Be Prepared

“Students think online courses are easy” is a common refrain heard from faculty in the Office of Distance Education.  The truth is online courses are hard.  They require specific skills to be successful.  How do we help students be prepared for that reality?  If you are a faculty member looking for ideas on how to help students be prepared for the rigor of online learning or a student who wants to make sure they are as prepared as they can be for an online course consider these resources from the Office of Distance Education.

eLearnReady

eLearnReady is a free web-based set of questions that evaluate a users readiness for online learning.  Developed by a group led by Dr. Corey Lee and Dr. Natalie Abell this tool asks students 40 multiple-choice questions covering 9 success factors.  Upon completion of the questionnaire, a user receives an email with their results along with resources and suggestions for improvement in each factor.  Anyone can take the questionnaire at any time.  It is an excellent self-assessment tool.

Faculty who want to collect course-wide data on all of their students using the tool need to create an account through which they issue invitations to students to participate in the survey.  Using the tool in this manner allows an instructor to see class-wide areas of weakness or strength and target instruction accordingly.

West Chester University faculty who are interested in incorporating this tool into their course should contact their assigned instructional designer for support and use ideas.

Orientation for Distance Education Students

A more involved option for preparing students to be successful is our Orientation for Distance Education Students.  Here is a 40 second introduction video:

Faculty must request access for their courses each semester they wish to use the orientation by contacting their assigned instructional designer. Students interested in completing the orientation on their own should contact Distance Education Support to gain access.

Tech Tip Tuesdays

Every Tuesday during the fall and spring semesters, the Office of Distance Education produces a short video on a new technology or tip for using a technology.  These are a great way to stay current and learn new skills.  You can see the full playlist of videos below.

Distance Education Support

Finally, faculty and students can always contact the Distance Education Support for assistance with anything related to distance education.  If you are struggling with something related to distance education, contact support.

Support can be reached by phone at 610-436-3373 or email at distanceed@wcupa.edu.  Hours are usually 8:00 am to 8:00 PM Monday through Thursday, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm on Friday, and 12:00 to 8:00 pm on Sunday.  Be sure to check the Office of Distance Education website to confirm the current hours.

Don’t be fooled into thinking online courses are easy.  Prepare yourself by making sure you know what it takes to be successful.

Tips on Writing a Professional Email

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With professionals depending more on technology to run their business, clear and concise online communication is critical. Who wants to receive an email from someone who does not use proper etiquette, sounds unprofessional or that you can’t even figure out what they are trying to say? It will turn you off right away and also make the person or business look bad.

When I got to college, I panicked. Writing emails to my professors was my first attempt at writing professional emails. I wasn’t sure how to word my email, without coming across as if I am talking to one of my friends and I wanted them to take me seriously.

When I was applying for my first job, the posting stated to email your resume directly to the manager. I couldn’t just attach the email and call it a day. I had to provide a cover letter, providing background about myself and I wanted to stand out! What I wrote in that email could essentially dictate whether or not I got the job.

So I want to share 5 tips I think are important when writing a professional email because believe me, writing professional emails won’t stop when you graduate college.  You will use this skill all your life.  Always:

  1. Provide a subject
    • Make sure the subject is clear, if you are inviting them to a meeting, put the date, time, etc.
    • Keep it short and specific
    • Don’t use broad phrases such as, “Important information” or “Help!” state in the subject line what you need, for example, “List of Student Parking Lots” or “Error logging in to D2L.”
  2. Lead with a greeting prior to the person’s name
    • Begin by saying “Dear _____” or “Hello _____.” (“Hi” is considered non-professional)
    • Don’t just write their name, it’s too direct. This is the first way to show that you see them as a professional.
    • Make sure to take note of the person’s professional status (prof. or Dr.)
  3. Include the reason for your email in your first 2 sentences followed by a call to action
    • Explain why you are emailing them, whether it is an issue they need to fix, information they need to know, etc.
    • Provide a response date, so they will respond when you need the information
    • Follow with what you want them to do. “Let me know if you have any comments or concerns…” helps with getting an answer back. Also, “Please advise” is another way to say you require help.
  4. Say “please” and “thank you”
    • Being polite goes a long way in the real world and that shouldn’t stop in an email.
    • Say “please” if you are asking them to do something.
    • Always say “thank you”, even if it’s just for the time they took reading the email.
  5. Include a signature
    • Make sure the signature contains your name and how to contact you
    • Adding your email address may be an unnecessary step because they can just hit reply and answer you; instead include your phone number and maybe a link to your LinkedIn account.

Before hitting send ALWAYS check your grammar and spelling, and don’t forget to proofread so you don’t miss any mistakes!

Fostering Engagement with Social Media

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Social media has a lot going for it as an educational tool: nearly everyone has some type of social media account, it’s easy to create an account if you don’t have one, social media makes it easy for people to connect, collaborate, and share, and social media platforms are optimized for mobile devices. In short, social media makes it easy for people to engage.  Faculty want to engage their students; students want to be engaged. Social media inherently engages. So how can you harness the power of social media to foster engagement in your course? Let’s look to Facebook and Twitter for examples.

Facebook

The groups feature in Facebook is an excellent tool for connecting faculty and students. Groups can be public, private, or secret depending on the privacy level desired. The groups feature allows for file sharing, polls, as well as the commenting and reaction features that we all know and love. Examples include an instructor making a group for the class to ask questions and connect with each other, share thoughts, applicable articles,

twitter feed
WCU Online Twitter feed embedded on a WCU D2L homepage

and news events. Students can make groups to collaborate for group projects or connect over similar interests.

 

Twitter

How much can you accomplish in 140 characters? A lot. Establishing a course hashtag by combining the course code and section number (e.g. #PHI12502) is a quick and easy way for faculty and students to start connecting over course topics. Liking and re-tweeting people and organizations in the field being studied can connect students to important names and current research. Faculty at West Chester University can even embed their personal twitter feed or a hashtag based feed as a widget on their course homepage.

These are just a few ideas for using social media in your class but the options are endless. I’ve heard of using Pinterest and Instagram for scavenger hunts and Snapchat for storytelling.

Have you used social media in your course? Tell us about it in the comments!

Want to try using social media in your course but you’re not sure how to get started? Contact us! We’d love to help.

 

 

3 Essential Tips for Online Learning Success

Student
“Student” by CollegeDegrees360 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

So, you’ve taken the plunge and signed up for your first online course. Or maybe it isn’t your first online course but you feel like you have some room for improvement as an online student. As a current online graduate student with nearly a decade of experience working with online faculty and students, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful online student. Below are my top 3 tips.

1. Communicate

Saying “communication is important” is really broad, so let’s break it down into who you should be communicating with, how, and why.

Who?

Your Instructor:

  • Read your syllabus so that you know the best way to get in contact with your instructor and then use that information whenever you need to. If they’ve provided a discussion area for the class to ask questions, use it! I know so many online students who hesitate to contact their instructor because they don’t want to bother them or because they feel like they should be able to figure things out on their own. These are the same students who wouldn’t hesitate to raise their hand or stay after class to ask a question in a traditional face to face course. If you don’t say anything, your instructor will assume that everything is fine- they can’t see the confused look on your face, so speak up!

Your Classmates: 

  • Discussion boards, wikis, and blogs are just some of the ways that you’ll likely interact with your online classmates. Make an effort to engage with your classmates in class, but also exchange emails or start groups to connect through social media.

Your Resources

  • Know who to contact when you need help. You know you can reach out to your professors and your classmates but did you know that many institutions offer online tutoring? For example WCU students have access to online tutoring through Smarthinking. Do you have a disability that could affect your participation in class? Make sure it’s documented with your institution’s Office of Services for Students with Disabilities so that your professor can make the appropriate accommodations. Know who your advisor is. Know how to use the library services available to you. And know who to call for technical support!

How?

In all communication with the institution, your instructor, and other students use proper spelling, grammar, and mind your netiquette.

Why?

An online class can be isolating if you let it. Make an effort to reach out. Get to know your instructor, your classmates, and your resources. You’ll be a better student, have a more enriching learning experience, and feel more connected to your academic community.

2. Be Honest with Yourself

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses as a student because they’re going to be amplified in an online environment. Are you motivated but disorganized? A great communicator but have poor time-management skills? Take stock and focus your efforts on strengthening your weaknesses. Almost all institutions have student support services dedicated to helping you succeed, like the Academic Success Workshops offered through the WCU Learning Assistance & Resource Center.

3. Sharpen those tech skills!

Make sure you have the basics down:

  • You’ll need a computer AND an internet connection- or at least access to both on a regular basis. Most online courses are not (yet!) designed to be taken on your phone or tablet. The excuse that you didn’t have access to a computer or internet to take your test/hand in your assignment/contribute to your group project won’t go over well with anyone. Other recommended hardware includes a webcam and a headset/microphone combo for online meetings and presentations.
  • Software and Applications. If you’re a student at WCU, you have free access to Microsoft Office 365 as well as other useful software downloads. Also be sure to have at least 2 browsers installed on your computer. Most new PCs come with Microsoft Edge and Macs come with Safari, but we also recommend installing Chrome and/or Firefox.
  • Know the basics. Make sure you know how to edit, save, and attach files.
  • Be open to trying new technology tools in your online course- it’s part of the learning experience!

 

What tips would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments!