In March, we were told to quickly move our courses to the online world. Those that had never taught on a virtual platform were stumped, anxious and somewhat angry. Those of us that have been teaching online thought “Ha! Now they will view me as a real teacher!” Well, maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but I, for once, felt I had an upper hand, but that did not seem to help!
The course that I teach is 100% online and has been for the last eight years. It runs while the students are concurrently taking two clinical courses, which usually take precedence for them. The teaching challenges that I am usually trying to address in a typical semester are multifaceted. First, it is difficult to keep the students engaged in the content due to the concurrent clinical courses. Second, is the need to clarify information. It often seems there are a lot of repetitive questions in the Ask A Question Discussion Board thread. In fact, this past spring it seemed there were some new challenges with all courses going online that created a fair amount of confusion.
What I would later discover was that whatever the other faculty did would greatly affect my little bubble. Because things did not look the same in all courses, the students were unsure of what to do, where to look or how to ask for help. Things were in different places in every class, called different names and looked very different when found. This led to a lot of questions on how to find information, how to complete assignments and questions that I had not had in the past about where items were located. So, right now, before we get too far into the semester we need to look back and reflect on last semester. What worked well, what did not work well and what can I change? For myself, I keep weekly notes as I go. I keep track of the most common questions that I get from the students via text and email and I also look back into my course Ask A Question Discussion Board thread to find the areas that caused problems for the students.
To start the process, I asked myself several questions:
- What are the areas of concern?
- How might I go about making it clearer?
- What types of activities do the students enjoy?
- What information would I collect to provide evidence of improved learning?
The first area of concern was that the courses have all moved online and all have different styles. Information is in new places and is called by different names. So, since I have no control over the other courses, I needed to make mine very clear. I reviewed the areas of question from my notes, and it seemed the students were having greater difficulty with written directions in this course. Over the course of the semester, I tried implementing some other written ideas and it seemed to make things worse with tons of information being thrown at them. So, I had to find a way to clarify and consolidate. Then, keeping them interested and actively logging into the course to get the information was an issue. Because the course is 100% online, engagement has always been a challenge as the nursing students are so focused on the clinical, this course often takes a backseat, but it had gotten much worse with all of the courses moving online. I felt I needed to do something a little fancier to grab their attention and then keep them engaged since they were not reading as in-depth as usual. There are several assignments in this course that can use a bit more information that might be covered better verbally, but with so many students in different semesters, synchronous class time is difficult. Upon review, I found that the biggest thing that was troubling them was the written directions for the large projects.
Second, how can I make things more clear? This flowed naturally into the third question of what types of things do the students enjoy? So, I decided to do a bit of leg work. I talked to a number of students and other 20-somethings to gauge what they were into right now, what grabs them and keeps them? The first thing I was told was short videos. Again, in the next group, video and again and again, I was told that they like to watch videos. I decided to create videos and add them in with the written assignment directions. Research has shown that videos lasting seven minutes or shorter are able to retain a student’s attention better1 and that students will pay closer attention to content when they hear it from a familiar voice2.