Criteria 1. Choose a tool that allows your distance students to study anytime, anywhere. Tools that meet this criterion allow the student to be flexible and to adapt the schoolwork around their other commitments such as family and work, etc.So with these two criteria in mind, here are my Top 5 Favourite Tools and some bonus ‘starting links’ if you want to know more about the subject:
Criteria 2. Choose a tool that encourages social connectedness in the online classroom. I mean student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in this case. The perceived feeling of social connectedness promotes student retention. Colleges and Universities are always concerned about student retention.
Tried, tested and true. Text-based discussions definitely fit this criteria and are really a staple for online courses. Sure, there are poor ways to design a discussion forum activity; however, on the whole I feel that most educators do a good job implementing this tool.
Here’s where educators can drastically increase the feelings of social connectedness in students. Anytime there is a joint deliverable, that a small group of students need to create, it necessitates that they get to know each other a little and that they interact in a relatively intense way. If you are new to online group work, you may want to do some research into best practices of this assessment tool before implementing it into your course. Online students often need special supports to help them with this challenge, such as learning contracts, collaborative workspaces, adequate time to complete the assignments, etc.
The third tool on my list is here to reinforce to me (and to you) that student-to-instructor social connectedness is an important factor. There are a few small things you can do as an educator to increase the strength of this factor. One that jumps to mind is to leverage a tiny bit of video to communicate with your students. Take out that fancy cell-phone and do a two minute introductory video to your online class. Be careful, don’t make it too dry. Don’t talk about all your degrees or your research interests but instead talk about the student and how exciting this course is going to be. You can talk about some course-specific logistics too. The goal here is to motivate the student to get off on the right foot, while helping to emotionally connect to you; an email can’t do this as effectively as video in my opinion. Students who can experience you as a walking talking educator, excited about the course, can go a long way towards building a feeling that they actually “know” you (even though they may never meet you face-to-face).
If you have to demonstrate a process then avoid writing out a four page step-by-step document; instead, make a screencast by SHOWING the step-by-step process on your screen. If you want to talk about a website, don’t just give a link and drop it into a word document, instead SHOW them the website with a screencast. When the educator can guide using show and tell, I think this really helps students learn. This, coupled with the fact that they can watch the video as many times as they like, will also contribute a feeling of being more connected to you as an educator: a win:win.
This last tool is hard to explain. Here are some videos that I like it and I think you will too.
- http://voicethread.com/#q.b2779571.i14673028 (requires a VoiceThread Account)
- http://voicethread.com/#q+discussion.b967381.i5355919 (requires a VoiceThread Account)