Key factors for a successful distance course
1. Provide feedback
Put yourself in the position of a distance student who will never meet his/her classmates. You have been told that all communication in the course will be text based and that e-meetings will occasionally take place – otherwise you’re on your own. What will then motivate you to stick with the course?
Not getting any feedback from the teacher and not having any communication with other students can lead students to drop out of the course. Invest a lot of time in communicating early on in the course. Students who feel they are being seen and heard usually complete the course. Use the discussion forum, notice board and student-student communication in obligatory assignments in the course. Have them work in groups or comment on another student’s presentation.
2. Be flexible
By varying the modes of working and adapting them to different learning styles, you motivate students and stimulate their learning. Give the students an opportunity to choose what form of presentation to make for an assignment. Some students prefer to audio files, while others like self-correcting tests, etc. Some like to work alone, others in groups.
3. Create a classroom atmosphere
Social aspects are important. Be visible as the teacher – make sure you have a photo and some information about yourself. Show students how to upload pictures of themselves in the learning platform or in the forum.
Have the students set up an e-meeting room of their own in Adobe Connect with chat, notes, video cameras and a list of participants. This enables them to log in whenever they want to chat with others who are online.
A good way to create the sense of a classroom is to integrate examination with communication. By implementing continuous examination that varies and is partly based on collaborating with other students in the course, you can establish a social climate similar to that of a classroom. This alo means that students will take more responsibility and meet their deadlines. One way to have direct contact with your students that is similar to classroom teaching is to have e-meetings.
4. Activate your students
- Have students familiarise themselves with the learning environment by giving them a first assignment. This might involve asking students in a discussion forum to describe themselves and state why they are taking the course. Be sure to respond to their input quickly. Write informally so you can get other students to join in.
- Give student guidance and help in planning their time. One reason that distance courses can have low completion rates is that the students don’t have enough time. Many people continue their education by taking distance courses at the same time as they have a job, family and other interests. Make use of the Progress function so students can see that things are moving forward.
- If students are not active – get in touch with them.
5. Don’t do everything yourself
- The teacher must take great care to plan and convey to students how the course is set up and what their responsibilities are.
- Avoid supervision between the teacher and a single student. Have students work together in groups with certain assignments. You can also have a discussion forum where students ask questions that other students answer.
- Many teachers launching a distance course focus on the study materials, for example on the Web pages. Howevver, writing an e-book involves just as much work as writing a regular textbook. Use a good textbook instead, and place the emphasis on communication.
6. Be well prepared
- Make sure the students have their student accounts in time for the course. The fastest way is to use the Course registration function in Student Portal.
- Pay attention to course structure. Name Web pages, folder and documents in a way that makes it easy for students to find their way. State all deadlines clearly. If you have multiple courses that belong together – make sure you have the same name for certain parts, such as the folder "About the course", "Timetable and study guide", etc. so students will recognise them.
- Try it out yourself. If you use an e-meeting tool like Adobe Connect, make sure you and the other teachers have mastered the technology. Try setting up a preliminary meeting with the students before the real meeting.
- Determine what functions will be used in Student Portal. Many teachers start with just a few functions and gradually add new ones during the course. Do you need more functions or would you like to offer tips to students about aids they can use? There are a number of free tools, such as Samarbeta online and Presentera, which have introductory videos.
- Have resources in the course that the students will not see, such as a file area, a discussion forum or Web page. In the file area you can upload all the materials you are working with but don’t want to show the students yet. In Student Portal you can do this by assigning them Draft status. In the discussion forum, you and your fellow teachers can discuss everything about the course, without sending e-mails.