In this module, our focus is on classroom management and communication strategies. We explore how to:
Throughout the module, examples and materials are provided by educators in the field.
You will be invited to share your expertise along the way.
At the end of this module, participants will be able to:
Asynchronous Discussions - Discussions where participants do not all have to be present at the same time.
Netiquette – A combination of the words net and etiquette that refers to appropriate and courteous online conduct.
Synchronous Discussions - Discussions that occur live and in real time.
Student success in an online or hybrid course begins with careful planning on the part of the instructor.
Part of the planning process should include how you will manage student expectations. This includes providing guidelines for students, as well as making pertinent information readily available.
In this section we explore the following:
In the following audio recording, Drs. Palloff and Pratt discuss the importance of setting clear guidelines right at the beginning of the semester.
Click the grey arrow to begin. (Recording time is 2:14. There is no video component.)
Discussion Question: Do you agree with the suggestions made by Drs. Palloff and Pratt with respect to setting guidelines?
Exactly what expectations and guidelines you will establish will vary on a number of issues. For example:
The George Washington University Medical Center offers some quick tips for getting started.
The best place to establish expectations begins with your course syllabus.
The syllabus provides a big picture of what students can expect to learn and what they are expected to do in order to succeed.
It should be available at the beginning of the course and remain accessible throughout the duration.
Here is a sample course syllabus outline.
Check out the resources below and samples in the sidebar.
Plan time at the beginning of the semester for students to review the syllabus, ask questions and clarify expectations. This may help resolve misunderstandings later on.
A permanent discussion forum dedicated to clarifying expectations can also be helpful.
A core component of your syllabus should include a list of assignments with specific details about each. Other considerations include:
Karen Miner, Director, Achieve the Dream at the Lone Star College System in The Woodlands, TX, has these tips for ensuring students read the course syllabus.
Along with a clear and concise syllabus, another strategy to consider is a Welcome Letter.
Christie Smith, an Adjunct Professor and Instructional Designer for Lone Star College Online, emails a Welcome Letter along with her syllabus to students prior to the beginning of the semester.
"I send a letter because students are given little direction on how to access the class and how to begin. They just register for the course and wait.
If it's their first online course, they may not know what to do or where to go. Then, they fall behind quickly.
I ask my department chair to put a comment in the schedule for them to e-mail me before the first day of class, so then I have their e-mail address and can forward this on to them. Since I began doing this, I have had not one student who is unable to log in."
As Drs. Palloff and Pratt suggested, a letter of introduction can help mitigate many bumpy starts to the school year.
K-12 teachers may also want to consider a Welcome Letter to students and parents.
Glenn Moses is a high school assistant principal and online teacher from Las Vegas who starts the school year with a letter sent electronically and in hard copy to parents.
Glenn's sample letter is available in the sidebar.
There are many strategies to consider that can help students effectively manage their way through your course.
For example, Dr. Larry Ragan, Director of Faculty Development at Penn State University World Campus suggests regularly using the announcements area of the course management system to communicate to students.
Within the announcements area, Larry always posts a photo. To alert students that a new announcement has been posted, he changes the image.
Depending on the number of announcements he makes, the photo will change up to three times per week.
Larry's students tell him his strategy is helpful – a quick glance to the announcements area with an updated photo is a quick visual clue to remind them there is something new they need to read.
In the following video, Dr. Burks Oakley, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Illinois discusses the benefits of organization to the flow of his online courses.
Organizing the flow of coursework is also essential if you are teaching a hybrid course.
Here are some tips for hybrid teachers from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee:
There are many strategies for setting guidelines and managing student expectations.
We have explored just a few and provide many more throughout the course of these modules.
Discussion Question: What are some of your most effective classroom management strategies for hybrid and online teaching?
In this section, we turn our attention to another important consideration: communication.
When teaching face-to-face, students and teachers are present in one physical space. Communication is synchronous.
Communication in the online learning environment, whether synchronous or asynchronous, is quite different.
Cues, such as tone, visual signals, and other contextual influences are lost.
In the online world, clarity of written communication is key.
Raul Reyes, History Professor at Lone Star College-Kingwood, Kingwood, TX, explains.
In the Flexibility and Time Management module, we discuss the importance of honing written communication to ensure instructions are clear, concise and not subject to misinterpretation.
This comes with time and practice.
If you are new to teaching online, recognize that you will likely spend a fair bit of time making updates to instructions and postings.
Time spent honing your communication is a wise investment.
Not only will you help avoid instances of misinterpretation, you will save hours of responding to the same questions over and over.
Effective communication on your part is just one side of the online experience. Student engagement is another.
In a traditional classroom setting, it's possible for students to attend lectures without ever actively engaging in a discussion.
In the online environment, however, student participation is a must.
Building community and making students feel comfortable is something you will want to do during the first week of your course.
Icebreakers can help.
There are many icebreakers to use in the online classroom.
Ideally an initial introduction helps foster a friendly and collaborative tone to your class, and sets the stage for further discussions.
Student introductions also provide a pedagogical advantage in that they allow you the opportunity to:
Discussion Question: What kinds of icebreakers do you like to use in your online class?
Building a learning community and keeping students engaged is something instructors need to foster and nourish.
With respect to instructor feedback, how much is too little and how much is too much?
Achieving a balance between being too quiet and too verbose is key.
Along with achieving a balance between how often you will respond to student posts or what types of discussions you will have, it is essential to clearly define your expectations regarding the frequency and quality of student participation.
Providing samples and a rubric on how you will evaluate participation will help. (See the sidebar for examples.)
Drs. Palloff and Pratt (2003) suggest the following types of questions to help promote discussion:
Discussion Question: What questioning techniques have you used in the past to help promote discussion in your online class?
Classroom management and communication in the online world would not be complete without a mention of Netiquette.
Having students familiar with standard rules of netiquette at the beginning of the course will go a long to mitigating difficulties and misunderstandings later on.
Following the guidelines of netiquette is much the same as following face-to-face classroom rules and guidelines.
Samples of netiquette from Palloff and Pratt (2007) include:
No matter how much you stress the importance of netiquette with your students, you may need to deal with the occasional inappropriate comment. Raul Reyes explains how he handles these situations.
In this module we have discussed issues related to classroom management and communication.
We have explored various methods of establishing classroom expectations at the beginning of a course, through the use of creating an effective syllabus and establishing clear guidelines.
We have discussed the importance of online written communication and various ways to engage students, along with issues related to netiquette.
For a summary of the topics, complete the DragNDrop below. The Final Assessment is available after the Reference section.
Brookfield, S. & Preskill, D. (1999). Discussions as a way of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin; p 3 – 7, March, 1987.
Gardner, J., Jewler, A., & Barefoot, B. (2007). Your college experience: Strategies for success (7th ed.). Boston: Thomson Wadsworth.
Kuh, G. (2003). What we're learning about student engagement from NSSE. Change, 35, 24 – 31.
Moore, G., Winograd, K. & Lange, D. (2001). You can teach online: Building a creative learning environment. New York: McGraw Hill Higher Education.
Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (2003). The virtual student: A profile and guide to working with online learners. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the cyberspace classroom. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Sadker, M., & Sadker, D. (2005). Teachers, schools, and society (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.
Western Cooperative for Educational Technology (2009). Features glossary. Retrieved June 28, 2009 from http://www.edutools.info/glossary.jsp?pj=4
Please complete the following before proceeding to the next module. Click on each question to begin.