This Week @gavirtual

this weekAlong with my return to TOOL, I hope to start writing a weekly post about my week of online teaching.

The goal of these posts is to share what I had hoped to do during the week and what actually happened. Plus, I’ll share any resources and ideas I used. Both the good and the bad. Please, take what helps, and learn from my mistakes.

Comment with your own ideas.

Preparation for the 18 Week Schedule

My summer session students struggled to keep up with the content, with the assignments, and with their grades. You may remember some of these frustrations. Although I expected my Fall Semester students to be a little different, since they are mostly taking this course as part of their regular academic year and not to remediate a failed class, I wondered if I could do a better job at orientating my students.

Before students enter my Language Arts class, they are required to complete the Student Orientation Course. This course reviews Georgia Virtual School’s policies and online learning best practices. Students read over the text, watch videos, and then complete a quiz – which is actually more like a checklist – to verify that they have completed the course.

Students can also opt out of the orientation, which makes sense. Students who have already taken online courses and/or are taking other GAVS courses this semester don’t need to be orientated four times. Just imagine having to complete the same course four times before accessing the four core curricula. No one wants to do that.

The course is good at informing students about the practices and policies, and it gives directions about where to find the assignments and how to submit them. However, it doesn’t provide much practice in using the tools within the learning management system. Also, since students complete these activities asynchronously, there is little community building going on. So, as part of my graduate work at Georgia State University, I developed a mini-unit that would help students practice. I “borrowed” the name and structure from a colleague, who identified four key skills online students should have to be successful. Students need to be present, be organized, be a communicator, and be an active learning. I call my unit “The Four Be’s” and you can find email templates, news item posts, and synchronous session activities on my website here.

Goals for the week

  • Start building a community of learners, and help students recognize other “experts” in the class.
  • Make myself present and establish relationships with students.
  • Get students to explore how online learning could connect to their own interests and passions. Have students share information about what they loved to do and what they were good at with others.


I conducted the Welcome Session Sunday night before the course officially opened. I wanted to review the policies and procedures as soon as possible so I could start the week with my mini-lesson. Every day, I’d email students, post a new news item with instructions to practice completing a task in Brightspace, and conduct a brief synchronous session during the week.

Here’s what happened

Emails to individual students to build up communication between the teacher and the student:

Out of seven students, two replied to my first two emails. These, however, were not written daily, and so I found myself sending variations of my email templates. Some students who didn’t email me were completing work in the course, so at least I knew they had access to Brightspace and were working. (Should I be offended that they didn’t write me back?) At the weekly synchronous session, the two students who showed were two who hadn’t emailed me, and that was because they didn’t know their email address. There’s one problem solved.emails

News Items

I started the week by dutifully following my plan, and I even conditionally released the second news item post after zero students submitted a response to the dropbox for day 1. No sense in getting behind. By Wednesday, I decided to go ahead and remove that condition, and post the third news item about creating a check-in email template. On Thursday, I shifted gears. Lacking participation from students, I decided not to have students complete personality quizzes and form partnerships, and instead left the three assignment up. I’d see what I could get done with students during the synchronous session. I sent an email to the class about the hour-long synchronous session. I also paged the class. Friday, I thought I’d offer a re-cap. In reflection, I sort of like the idea of a Friday news announcement with highlights and reminders, so I think I’ll do this in the future.

wk1 news

Synchronous Sessions

My “4 Be’s” unit plans for five brief synchronous sessions the first week. The goal is to build community among participants. In previous sessions, I found that a few students would come to the synchronous sessions, and after some time, they had built a little community. When a student was late or didn’t show, the others would ask about him/her. So, I figured five low-stakes sessions that used games and video would help advertise these sessions and also establish stronger connections among students sooner.

After three days of zero attendance, however, I decided to use my Thursday session as a recap. Since I wasn’t getting the feedback necessary for the Passions Project in my unit, I thought I’d try to do something similar: have students create a collage of images showing what students hoped to be doing in five years. I could also tie-in copyright and Creative Commons.

At first, only one student showed, so I didn’t record the one-on-one help with email and navigating Brightspace. The student was new to online learning, and needed some help. Although other students might have had the same troubles, I have mixed feelings of posing a session that seems more private.

The one-on-one ended at 8:45 when the second student joined. Better late then never, I guess.

collageThe Collage Project

One student seemed to understand the instructions and reported knowledge of PowerPoint, the other student understood the instructions but not PowerPoint. So, I asked the one if the other could email questions. Can I get these students to help each other online? To create a connection?

Synchronous session follow-up

On Friday, I recorded a recap of the session with clearer instructions about how to use PowerPoint, how to create the collage, and where to post the work. As of Sunday, zero students have submitted work. Even for extra credit. I should have known better. I rarely see extra credit motivate any students. Only when it’s too little, too late, do students seem to ask for it.

Weekly Wins

  • Goal: Make myself present and establish relationships with students. Despite the change of direction, I did manage to establish email correspondence with two students, and I have two students coming to my weekly sessions. Another student reported a schedule conflict but promised to watch the recordings.
  • Goal: Have students share information about what they loved to do and what they were good at with others. The discussion board has some replies about students participating in the same sports, and many students said they like online learning because they were bullied at school. So, some are sharing and relating to each other (yay empathy!) but they typically aren’t bragging about what they’re passionate about or what they do well. Perhaps this is related to having been bullied?

Action Plan

  • I’ll push out the “4 Be’s” to my 16 week students to see if there is any more success. I don’t want to give up too soon on the plan.
  • For my 18 week students, I’ll make a point to call them Monday to check in. Since many don’t seem to be the emailing type, I’ll also try texting.
  • As far as the collage goes, I’ll ask students about it and hold them accountable. Perhaps citing the image source is one step too many so that a “fun” assignment actually becomes “work.” Or maybe offering extra credit automatically made the activity “work.” Until I know these students better, I really can’t say. Hence the continuous effort to start dialogues.
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