Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Distance Learning Courses: Dedication Required

By Joyce Hodgkinson

Why is it that some students do so well with online learning and some struggle mightily?

Certainly, it is obvious that online learning calls for a degree of self-motivation.

You no longer get to shuffle into class, latte in hand, at 8 am, not having done the assigned reading, but still, you are in attendance. With online learning, simply switching on your computer is not good enough. Now you need to engage with the assignments. The latte is optional.

Seeking a way to increase the awareness of the self-motivational aspect of online learning, I now ask my college freshmen to write an essay on the first day of class called, “My Commitment to My Online Course.” My students are instructed to include the fundamental actions of successful online students in their essay: log on daily, read email daily, do all assignments in sequence, always use professional writing standards.

Invariably, following this first assignment, I find that a few students forget to log onto their email or begin working on assignments out of order. At this point, when reminded of their “Commitment Essay,” most students see the error of their ways and begin working diligently, but there are always one or two who continue with their maverick ways.

Another issue is a willingness to receive all information via text. That is the nature of online learning. In a classroom situation, there may be information written on the board, delivered orally, discussed amongst the students, or on a PowerPoint. Certainly, visual and aural learning is taking place.

With distance learning courses, it would not make sense to write something again and again. Online instructors are hoping students will read confusing passages or instructions over and over. This does not always occur. Recently, one of my online classes had to submit an essay to a tutor prior to submitting to me. The instructions were clearly written on the site and an email was sent reminding students to do so.

Today, I checked to see who had turned in the essays and the two early submissions did not have tutor review. I returned the papers, asking the students to please return to the instructions and read them.

The last issue, and probably the most formative, is the willingness to employ the concept of “work-around.” Those well versed in the field of technology are very adept at this. If something doesn’t work one way, they try another. When I watch those who do this very well, it is almost like watching a supreme problem solver. They know there is an answer and they do not give up until they solve the problem, make the link work, get the site to accept the essay, or simply get logged on. Those who have challenges in this arena hit a roadblock, turn off the computer and send their instructor an email complaining that the site is not working—again!

I do have a confession. I have been a classroom teacher for more than 30 years and, although I was able to use a computer for basic functions, I did not fully embrace new innovations in technology—until recently.

My introduction to teaching internet courses began by learning how to design an online class. This was extremely uncomfortable as it introduced a very steep learning curve to my normally predictable environment. But I did what I’m asking my reluctant online students to do—I moved out of my comfort zone and found that online learning can be an extremely exciting learning tool.

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