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Monday, May 01, 2006

Online Course Orientation

I already blogged on this topic but would like to expand on my plan a little bit...

Maybe it's because my students come from a rural poor setting but many of them sign up for online courses without really knowing just what they are doing. Some don't even know how to check email! And we are talking about both traditional and non-traditional students. They see the benefits (flexibility, no need to drive, etc.) but don't realize that taking classes online requires certain skills as well as reliable technology.

Although I did not survey them yet, I think approximately 2/3 still use dial-up either because they don't know any better or DSL and/or cable is not available in their area. Very few have good (from my point of view) computers; while most have Windows 98 or 2000, some still use Windows 95 (I already forgot how it looks!). This is why requiring them to use an application that runs Active X was a huge headache this semester.

As I already mentioned, some don't even know how to check email. This is why we now have a mandatory online course orientation before each semester starts. We demonstrate the basics of BlackBoard and then highlight the requirements of each course. Although the idea is pretty good, there are two problems: (1) we cannot force students to attend this orientation without hurting our enrollment numbers and (2) one-hour orientation is an utter chaos, especially for instructors who teach more than one online course and students who take more than one online course.

This is why I would like to try something new before next semester starts. I drafted a nice letter to all students who already enrolled in my online courses (I teach three this summer -- two sections are closed and one section has two seats left, so I am pretty much covering all students). Hopefully, that will get their attention better than a hurried reminder by their advisor (if he/she remembered). Also, I am offering a Saturday noon orientation with some light refreshments (that usually gets their attention) and a chance to interact with future classmates and talk to me about course requirements and ask as many questions as they like. This orientation will be only for my own students so it won't be as crowded and hurried as usual. Also, I am hoping Saturday will be better for students working late during the week.

I will do a standard overview of BlackBoard, show them how to send/check email and email attachments, discuss time management tips, and talk about my course requirements. Then I will answer individual questions. Also, I will take pictures and post them on Bb so we can connect names and faces.

This is a totally different issue but I am so embarrassed to meet a smiling student in a grocery store, mall, etc. and have no clue who that person is even though I worked with him/her for one or more semesters. They usually know me because I do have a picture posted online.

Anyway, I guess what I am trying to do is not only provide the basic skills but also get a better picture of who is enrolled in my classes, what are their skills, what technology is available, etc. and at least try to meet those needs. By the way, I do use a survey that asks many of these questions.

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