Setting up an effective online course environment requires planning before the semester begins. Strong organization, clear lines of communication, and intentional efforts to facilitate class community can help an online course run smoothly. Limiting the number of digital platforms and establishing clear expectations will help students stay on track and connect more deeply with one another, and with course material.
When setting up your course, take special care to make sure your materials and methods of engagement will be accessible to all students in your course. Too many technologies can be confusing, but one tool/platform may not offer all the functionality you need to run an online course. To avoid confusion — and because students are likely juggling multiple platforms across courses — it’s advisable to use no more than 1-3 tech tools or platforms in an online course.
Establishing Modes of Communication
When deciding which technologies to use, it’s helpful to ask: What modes of communication will be necessary for my online course to be successful? Will you be posting course materials? Facilitating synchronous online discussions? Providing space for written reflection? Assigning collaborative writing or annotation? Relying upon group work? Accessing archives or other digital media? You can then select the technologies that allow you to most effectively structure those experiences with your students.
Prior to the start of the classes, notify students via email of the technical requirements and digital tools that will be used in the course. In this email, you might include the syllabus and more information about where course materials will be found online, and ask students to review this material before the first meeting.The syllabus should contain information about the technologies you are using and directions for where students can get technical support.
Communication in an online course demands significant time from faculty. Let students know your preferred methods of communication and how they should get in touch with you during the semester. Ask yourself: how and when do I want to communicate with students during the semester? Establish systems, routines, and schedules for communication during the semester.
In online courses students benefit from spaces to work through ideas together. Synchronous meetings can be great for discussion, but encouraging and facilitating interaction between students beyond class meetings can also help build community. Tools such as a forum on the CUNY Academic Commons, a discussion board on Blackboard, a Slack team, and/or a collaborative shared notetaking document all can effectively facilitate communication between students beyond the synchronous class meeting time, while also creating a valuable record of the experience of the course.
Ensuring Access and Support
Any digital platforms and materials used must meet accessibility standards. Key elements of accessibility include:
- Any PDFs shared should be optical character recognition compliant (OCR)
- Videos and video meetings should be captioned
- Websites should be accessible via mobile phones, readable by screen-readers, and navigable with keyboard navigation. Use the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool to make sure the websites you are using are accessible.
- If you or students need assistance with making the course accessible, contact Student Disability Services at the CUNY Graduate School and University Center
During the 2020-2021 academic year, we all must take extra care to ensure that our students remain connected and supported. Consider that students might be:
- residing in households that lack consistent bandwidth and/or reliable and available computer equipment for ongoing participation in synchronous meetings.
- sharing internet connections, computer equipment, or study space with other members of their family.
- contending with an overwhelming set of stressors such as full or part time work, caring for children or relatives, and caring for themselves.
To engage in further discussion or ask questions, join the GC Online Commons Group here.