ONLINE TEACHING: THE WARMTH FACTOR

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1 ONLINE TEACHING: THE WARMTH FACTOR Michelle Li-Kuehne Assistant Professor, CPA, MS Department of Accounting and Finance College of Saint Benedict/Saint John s University Collegeville, Minnesota Phone:

2 ONLINE TEACHING: THE WARMTH FACTOR ABSTRACT Student participation and interaction with peers and the course instructor are essential qualities for any successful accounting online class. An experienced instructor from a private, residential university implemented a variety of techniques to encourage student interaction during online courses. Strategic approaches encouraging active participation and developing a sense of warmth were created for the instructor s Governmental/Not-for-Profit accounting online classes. These approaches can be applied to any online accounting course. The challenge of how to encourage a sense of presence in an online course was met with four basic strategies. First, expectations were established at the beginning of the course. The myth that online courses are less rigorous or involve less of a participatory time commitment was dispelled at the first opportunity. Second, communication and discussion were encouraged via an introductions forum and a homework discussion forum on the course management system. Third, in addition to course management system resources, live classes were conducted via conferencing software. Fourth, homework assignments and practice quizzes followed a schedule that optimized student preparation before class discussion of the related material at live online sessions. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND According to the 2012 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC (Allen, Seaman, p. 17, 2013), as of the fall of 2011, over 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course. As instructors develop online accounting courses in response to students requests for increased course offerings and schedule flexibility, we are challenged to maximize the effectiveness of these online courses. A meta-analysis study conducted at the University of Minnesota (Research and Evaluation Team, Office of Information Technology, 2011) investigated whether technology based courses were effective from a learning outcomes perspective. One of the conclusions indicated that collaborative or instructor-directed online learning achieved results superior to those attained through independent, self-directed online learning, which may provide a partial explanation for why online learning has not proven to be a money-saver for cash-strapped educational institutions (p. 2). Related to content delivery issues is the longstanding challenge of student attrition rates during online courses. Studies have suggested the importance of quality interaction between the instructor and students in online course retention (Heyman, p.7, 2010). Clearly, one of the important questions online instructors must ask themselves is how do we engage and retain our students during an online accounting course? In order to engage and retain online students, instructors must determine how to deliver content in a manner that encourages active and interactive engagement. Rather than a constant stream of pre-recorded videos that students may see in some online courses, the warmth of a traditional classroom setting can translate to an online course via mechanisms shown in the following illustration. 1

3 Figure 1. Each of the elements shown in above in Figure 1. are discussed below in the context of practical suggestions and applications for instructors to improve the sense of presence during an online accounting course. ESTABLISH EXPECTATIONS AT THE BEGINNING One week prior to start of the course, send a welcome to registered students to establish an initial line of communication. The further describes modes of instructor availability by providing Skype and WebEx contact information, and explaining that WebEx is a conferencing tool we will be using to hold live online classes. The also includes introductory instructions to explore the course management site and the course Syllabus. The course Syllabus clearly establishes expectations for course rigor and active participation. These points are also emphasized during the first WebEx live session and the recording of that discussion is posted on the Course Management site. Any myths held by the students about online courses being less of a time, study, or participatory commitment for students are immediately dispelled before the course content begins. Consider including the following statements in your syllabus to articulate your expectations of your students. 2

4 Expect the rigor of the course to be the same as that of a traditional course. This is a three-credit class, accomplished in six weeks. Note due dates and submit assignments on time. Online learning requires the discipline to avoid procrastination. A requirement for success is to keep up, and not get behind. Get help when needed; ask questions. The most effective method to seek help is to post a question to the homework discussion forum. I will also be available by and Skype. I will conduct online office hours. Participation points are earned by contributions (questions, comments, and solution postings) to the homework discussion forum and any other forums used in the course Moodle site. Contributions during the live sessions can also earn participation points. If you are unable to attend some of the live sessions, make sure to contribute significantly to the forums. Forum participation points are earned for the following: o Regular and frequent contributions of questions and responses. Increased participation points for particularly insightful questions and meaningful responses. o Posted comments that prompt continued discussion of a topic. o Netiquette is consistently employed. Impoliteness will deduct from your participation points. INTRODUCTIONS FORUM AND HOMEWORK DISCUSSION FORUM The first class assignment requires students to post to an Introductions Forum on the course management system site. Example course management systems include Moodle, D2L, WebCT, and Blackboard. To enhance the connection with students, the first post to the introductions forum is from the instructor, including a photo of the instructor and comments similar to an in-class first day introduction and background. The purpose of the introductions forum is to simulate a first class get to know each other setting. Example student instructions for the introductions forum are: Indicate your name, where you are from, and some of the reasons you are taking this course. Describe yourself. Include at least one interesting aspect or unique characteristic about yourself. Due January 17, 2013; one participation point. Use the course management system to develop a homework discussion forum. The homework discussion forum is accessible to students twenty-four hours per day as a place to post questions and potential solutions. As noted in the Syllabus excerpts above, the forum is another vehicle for students to earn participation points. Keep the instructions open. For example: 3

5 Use this forum to post questions and potential solutions, discuss concepts, and contribute comments related to homework or any other course topics. I will periodically offer practice exercises/questions to prompt discussion as well. In order to encourage peer-to-peer interaction, it is important for instructors to refrain from micro-managing the forum. Online homework discussion forums are more effective in garnering student participation and confidence when the instructor offers hints, but only if students appear to be getting off track discussing potential solutions. LIVE CLASSES VIA ONLINE CONFERENCING SOFTWARE To mimic the connections and discussions conducted in traditional setting classrooms, hold regular live classes via online conferencing software, such as WebEx (www.webex.com). Evening sessions appear to afford the greatest number of attendees. Offer participation points for live session attendance and class participation. Participation points can be awarded quantitatively via chat records and session recordings. To increase the warmth of the online live classes, open the conference sessions fifteen minutes prior to start time. As students log in to the class, chat with students about any questions they have, what topics they would like covered at the session, and personal topics such as their jobs and activities. Likewise, keep the microphone open fifteen minutes after the session closes. Similar to a traditional setting classroom, during live sessions: Start class with a warm-up exercise, current event, or other attention grabbing introduction. Monitor student attention. Call on students who are silent. When a question is posed, first ask other students for possible solutions. Alternate lecture with in-class exercises. Ask students to present homework solutions. Reference homework forum discussions. The following is a print-screen from an example WebEx session: 4

6 Figure 2. HOMEWORK, QUIZZES, COURSE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM Instructional videos and WebEx recordings are posted to the course management site for students convenience. However, it is important to arrange assignments and assessment encourage preparation and thus discussion during the live online sessions. For example, assign homework to be submitted online before the relevant live session so students come prepared with questions for class. Award homework points for further encouragement. Assign periodic online quizzes and present the solutions only at the live sessions. To simulate in-class reminders and instructions, construct the course management system to include detailed reading, homework, and assignment information. Delineate the course management site into weekly segments, rather than by topic. The following is an example from the instructor s course management site first weekly announcement: Welcome! Your first homework assignments are written in the Syllabus, Governmental/Not-for-Profit. You can post to the forums and submit homework anytime. 6pm, Wednesday, May 23rd is the deadline for the first assignments per the Syllabus. Our first live WebEx session is Monday, May 21st at 7:00pm. An will be sent to you with instructions. 5

7 In preparation for our Monday, May 21st WebEx session: Print the Syllabus. Familiarize yourself with the course Moodle site and the posted resources. Watch the WebEx Basic Features video. Post to the Introductions Forum. In preparation for our Wednesday, May 23rd WebEx session Read Chapter 1 and watch the Chapter 1 Outline Video Read Chapters 2 and 3. Print the outlines for Chapters 2 and 3. Submit the homework due by 6pm, Wednesday, May 23rd via the link on Moodle. Post to this week's homework discussion forum (link below) for participation points. Note the homework assignment per the syllabus due by 11:00pm on Sunday, May 27th. WebEx Recordings: Click the following link to access Monday s live session: Monday, May 21, WebEx Session CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE STUDY Online accounting courses are here to stay. In order to improve attrition rates and increase students active engagement, adding a sense of presence and warmth to online accounting classes is critical. Establishing expectations, intentional construction of the course management site, and administering live online sessions were shown to be useful techniques to infuse a sense of community. Student comments from one of the instructor s online classes include: I have taken several online courses in the past. This is the first course that I have had a teacher actively teach online. Usually, only recorded videos exist. Having a live class online allows an opportunity for the student to communicate actively with the teacher. I think this is an excellent advantage over recorded videos. As far as I am concerned, WebEX is comparable to sitting in a classroom while being comfortable at home. Instructors will continue to adapt technology and transferable traditional classroom techniques to improve online accounting courses. Towards this end, sharing best practices is essential. 6

8 REFERENCES Allen, E., Seaman, J. (2013). Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States (p.17). Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC. Online: Heyman, E. (2010). Overcoming Student Retention Issues in Higher Education Online Programs. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume XIII, Number IV, Winter Online: Research and Evaluation Team, Office of Information Technology, University of Minnesota, (Spring 2011). Is Technology-Enhanced Learning Effective? Recent Research and Best Practices. Online: nts/article/oit_article_ pdf Referenced Website Link: 7

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