Successful Online Classes
As many of us transition our classes online, growing pains will abound. We wanted to provide a quick summary of the most common pitfalls you’re likely to run into so you know how to avoid them.
5 Online Teaching Mistakes to Avoid
Mistake #1: Weekly assignments
If you have weekly assignments, in other words just one touchpoint per week where students are expected to turn something in, you’re inviting time management challenges for your students. This can be especially true if students are new to taking online classes; they’re not used to planning out their weekly schedule around finishing assignments. Couple that with other work and class commitments and in all likelihood, they will wait until the last minute to get their work finished.
Solution: Multiple touch points each week.
When transitioning our own in-person curriculum online, we’ve found it helps set our students up for success by having at least 2 touchpoints per week. For example, we have assignments due on Tuesday and Thursday. Alternatively, you can set up your course so that assignments are due Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Whatever you decide, break up the assignments into smaller chunks to help avoid any time management problems your students may have. This will help keep them on track and reduce their tendency to cram.
Mistake #2: Not Using Groups
We often hear from professors who teach online that they don’t feel as connected to their students, or they worry their students don’t feel connected to them. Additionally, we’ve heard from students that they don’t feel connected to other students when taking an online class.
If you’re avoiding group work because you’re teaching online, you’re missing an effective tool for fostering a connection between your students.
Group work can seem daunting to set up, assess and grade online, but it doesn’t have to be. And since group work is a powerful tool to combat disconnection in an online classroom, it’s worth the effort. Here are a few of our proven methods for creating a successful group.
1) Reflection Groups
Reflection Groups are small groups of students (3-4), who meet up “face-to-face” online via Zoom, Skype, Facetime, etc. to reflect on individual experiences they’ve had during the class. This provides an explicit opportunity to reflect, and take notes about their reflections, with peers from the class, helps drive student thinking deeper. It also helps them connect with other people in their class and fosters a more profound connection since it provides space for them to share their reflections of their experience, rather than simply sharing right/wrong answers.
For example, in our classes students meet with their reflection groups to discuss:
- Their fears and curiosities about life after graduation
- The biggest failures they’ve encountered in their lives so far, and what they’ve learned from them
- Successes and struggles they’ve had with individual assignments
Creating groups isn’t difficult. All Learning Management Systems (e.g. Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, Brightspace, etc.) have functionality for creating student. While technology like Zoom, WhatsApp, Facetime, and Skype make it really easy for students to meetup. This makes it simple to leverage group work and increase your student’s feeling of connection.
What can feel a little more daunting about online groups is grading/assessment. Here’s how to tackle that:
2) Team Work + Individual (Video) Reflections
Have the students complete their exercises together, but have them turn in individual reflections.
In our classes, we encourage students to work together but require each student to submit their own video-based reflections on the work they’ve done. These videos (which we limit to 1 – 3 minutes), speed up the assessment process, cutting down on overall assessment time while ensuring each student is developing their own skills.
Mistake #3: Not Using Webcams
Webcams establish an instant face-to-face connection which is incredibly helpful in establishing a connection with your students. We recommend, whenever possible, using your own webcam, and to encourage your students to use webcams themselves.
When we ask for student submissions, we have them use a tool called Loom, which is an easy-to-use browser extension which allows students to simply record their screen and capture their webcam at the same time. We’ve used Loom thousands of students and have had great results.
Loom lets you see your students (establishing a connection) and gives you a real insight into what they’ve been working on. We’ve found this is an invaluable tool in discovering how well they understand the concepts being taught in class. It also leads to a deeper level of understanding of the material because students will need to be able to write about the subject as well as talk about it concisely. We do recommend setting time guidelines for the videos. For example, we have students make videos 2-3 minutes long. This reduces the amount of time needed to go through the videos.
Mistake #4: “Read and Regurgitate” Discussion Boards
Typically, discussion boards are used as a way to ensure students complete some reading by asking students to reflect on what they’ve read, and possibly comment on another student’s post. Most of the time, this leads to students simply summarizing what they read and writing similar comments on fellow students’ posts. Unfortunately, this doesn’t lead to a lot of in-depth discussion or reflection.
Discussion boards are optimal when people are presenting diverse viewpoints as opposed to all reflecting similar ideas.
We recommend using discussion boards for personal reflections. For example, instead of asking students to go through an experience and describe what the experience was, have them talk about their personal challenges that came up with the experience. Ask what they learned most as a result of the experience. How are they going to apply that skill going forward?
Making personal comments creates a connected feeling in the class as students read other people’s responses. They get to know each other better and you get a sense of if they’re really understanding what you want them to take away from the material.
Discussion boards can also be used for students to pitch business ideas. You can even have students form teams around pitch ideas. Any experience you can create where students are leveraging different ideas is a great place to use discussion boards.
Mistake #5: “Class-Based” Thinking
It’s hard enough to create an engaging classroom in-person. Going online can feel even more daunting because we don’t have the opportunity for real-time interaction with students.
That said, there’s a little-known benefit to teaching online that can be used to create extremely engaging experiences.
When teaching in-person classes, it’s normal to have your thinking centered on “classes.” Whether a 75-minute class, 90-minute class, etc., we know that we have X-amount of things we want to cover in that amount of time. However, an online class doesn’t have the same time constraints.
We have found that it’s helpful to shift from a “class” structure to focus on creating “ah-ha” experiences for our students. Start by thinking about the ah-ha moments you have in your in-person classes and write out all of the interactions you have with your students that lead up to that moment. Then start translating each of those interactions online. Once you start thinking on an “interaction” level, as opposed to a “class” level, it’s much easier to…
Structure your course around creating “ah-ha” experiences.
As we created the online version of our in-person curriculum, we’ve had to tease out the interactive moments between instructor and students and rethink the time frame of these interactions. For example, in an in-person class, the professor can provide a prompt and the students respond in real-time and the entire lesson may only take 30 minutes. Online, this same lesson may span two weeks as the professor provides a prompt, awaits student responses, provides counter-discussion or reflection, etc. While this takes longer calendar-wise, we have found it is possible to create just as engaging of an experience for online students as we have in-person, by focusing primarily on these interactions.
For example, in the first class of our curriculum, we have students write out on post-it notes their fears and curiosities after they graduate. We then have them share their fears and curiosities with someone sitting next to them. We then create post-it note clouds around common themes they share. Then our instructors take those common challenges and map them into their syllabus. Some common fears are:
- How am I going to find a job?
- Is my job going to pay enough?
- Am I going to like my job?
Professors then take these common problems or themes and point towards the places in the syllabus that will help address them. Students then realize, “Oh, even if I don’t want to be an entrepreneur, here’s what I’m going to get out of this class or entrepreneurial skills.” This whole process takes roughly 30 minutes in-person.
The online version, on the other hand, is more drawn out. First students fill out a survey that says “here are my fears and curiosities.” Then they utilize the aforementioned reflection groups where they’ll talk about their challenges. Then the instructor takes the survey results and makes a video response connecting the dots between their students’ challenges, and their syllabus. So, the interaction takes longer in terms of calendar time but creates the same “ah-ha” moment as students realize the value entrepreneurship skills can have on their lives, even if they don’t see themselves becoming entrepreneurs.
Transitioning to teaching online can be challenging, but it can also be extremely effective. If you want to make sure your students:
- Avoid cramming
- Feel connected to you and your other students
- Engage fully in your class
- Having multiple touch points per week
- Group assignments w/ individual reflections
- Everyone record videos with webcams
- Use discussion boards for personal reflections
- Replicate your interactions, not your classes, online
If you’d like more tips on running successful online classes, subscribe here to get the next one in your inbox.
If you have any suggestions to fix the mistakes above or want to recommend any mistakes we missed, please let us know!
In the meantime…
We Need Your Questions!
During this time of uncertainty, we want to hear what challenges you’re running into, and questions you have. We’re eager to experiment with ways to serve the teaching community, but like good innovators, we want to make sure we’re solving real problems.
In my role as USASBE President-elect, I’m hosting a USASBE Virtual Town Hall on March 25th, where we’ll discuss your challenges in detail. Answering the question above, or clicking the image below, will register you for the discussion, and make sure you get the recording afterward.
If you’re looking for a structured, comprehensive, and engaging experiential entrepreneurship curriculum you can run with your students in person, or online, check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.
Used at more than 80 colleges and universities, ExEC helps students feel connected with you, and one another, while they learn practical entrepreneurial skills regardless of their career path.