when they answer to one. And that complete sentence should be a summary of their main argument, so that people know exactly what they would be looking for when they read your discussion posting.

This also goes for writing e-mails: complete sentences should be used in the subject line. This will give you a clear idea of what's in that e-mail. This is CRITICAL for communication! Many teachers and students get swamped with e-mails everyday. You want people to be able to persuade others in e-mail, coach others in e-mail, delegate work in e-mail, and you can't do that if the subject line is "Hi".

How to use discussions forums as a learning activity with specific intended learning outcomes

It is paramount that the teacher or teaching assistant orchestras the discussion. Without a precise frame, online discussions are not going to bring active participation and qualified discussions.
Here are some researched guidelines:
  • Divide students in groups of 4-8 with each their forum.
  • Outline the quantative & qualitative criteria (intended learning outcomes) for participation (like number of posts/responses & elaborating on others contributions/ bringing forward new perspectives/reference to course literature/cases/experience).
  • As a motivator and sign of quality assurance the teacher should show virtual presence in the discussions by commenting and asking reflective questions here and there, without taking on the role as presenter/judge.
  • Give precise information on when and where the discussions take place and when they terminate. In contrast to traditional classroom plenary discussions, asynchronous discussions allows all students to participate actively and the time between presentation of argument and response leaves time for reflection. See how to set up a discussion forum in LearnIT.

If you want to read more you can read this guideline from a workshop at ITU:

4.5 Online Group Work

If you have chosen to use group work as a learning activity here are a few tips:
  • Create clear instructions for the group work. Students require clear, specific directions, explanation of ‘why’ they are doing the assignment.
  • Remember to state specific outcomes and criteria for the group work. Highlight the purpose!
  • Monitor the groups. Since there is no face-to-face interaction, students may feel reduced accountability to the group, and when problems arise - such as complaints that not everyone is doing his/her part - mediation of conflicts can be more difficult.
  • Be available for concerns and questions. Arrange meetings via Skype or other and check in with each group.
  • Links to various resources connected to group work in general, click here.

Group protocol

If you want groups to collaborate over several weeks a protocol can be useful and decisive for the well functioning of online student groups. The attached template leaves it to each student group if they want to use/adjust some of these suggestions for their own group collaboration protocol on the online course they are following.

Creating Groups in LearnIT

Creating groups of students in LearnIT can be an effective way to control who can see what and when. It will also help you sort through groups in the various activities that you set up in learnIT. See how to create groups in learnIT.

Group assignments and upload in LearnIT

If the course contains assignments and in particular mandatory assignments students can hand in assignments both individually and in groups in LearnIT. See how to create and overview assignments as well as submit grades and/or feedback via the activity module. This module provides an easy overview of submitted assignments with names, timestamps and grades.

Read more about rules for mandatory activities in the course manager wiki.

Keeping track of student activity in LearnIT

A way of avoiding retention and keep is to follow up on your students' activity levels. This can be done regularly and especially during the first 3 weeks. There are several reasons why a student inactivity levels are low. One could be failure to log on to the course in LearnIT, having difficulties completing assignments, not present in online meetings, etc. Checking in with students by e-mail can be a great way to follow up and take hold of students in your class.

4.6 Teacher designed course evaluation and quality assurance

When the course is running for the first time as online it is necessary to carry out extra evaluations, partly to ensure that students are still active and not abandoning the course without anybody knowing it, partly, but just as important, to be able to adjust on the learning activities or technology before it is too late.

Early evaluation

There are two types of early evaluation you need to do:

Midway evaluation

The IT University’s own course evaluation will work as midterm evaluation. No doubt you will get comments regarding the online nature of the course. Especially since you don’t meet face-to-face with the students and the results are important we recommend teachers reminding the students to fill in the survey.

Final evaluation (only the first time you run the course as online)

The final student evaluation survey should take place in between the last week of teaching and the exam. This evaluation can be rather short but nonetheless important as it should focus on asking students for concrete suggestions of changes or things to keep for next time the course runs.