by Sunnie (Leslie Bowman)
Diary of an Online Graduate Course
One Week Before Class Begins
This is the time when the first email from the professor arrives. This is a general email sent to all class participants welcoming them and giving a brief introduction to the course. The date and procedure for access will be given so that students know how and when to log on to the course for the first time. The professor usually introduces him/herself and gives some brief personal and professional information. Some professors allow access to course information earlier than the first scheduled day of the semester and ask for comments, questions and suggestions. This is especially nice if one has concerns about online learning or the course content or requirements. It is always a good idea to get those questions answered before the course begins.
I have had professors who not only sent out emails, but also made personal phone calls to each student during the week prior to the official opening of the course. Phone calls can provide that personal touch that can be sometimes missing in online courses. If a professor is experienced and skilled in online teaching, a phone call is just icing on the cake, so to speak, because a sense of community will develop within the course with or without a personal phone call.
Emails and discussion forums are the primary means of communication among students and between students and the professor. Sometimes professors schedule online office hours via Instant Messenger and will also encourage synchronous chat meetings several times during the semester. These chat sessions are not required but they provide an excellent opportunity for groups to discuss projects and assignments.
First Week Of Class
The first week of class is devoted to social communication. Students (and the professor) post detailed introductions and respond to each other during the week. This is a "getting to know you" time and during this week the students often forge working relationships that develop into friendships during the latter weeks of the course. This is a first-week introductory activity from one of my graduate courses:
During the remainder of the course, units or modules are organized into content topics for each week (or in some cases two weeks each). Included in each unit will generally be a lecture and assigned readings followed by learning activities (assignments) and discussions. This is an online lecture from my Online Teaching and Learning graduate course:
In each unit, there will be learning activities as well as discussions. The discussions are usually similar in format to the Chatboards on Teachers.net. There are many different types of learning activities that can be effectively woven into online courses. These are examples of a few of the online learning activities I have used in graduate courses:
These lectures, learning assignments and discussions are generally included all together in each module. This is a full one-week unit in my K12 Webpage Design graduate course:
Students often want to know exactly how online learning activities and assignments are assessed. Assessment procedures are different with each online professor just as with classroom teachers. Many professors have found that rubrics are one of the best assessment methods for any course, online or traditional. I always provide assessment rubrics for my courses in order for students to know and understand the unit expectations and requirements. These are the assessment rubrics for the second module in the K12 Webpage Design course:
Final Week Of The Course
It is during this last week that students share final projects, discussions of the online learning process, and final evaluations of the professor and the course. Students learn from each other throughout the online course but the final week is the time for personal and class reflection and discussion of the total learning experience. By this time, many students have forged lasting friendships as well as professional working relationships. Often students will remain in contact with professors long after a course is over. This is a result of meaningful interpersonal communication in the online learning environment the extent of which cannot be found within the time restrictions of a traditional three-hour-a-week college course. Students in online learning courses not only learn more from each other with regards to course content, but they also benefit from ongoing professional contacts that are begun during class and continue long afterward.
For more info on Distance Learning, see my articles in back issues of the Teachers.Net Gazette [http://teachers.net/gazette/backissues] also linked through my website http://onlineteach.homestead.com. In addition, I maintain a database of regionally accredited online courses and programs, so please feel free to email me [firstname.lastname@example.org or Dlinstructor@yahoo.com] if you need more information about online courses.