Linda Dale Bloomberg holds the positions of associate director of faculty support and development, and full professor of education in the School of Education, Northcentral University, San Diego. Dr. Bloomberg received her doctorate in 2006 from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she completed the AEGIS Program in Adult and Organizational Learning. Her new book is titled Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners.
This blog post is the final in a series I write with a focus on ways to raise the bar on engaging your online students. Upcoming blog posts will focus on online instructor support.
Previous blog posts include:
- “Transitioning to the World of Online Education: Preparing Higher Education Students and Faculty for Success”
- “Raising the Bar on Student Engagement: Feedback as the Medium of Instruction”
- “Promoting Community in your Online Classroom”
- “How Can Educators Face the Future with Resilience?”
- “How to Support Struggling Students and Foster Learning and Growth? Demonstrate Vulnerability and Empathy!”
- “Reconceptualizing Discussion Forums as Spaces of Active Learning”
- “Incorporating Bloom’s Taxonomy to Elevate Discussion Forums”
Online students, in the recent past, were categorized as “non-traditional learners”; defined as an adult at 24 years of age, who was not attending college right out of high school, or who had a family and/or a full-time work schedule. With the rapid changes that have taken place in the world of education, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demographics of the online student population shifted suddenly and dramatically. As a matter of necessity, almost everybody started learning online, making this population somewhat “inter-generational”, and no longer as distinctive as it had been in previous years. As I write in my book, no matter what the demographics or characteristics of the online student population, it is important to recognize that the expectations of today’s students mirror the expectations of traditional classroom students. Research indicates that adult students seek content that is relevant and applicable to their discipline, job, and real-world interests. It is important, therefore, that online instructors understand students’ expectations in order to adequately meet and address their needs and requirements.
Gen Z, which makes up a large portion of today’s online student population, is different from millennials in a key way: They are the first generation raised on digital devices that are mobile and always present in their lives. So, they are accustomed to finding what they need, and right when they need it. They are accustomed to having things constantly recommended to them and delivered quickly. As a result, we need to rethink how to better connect with prospective students–early on and often–and keep them actively engaged.
A large part of the way you, as an instructor, engage your students is through ongoing support and monitoring by keeping tabs on each individual student and regularly checking on their progress. In addition to making our expectations for learning explicit, clearly articulating course and program outcomes, and providing purposeful opportunities for students to achieve, we must also create opportunities to assess their learning. The results of those assessments are used to make informed decisions regarding improvement of teaching and effectively planning ahead. Monitoring learning through regular assessments is an integral element of an instructor’s role, because central to any assessment process is the implementation of “continuous improvement.” Consider implementing the following top 10 tips to engage and support your online students, and set them up for success.
1. Keep the focus front and center on student engagement:
Facilitating engagement and helping your students learn and succeed is at the core of the online learning experience. Infuse your online classroom with a strong teaching presence. Be fully tuned to the needs of each student, and commit to supporting and guiding them throughout your teaching and your assessment of their learning. Define what you want your students to know or be able to do (learning outcomes), provide learning opportunities to gain the necessary skills or knowledge, and choose ways of collecting and analyzing evidence of their learning.
2. Ongoing and continual monitoring:
A large part of the way you engage your students is through ongoing support and monitoring. Keep tabs on each of your students individually, checking on who is submitting assignments, attending all required sessions, and participating in activities and tasks, including group work and discussions. Having a good handle on each student’s progress (or lack thereof) will allow you to reach out as soon as you notice a problem or pattern of disengagement. Provide struggling or failing students with appropriate resources and support providers such as academic advisors, tutors, learning center, or library. Make sure to follow up so that you are always in the loop.
3. Plan carefully for assessment:
A key aspect of assessment is that it is inclusive of all learners and their many types of diverse experiences and characteristics. Once you have developed your course content you will need to simultaneously address assessment and create appropriate activities to evaluate and measure the learning that occurs in your course. The course learning outcomes are what you want your students to understand and know, and assessments are derived directly from, and mirror, the course learning outcomes. Be very thorough in ensuring that assessment is culturally fair and unbiased so it does not favor any one group or culture. Planning carefully for assessment of learning creates a climate of trust and academic integrity.
4. Make use of appropriate rubrics:
A rubric represents the performance expectations for an assignment by listing criteria, levels of quality, and scores or indicators of success. You may design your own rubrics for assignments, but most learning management systems (LMS’s) have a built-in rubric tool. Rubrics help students understand the level of learning expected, self-evaluate their progress, and identify areas for improvement. Making the rubric available before they begin an assignment provides the scaffolding to prepare accordingly and improve the quality of their work. Rubrics also assist with streamlining your grading, making the process more standardized and accurate.
5. Review grading guidelines:
Grading guidelines are designed to ensure that instructors and students have a shared understanding of what is expected and more clearly understand the reasons for assigned grades. Well before an assignment is due, share the rubrics or checklists that you will use to evaluate students’ work so they are aware of the requirements, expectations, and grading criteria. Always clearly explain how you arrived at a grade so that students understand the rationale for the assigned grade. You want them to realize the meaning and relevance of the grade, rather than be confused, frustrated, or disappointed.
6. Implement both formative and summative assessments:
Plan to consistently and frequently monitor progress throughout each course. Formative assessment, are “knowledge checks” that occur during the course and are used to monitor progress, providing ample opportunities for students to practice new skills or demonstrate knowledge, and receive information on how to improve. Summative assessment is used to evaluate the achievement of the learning outcomes at the end of a course, and typically occurs by way of an integrative assignment that counts for a significant portion of the final course grade. Utilizing a thoughtful combination of assessments allows students to take ownership of their learning.
7. Use a mix of assessment measures:
Assessments can include direct measures that focus on the examination of a learner’s work including exams, quizzes, research papers, essays, projects, and presentations. Assessment can also include a variety of indirect measures including surveys, focus groups, self-evaluation, and exit interviews. Direct and indirect measures can occur as either formative or summative assessments. These types of assessments should be used in combination. An effective assessment process will include a mix of methods and applications because data from one assessment will always be insufficient to draw conclusions.
8. Test out your assessments!
While you will think about what assessments to use right at the very start of developing your course learning outcomes, once you have developed your course activities, your assessment strategies will have become clearer and more focused. Prior to administering any of your assessments, take these for a “test drive” by running these by a colleague for feedback so you can make necessary tweaks or do some final polishing. Implement changes as needed so that all assessments are clear, meaningful, and directly mirror the course learning outcomes.
9. Teach for the test!
Assessment should never be a mystery to students regarding what is expected. Ensure that learning outcomes are identified throughout the instruction and prepare adequate assessment tools around those outcomes. Provide the most appropriate and valid assessment for the activity. Assessments can be multimodal, including objective tests and quizzes, projects, self-assessments, and reflections. Thoughtfully applied multimodal assessments offer students the opportunity to engage with the content in meaningful ways. It is also essential that all students are provided with clear directions and requirements.
10. Equitable grading is essential!
Make sure that all the grading criteria are equitable, manageable, and clear to all students. Grading practices should always be logical, reasonable, and transparent, as students are more likely to accept grades that are thoughtfully applied. Disappointment over a bad grade can fuel a feeling of futility. Allowing students to resubmit an assignment captures teachable moments by extending the learning window to use specific, corrective feedback to improve their work and their grades. The goal is ongoing improvement, and we want to offer support and opportunities for students to perform at their best, thereby engaging and empowering them.
- How do I start planning for assessment to develop a mix of assessment measures?
- What tools and/or rubrics will I use to apply formative and summative assessments?
- How will I ensure that my methods for monitoring and assessment are inclusive, equitable, and trustworthy?
Bloomberg, L. D. (2021). Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners. Teachers College Press, Columbia University.