As a college professor teaching online
courses, I had to overcome my obstacles with the basic technologies of
e-learning before realizing an important fact: Student success in the
traditional high school classroom does not necessarily translate into success in
college courses that use online technologies like email, discussion boards,
e-research, and online group projects. When online technologies replace or
supplement the traditional lecture hall, new factors can prevent normally high
performing students from achieving their past levels of success. Consequently,
just as we wouldn’t give middle school students a complicated book and expect
them to learn, we can’t expect college students to learn online just because
they have a computer with an Internet connection.
For both instructors and students alike, the
introduction of online technologies has significantly changed the college
classroom and higher education experience. From Microsoft PowerPoint
presentations of group projects to instant messaging software that allows
students to communicate immediately with other students, the technology commonly
found in today’s college classrooms is offering instructors and students many
new tools that have the potential to dramatically improve learning.
According the US Department of Education,
distance education courses in 2002 accounted for more than 3.1 million
enrollments at US colleges and universities (Thomas, 2003). These
completely online courses, furthermore, represent only a fraction of the number
of on-campus courses that are using the Internet and computer technologies to
facilitate learning in subjects ranging from foreign languages to physics. And
while not all classrooms at colleges and universities are equipped with Internet
connectivity, the other options for high-speed wireless connections through
cell-phone technologies (currently available for less than $75 per month in many
cities) are offering students access to classrooms at many of the country’s
colleges and universities.
And while many students come to college with
remarkable skills for finding and downloading music from the Internet, most come
with little experience or knowledge regarding how to effectively use online
technologies to advance their studies. According to the Pew Internet &
American Life Project, 49% of college students first began to use the Internet
when they entered college (Jones, 2002). In view of that, how can we
better prepare students for online success?
Two essential skills we have found for
student success in online courses are: (a) adapting old skills and habits from
the traditional classroom for use in the online classroom, and (b) developing
and applying new e-learning skills and habits for the online classroom (Watkins
& Corry, 2004).
From building a robust vocabulary of
technology related terms to adequately preparing for success in online
discussion board debates, building the learning skills for the online classroom
takes many of the skills and habits for success from the traditional classroom
and applies them in new ways using technology. In addition, some
technologies have dramatically changed how students interact with their
instructors, peers, and course materials, thus requiring the development of some
new study skills. Together, these skills can help ensure the success of
students in most any course that uses online technologies to either supplement
or replace on-campus experiences.
Transforming your current courses and
materials to include a focus on e-learning skills does not, however, necessarily
require a great amount of work. By integrating online activities,
resources, and materials into your current course, you can build online success
skills into your current courses, and provide students with the information,
practice, study skills, and experiences for success in their other college
courses that use online technologies.
Here are six tips for helping your students
to be successful in online coursework:
1. INCLUDE AT LEAST ONLINE ACTIVITY OR
ASSIGNMENT IN YOUR COURSE. For example, have students create an
annotated bibliography of student support Websites available at your college
(e.g., registration, student services, disability services), or require students
to submit written assignments as email attachments. By utilizing technology in
your course, you give students the opportunity to develop online skills that can
be applied in many of their other college courses.
2. BECOME FAMILIAR WITH COMMON TECHNOLOGY
TERMS AND USE THEM WHEN TALKING ABOUT THE COLLEGE’S RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO
STUDENTS (e.g., USB memory, instant messaging, discussion boards, 802.11b
and g technologies, Blackboard, WebCT, servers, firewalls, Ethernet).
There are many books and Websites with additional information on basic
technology terms, but talking with your local technical support staff is
probably the easiest and fastest way to learn the “lingo” necessary to
discuss the available technology resources with your students.
3. PROVIDE STUDENTS WITH THE NECESSARY
INFORMATION FOR GETTING TECHNICAL SUPPORT AND ACCESSING CAMPUS COMPUTER LABS.
Since technical problems are not an everyday crisis for most of us, typically we
only worry about technical support when our Internet stops working the night
before an assignment is due. As a result, we should encourage students to
prepare a list of technical support phone numbers, hours of operation, and a
contingency plans (i.e., local libraries with computers or an alternative campus
computer lab) to ensure that they are prepared when an unexpected computer
4. OFFER STUDENTS OPPORTUNITIES FOR
ASSESSING AND IMPROVING THE TECHNOLOGY SKILLS THEY WILL LIKELY REQUIRE IN THEIR
COLLEGE COURSES. For example, if your college uses Blackboard, WebCT,
or another online management system to support its courses, then students should
be encouraged to practice using the system’s resources (e.g., chat rooms,
discussion boards, calendars, assignment submission) in many of their courses.
These opportunities to practice using the technology can be extremely helpful in
later semesters when other instructors at the college make assignments with the
expectation that all students have already developed these skills.
5. SUPPLY LINKS TO WEBSITES IN YOUR
LESSONS. By simply including links to online resources you can both assist
students to achieve the goals of the lesson and help them develop the technical
skills necessary for success in today’s high-tech college courses. Be
sure to review your text books since many of them will include numerous online
resources, and save you the time of searching the Internet for applicable links.
6. ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO INTERACT AND
COMMUNICATE WITH OTHER STUDENTS USING EMAIL AND OTHER ONLINE TECHNOLOGIES.
For example, establish a course listserv that will allow students to email all
of the other students in the course using just one generic email address; or as
an alternative to traditional on-campus office hours, have your “office
hours” online one or two weeks each semester using a chat room or discussion
Technology should not be a barrier to the
success of today’s college students; yet many students do not come to college
with the necessary skills to fully utilize this resource to support their
academic success. By integrating e-learning study skills and online technologies
into your courses, you can however easily guide students to online success as
they transition from the traditional high school classroom to your college’s
high-tech learning environment.
Jones, S. (2002). “The Internet Goes to
College: How students are living in the future with today’s technology.”
Thomas, D. (2003, July 18). Press Release:
“Distance Education Continues Apace at Postsecondary Institutions.”
Watkins, R. & Corry, M. (2004).
*E-learning Companion: A student’s guide to online success*. NY: Houghton
Online Resources: http://www.e-learningcompanion.com
--Ryan Watkins, Faculty, Educational
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