Guest Post by Michael Keathley
As a top research and global university, UC Davis is a natural choice for college students seeking a quality education and rewarding career. What is even more commendable is the way the students themselves also describe the sense of community on the UC Davis campus:
As UC Davis explores hybrid and online initiatives, faculty face the difficulty of translating the very human need for socialization to online classes, which research has also proven to be necessary for e-learner success (c.f., Sadera, W., et a. JOLT. June 2009). Here are four ways to personalize online courses for students.
#1: Get Acquainted
Every opportunity to connect with students and to build a shared mission in everyone’s success as a learning group must be taken from the start. Go beyond introductions by reaching out to students throughout the course. Email individual students asking how the class is going and if any assistance is needed. Utilize technology to survey students (e.g., SurveyMonkey or Google Forms) to find out what they are thinking, who they are, and how community may be built. Such options are easy to download into spreadsheets or other formats to track who is engaged in the course and who may benefit from additional outreach.
#2: Show Yourself
Let students see you in a variety of ways. TechSmith offers some user-friendly options with tutorials with which you can convert your text introduction, announcements, and other materials into a video for students. Make use of social media options that students are already using (e.g., Facebook and Twitter). Try hosting virtual office hours or informal chats via Google Hangouts or other such synchronous software. Students often feel more comfortable coming to a “virtual coffee” or meeting others online for an informal chat than they do in a regular class session. They will often ask more questions and engage more in the learning during such events, too.
#3: Utilize Feedback
Often opportunities to build community by on assignment are missed. Faculty comments are not just about grades. The main way students need faculty to build community is through modeling, which they define as active engagement of faculty throughout the course (Vesely, P., Bloom, L., & Sherlock, J., JOLT. September 2007). This includes efficient and personalized comments in response to assignment submissions.
#4: Have Fun
There’s nothing wrong with showing personality in an online course, even at times. Humor helps to relax students who may be nervous about virtual education, intimidated by subject matter or postsecondary education, or shy by nature. This allows such e-learners to engage more comfortably in the learning process (c.f., Eagen, R. “The Benefits of Humor in the Classroom.” Educational Theory and Practice. 30 October 2011).
By following these four tips, faculty can quickly personalize an online course to provide a welcoming learning community that helps everyone succeed.