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Bowen (2012) states, “Teaching is about making connections, and the first thing we need to do is connect with our students. Relevance and credibility analogies are critical for good teaching; being unable to understand a fundamental premise of your students’ lives will make it harder for you to teach and to relate to them . . . If you do not have both LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, if you do not tweet or blog (or know that a tweet is like a Facebook status update), if you do not routinely use iTunes or YouTube, if you do not know how to share photos on Flickr, Snapfish, or Picasa, then you have an immediate credibility problem with your students” (p 30).
As an instructor of an online nursing course, I encounter many unique challenges, one of which is how to connect in a meaningful way with my students. Will engaging more actively in social networking circles and online technologies increase my relevance and credibility with students? If yes, which ones should I be engaging with and how best should these be used? And if no, what should I be doing to ensure better connectedness with my online students?
It turns out that for online students, knowing who you are as an instructor may not really matter. Researchers, Kelly and Sheridan (2010), interviewed 65 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in online courses in 2 large universities in the American Midwest and found that “(b)eing able to see or hear the instructor received surprisingly low ratings relative to some of the other indicators in the study. Being provided with a video of the instructor had the fourth lowest mean rating across the 64 close-ended items. Being provided with a website containing information about the instructor had the lowest mean rating across the items, suggesting that these methods of enabling students to get to know the instructor were of relatively little value to the students” (p 776).
In 2012, Orso and Doolittle asked students in their college to list 3 characteristics of an outstanding online teacher. From the 624 responses they received they found that only 18% found that the instructor’s personal information was important and less than 10 % found that other factors such as the instructor’s knowledge, technical competence and creativity were important.
Conversely, Orso and Doolittle (2012) found “communication/availability and feedback as the two primary characteristics that the students found important in their online courses. Students wanted frequent, timely communication and substantive feedback on their assignments” (para 4).
This is echoed by Kennedy (2015) who writes in her blog post that “(o)nline students, physically separated from the instructor and classmates, have a deep need for input, feedback, and attention from the instructor, as well as fellow students” (para 3). She goes on to suggest that “ . . . frequent, short bursts of feedback from the instructor are highly effective; this type of communication in the form of written text, and audio and video clips, is well-received by students” (para 3).
From my readings it is clear that in order to connect with students, I need to be able to be readily available to them, to be able to communicate effectively and to be able to provide frequent and timely feedback. In his book, Teaching Naked, How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning Bowen (2012) has some strategies that I can use to help guide me to meet these goals.
- “Establish in the syllabus how you will communicate” (p 32).
I have in my syllabus that students can reach me by my UNBC address and by my phone (call or text) but as I was doing this assignment I realized that I did not include how quickly students can expect a response from me! (I am happy to report that this information has now been included for the winter semester).
- “Limit the forms of communication” (p 32).
The primary mode of communication for the course takes place through Blackboard. UNBC requires that any additional written communication take place through the UNBC webmail.
- “Create a schedule for yourself” (p 32).
The course has weekly discussion forums, case studies and quizzes that are due every Sunday night. Students receive their assignments back with feedback Monday –Tuesday. Quizzes are marked as they are completed. Muddiest question survey questions are submitted every second module. (There are 10 modules). I answer these questions and post them to the ‘Clear as Mud” discussion forum post Wednesday – Saturday. Based on feedback from students, the schedule, while quite busy, is effective in keeping them on track with their learning.
- “Don’t mix the personal and the professional” (p 32).
As I learned from my readings, students do not want to know much (if anything) about me. I will therefore continue to only include information about course content in Blackboard and if students contact me directly, I need to stick to the issue concerning the student. I will not engage with students on Facebook as I feel there may be a risk of mixing too much private information without any extra advantages gained by using this social networking site.
- “It is fine and even useful to employ multiple methods of communication as long as you are clear and consistent” (p 32).
I have not used anything except for Blackboard, email, text and phone so far with my students as Blackboard offers me quite a few options including discussion forums, live virtual classrooms that can be recorded and archived for students that are unable to attend the session, email capabilities and announcements that send messages automatically to students’ UNBC email and a grade book with lots of room for feedback. When I use the virtual classroom, I post the time for the class on the announcements and then post the link to the recorded session on the ‘Course Updates’ discussion forum.
I have just signed up for Twitter which I will be using during this PIDP 3240 course. I am curious to see what advantages and disadvantages there are to using this form of communication.
From what I have learned it would seem that engaging more actively in social networking circles and online technologies will not increase my relevance and credibility with students as what actually matters to them is that I am accessible, that communication lines are open, the means of communication are identified and that timely feedback is provided. As students’ knowledge of me is not seen as an important part of their learning, it doesn’t matter what online technologies I am using personally, only that I am competent using the ones I require to meet their learning needs.
Bowen, J.A. (2012) Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass
Kennedy, A. (2015) Making Online Teaching More Effective: Advice from a Student Perspective ValueED Education + Your Life Colorado State University Online. Retrieved from: http://blog.online.colostate.edu/blog/online-teaching/making-online-teaching-more-effective-advice-from-a-student-perspective/
Orso, D. & Doolittle, J. (2012) Instructor Characteristics That Affect Online Student Success Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. Retrieved from: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/instructor-characteristics-that-affect-online-student-success/
Sheridan, K. & Kelly, M. (2010) The Indicators of Instructor Presence that are Important to Students in Online Courses MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 6, No. 4, December. Retrieved from: http://jolt.merlot.org/vol6no4/sheridan_1210.pdf