Retention and Communication Strategies. Michelle L. Pilati, PhD Coordinator, Rio Hondo Virtual College CVC Online Teaching Conference 2006

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1 Retention and Communication Strategies Michelle L. Pilati, PhD Coordinator, Rio Hondo Virtual College CVC Online Teaching Conference 2006

2 Description "Regular Effective Contact" is the guiding principle for DE in California. Participation in this session will net you a wealth of ideas regarding how to improve communication with your online students. The focus will be on interesting ways to keep your students connected throughout the duration of the course. Share your own ideas with the presenter, as well.

3 Regular Effective Contact Why is there an emphasis on this? While the true reason for it may be accountability, it very well may be one of the most important elements to ensure a positive learning experience for students. Does communication matter?

4 Communication Regardless of the technology in use, the more that instructors involve their students in the learning process online the more likely that students will achieve a successful learning outcome.

5 Communication - Methods Documents/postings (external or internal) Discussion Chat Phone Office Hours (in person) CCCConfer Others?

6 Retention Before addressing communication strategies, what can be said about retention in the online environment? What are some things that you wish you could do to improve retention? What can you do? What does the literature say?

7 Things you wish you could do.. Have a smaller class size. Screen students for basic skills and computer know-how. Ensure that all students have the proper self-motivation. Call or students regularly. Others?

8 What can you do? Provide students with incentives to visit the course regularly. Respond promptly to student queries. Don t waste your students time. Have work due regularly. Make your course user-friendly. Others?

9 What does the literature say? One factor contributing to drop-out is not knowing what a course is really all about or what their abilities must be. Conflict between recruitment and retention (Simpson 2003). A course description may be written with the subsidiary aim of encouraging recruitment onto a course. In such cases there may be a conscious or unconscious temptation to emphasise the accessibility of the course at the expense of its difficulty. This is not to suggest any dishonest intentions on the part of the writers: merely that there is a fine line between gently encouraging reasonably well-qualified but un-self-confident students to take a course and allowing less well-qualified students get the impression that a course is easier then it actually is. on.html

10 What does the literature say? A Study of Variables that Predict Dropout from Distance Education (Parker, 1999) It was determined that locus of control and source of financial assistance, and in particular self-pay, were able to predict dropout with nearly 85 percent accuracy. Locus of control as a single, independent variable was able to predict dropout with an accuracy of 80 percent

11 What does the literature say? Perhaps we should not be looking at the literature with respect to the online environment as the variables at play seem to be those that we have little control over. What influences retention in traditional classes?

12 Comfort, Clarity, and Community I would argue that communicating effectively with your students is of the utmost importance. Engaging your students, meeting their basic needs, establishing expectations and then giving them a chance to get to know one another. Where does this all begin?

13 Communication In order for your students to even begin work on your course, you must begin by doing what? Orienting students to the technology that will be used Orienting students to your course Informing students of your policies, procedures, guidelines, expectations, etc.

14 Another way to look at it - There are 3 types of communication/interaction in Distance Education Instructor Student Student Student Student Technology Which is most important?

15 Why interaction? Interaction in a distance learning environment is a key factor in the success of the course. Students may feel apprehensive about using the technology in a web-based class... Incorporating interactive strategies early in the course helps the student overcome these misgivings, and can also serve to unite the students so that they see themselves as part of a whole. Social interaction, especially between students, can complement instructional interactivity goals.

16 Why interaction? If the students feel more relaxed with each other and the technology, they are more inclined to engage in meaningful reflection and discussion on course topics and concepts. When students reinforce the subject matter in their own words through interaction with their peers, they gain a deeper understanding and higher retention level. Online students consistently ask for more student-to-student interaction. This interaction keeps the student from feeling like they're simply plodding through an online tutorial or taking a oneon-one independent study course.

17 Hi-ho Silver! Avoid the "Lone Ranger" Syndrome by building in plenty of student-tostudent interactivity

18 General Strategies to increase interaction in your distance classes Quickly require students to communicate with you Require students to send you an the first day of class. You can build in an exercise in which they must respond to your school's conduct policy, or to verify that you have their correct or other contact info Provide (and require!) feedback Require periodic s, phone calls, or inperson visits

19 General Strategies to increase interaction in your distance classes Plan for immediate involvement in a simple, small group task Set up forums for class discussion groups (more about this to come) Post a question each day/week to start off the discussion

20 7 Steps to Increasing Student Interaction Show optimism and personality in and course materials. Raise interest with thoughtprovoking issues. Use short extra-credit questions to engage students in online reading.

21 7 Steps to Increasing Student Interaction Inject humor into course materials. Get proactive in communicating with students. Involve students in course design and instruction. Make students aware of each other. Create a learning community. udent%20interaction.pdf

22 Groundrules Before letting students lose and encouraging them to interact, with one another and with you, ground rules should be established. Such as? Netiquette General dos and don ts

23 Groundrules Editing policy Response time will you be responding? And, if so, when? Grading policy if posting in a discussion is required (and it should be), how is it graded?

24

25 Groundrules Cheating how cheating will be handled should be addressed and what is considered cheating should be defined

26 Activities and Assignments With any activity, begin by identifying the purpose either explicitly or implicitly. What might be some goals of your 1 st assignment (s)? Familiarize students with course layout and policies. Gather general information on students.

27 Activities and Assignments Ensure that students know how to use all communication tools and that they know where/how work is to be submitted. Permit students a chance to introduce themselves, to get to know one another.

28 Getting-to-know You - Virtually What ice breakers do you use in class? Can they be modified for online? Discussion posting Interviews Contact students by

29 Icebreakers Share autobiographies online. Everyone contributes their favorite joke. Initiate a group building product. For example, the first person writes one line of a limerick. A second person in the group has to provide the next line. And so on until the product is finished.

30 Discussions Pros and Cons The pros and cons are really one and the same Easy to design Instructor may be fully involved or only limited so Low tech

31 Discussions Pros and Cons Easy to design tempting to just throw up a topic and be done with it Instructor may be fully involved or only limited so how much should the instructor be involved? Low tech tempting to give little or no directions

32 Problems with Discussion Level and type of interaction may be limited Instructor may need to constantly oversee activity Some questions left unanswered Is constant support and moderation necessary?

33 Achieving Maximum Participation - Participation guidelines in an online course are critical to its successful outcome. As online instructors, however, we cannot make the assumption that if we establish minimum participation guidelines of two posts per week, for example, that students will understand what that means. We must also include expectations about what it means to post to an online course discussion. "A post involves more than visiting the course site to check in and say hello. A post is considered to be a substantive contribution to the discussion wherein a student either comments on other posts or begins a new topic (Palloff, R. and Pratt, K., p. 100)."

34 Achieving Maximum Participation scot.ac.uk/courses/keynotes/module1/main.cfm- Be clear about how much time the course will require of students to eliminate potential misunderstandings about course demands. As the instructor, be a model of good participation by logging on frequently and contributing to the discussion. Questionable Why?

35 Achieving Maximum Participation scot.ac.uk/courses/keynotes/module1/main.cfm- Be willing to step in and set limits if participation wanes or if the conversation is headed in the wrong direction. Remember that there are people attached to the words on the screen. Be willing to contact students who are not participating and invite them in. Create a warm and inviting atmosphere which promotes the development of a sense of community among the participants. (Palloff, R. and Pratt, K., p. 107)

36 Establishing Guidelines and Procedures Everything must be as clear as possible how do you ensure that you are communicating effectively? How do you know when you are not? You keep on getting the same questions again and again. What do you do? Should you change policies midcourse?

37 Orienting students to the technology How might you do this? Explain it to them in written form Refer them to an orientation or tutorial orientations/orientations.htm m Direct them to use some of the course tools

38 Establishing Guidelines and Procedures Where is work submitted? How will late work be dealt with? What are your policies on cheating? How should students contact you? How soon will you respond? Participation graded? If graded (and it should be!), how?

39 Participation Consider your own experiences under what circumstances are you most likely to be an active participant?

40 Communication Failure What do you do if some of your students just don t get it? Consider building in means to protect against this help your students to recognize what is needed for online success Aid your students in becoming ideal students.

41 Facilitating Every Student in an Online Course One obstacle to successfully facilitating an online course is the need to adequately promote online learning skills in those students who do not fit the profile of a "successful" online student. Not every student is the "ideal" student whether you are in a face-to-face or an online environment. In fact, this ideal student is probably in the minority in any class. Therefore, the online course facilitator is charged with the task of developing the skills of these non-ideal students while creating a learning environment suitable to various needs, preferences, and abilities.

42 Facilitating Every Student in an Online Course What makes a student an ideal online student? What skills are needed? Time Management Skills Discipline and Motivation Synergy and the Online Learning Community Communication Skills Technophobia Access

43 Time Management Skills How can you structure your course to facilitate the success of the student with poor time management skills? Lesson Length Organize course material in manageable chunks for the student who may only have minutes to devote to the course on a given day Taking the Lesson With Them Make the pages of your course printable.

44 Time Management Skills The Effective Syllabus Make your syllabus as user-friendly as possible consider indicating how long an assignment is likely to take, as well as how long the completed work should be Make Suggestions Provide students with suggested guidelines for logging in and time spent on course activities Provide Clear Posting Requirements

45 Discipline and Motivation Skills A challenge in any class but even more so when you never see your students Motivation Beyond the Grade Make material meaningful, provide feedback Make Your Presence Felt Direct Questions Be proactive with those lagging students

46 Synergy and the Online Learning Community Provide a Course Philosophy Structure Discussion Into the Course Structure the Discussion Be Engaging (even funny when appropriate) Break the Ice Fix Problem Situations Quickly and Effectively Foster Effective Communication Among Students

47 Communication Skills Be a Model Be positive and remove unintended or unnecessary emotion from your posts, however, do not be afraid to add emotion when it can lead to a more positive virtual environment. Always think twice before posting even mundane responses to student posts. Maintain the instructor "presence" in the online course and remember that the students can not hear or see you think or type, they can only read your posts (and hear your words if audio transmission is used).

48 Communication Skills Be a Model When necessary, be prepared to provide individual attention to problem students or students with special needs. As White and Weight (7) put it, do not react, but respond. Provide a unifying voice for the students and address issues fairly, quickly, and effectively. Respond with clarification or extension when needed.

49 Communication Skills Be a Model Give Instructions Provide for Communication in the Course Requirements and Philosophy Break the Ice Provide Motivation and Encouragement

50 Synchronous Communication Examples? Phone In person Chat

51 Synchronous Limit group size (I've seen viewpoints ranging from 4-12 people as an optimum. My experience says 5-10 is manageable and effective.) If necessary, employ some form of "crowd control" or ask students to take turns in a specific order of by a given system to minimize chaos. If possible, use audio for the instructor feed. This allows the discussion to take place in text while the instructor can still access the auditory senses of the students.

52 Synchronous Allow some socializing before and after. Possibly have the synchronous chat room constantly available, but post specific times for course discussion. Many online students are online because of schedule restraints. Therefore, do not expect to be able to have all of your synchronous sessions at a specific time. Be prepared to stretch sessions out over time with multiple times for each discussion with students organized into groups based on availability.

53 Synchronous Post an agenda in advance to keep the chat time organized and to give students a chance to prepare. Preface individual responses with to whom it is addressed. Always have a backup plan. One can still not count on the reliability of synchronous systems.

54 Asynchronous Start major topics yourself with explanatory post. Narrow topics to smallest units to reduce clutter in the discussion forum posts. Restrict most forum topics to course activities and topics.

55 Asynchronous Organize forums so that they correspond to the course flow. Be aware of cultural patterns in the manner in which people post. Respond frequently, but save "nice job" posts for individual student forums or s.

56 Technophobia Pre-Course Orientation Support Services Most importantly Patience

57 Access Disability Accessibility Network Access and Bandwidth

58 ators/flcc.html Regardless of the particular delivery mechanism, computer mediated communication is interaction stripped of social context cues and human "presence", yet for learning to occur students and faculty must become familiar with the environment, and each other and be able to make both sense and meaning of the learning experienced they are engaged in. Scaffolding for students interaction and meaning-making activities must be provided by the online instructor by modeling appropriate interaction and facilitation techniques on screen, and by providing metaphors and analogies to personalize and humanize the transactional space. To do this effectively teachers must first realize some of the basic differences between teaching face-to-face and facilitating online interactions, become themselves adept at the use of the computer conferencing technology and be aware of various teaching and facilitation techniques that are, and are not, suitable for online classrooms.

59 Ensuring Effective Communication Reflecting what will you do differently the next time you are teaching an online course?

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