A deeper look at how to offer more flexibility for your online students
We’ve previously discussed the importance of designing online courses to allow time flexibility for students and how to identify the right window of opportunity to complete course requirements. In this post, we’ll examine four more factors in online course flexibility.
The Importance of Timely Grading and Feedback
Timely and useful feedback from instructors is important for keeping students on track in online courses. I’ve heard complaints from students who were expected to take a quiz or complete an assignment without receiving their grade and feedback from the previous quiz or assignment. This can create uncertainty and prevent students from timely completion of work while they wait on feedback about previous work.
Plan to set aside sufficient grading time soon after the assessment is due. Some faculty find that they save time by providing audio or video feedback rather than text, which can also increase engagement with online students.
Make your Synchronous Activities Flexible
By definition, synchronous activities need multiple students to be online at the same time. Such activities can have a stifling effect on time flexibility for students. Sometimes, the value of the synchronous activities might outweigh the costs in terms of reduced flexibility. Sometimes, the reverse is true.
For students who are trying to balance school, work, and family–synchronous requirements can be the bane of their existence. Educators tend to agree that well-designed synchronous activities can breathe life into online courses, but that’s only true if the students can attend at the appointed time and in the manner intended.
If possible, make scheduling of synchronous activities as flexible as possible, with an effort to accommodate groups of students at times that are convenient for them.
Build Groups Around Availability vs. Possibility
When students are required to work in groups, they often run into the same time issues as with synchronous activities; even though group work isn’t always done synchronously. When there is a requirement for group members to meet all at once, a good strategy is to form groups based on availability rather than other grouping possibilities.
Use an online scheduler to have students indicate when they can be available, and then form the groups based on their availability to work with similarly scheduled teammates.
Consider Fair Due Date Scheduling
Over the years, I’ve run into many different opinions about when due dates should be assigned for online course activities or assessments. Many faculty members use Sundays as the due date or end date for various tasks. This begs the question of whether a Sunday is a fair day for a deadline when that day wouldn’t be used for an on-campus course. Some people believe that weekends should be weekends, and not viewed as school days. Others say that some students do most of their school work on weekends, so a weekend due date makes sense.
I’ve also engaged in debates over the appropriateness of due dates falling on holidays. I feel strongly about holidays not being proper dates to require online school work. In the U.S., I’ve seen online course due dates on the Friday or Sunday of the 4-day Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. It seems to me that this could easily be avoided by setting the due date right before or soon after the weekend.
Considering the appropriate window of opportunity can help address this issue. Let’s say that your due date is on a Sunday, but that the assignment or activity could be completed anytime during the window of Wednesday through Sunday. No one is forcing the students to wait until Sunday to do their coursework, and you’ve allowed students to do their work before the weekend if they choose to do so.
In the final post in this series, we’ll consider a few less obvious causes of inflexibility in online courses, as well as a suggestion for evaluating your courses to check for sufficient flexibility.
As always, we welcome your questions and thoughts. Please share in the comments section of this post.