By Robin Street
I once attended a writing workshop called Think Like A Fish. The speaker, a renowned writing coach, explained that her father was an excellent fisherman. When asked what his secret was, he replied, “I think like a fish.”
The point is that a writer should think about the person who will read the finished product. What will attract and keep the reader’s interest?
I have tried to apply that principle to my online class, where the “fish” is the student. In organizing my class, I tried to think like a student. When a student opens the class for the first time, what does he or she need?
- Would a student know know what to do when he or she first opens the class? Where to start? How to proceed? I realized you have to be crystal clear with directions and tabs. A “start here” button helps them navigate immediately.
- Syllabi can be overwhelming to a student. So two tricks I learned were helpful. First, giving a quiz about the syllabus increased the odds a student would read it. Second, a student does not want to keep referring to a downloadable syllabus to look up dates. Posting a master schedule within Blackboard is helpful for students to quickly refer to.
- How do you organize it? At first, I struggled with this because there is no set rule. You can just put everything online and have the student find his or her way through it. But I found that having structured, dated lessons breaks the mass of material into doable chunks for a student.
- I also set up a folder for “important information you’ll need all semester.” That folder contains class policies, assignment directions, directions on how to register for monitored tests, and most importantly, due dates for everything. When a student can’t recall where to find directions for something, it’s in that folder.
- My students have taught me two things about lectures. The recorded PowerPoints I was posting took far too long to download. My learning design consultant showed me that she can convert that lecture to a YouTube video that is closed captioned for students with disabilities. The video is also much quicker for the students so that they do not have to download a large file.
- The other thing students ask for is a downloadable PowerPoint with no audio. They use this version to take their notes on.
- I tell students if they don’t understand what to do, to ask me. Communicating often, even repeating myself several times, increases the odds the student comprehends the message.
- And finally, I’ve asked plenty of questions myself and gotten some some expert “fishing” tips from the online pros. The staff members at the online office have unfailingly been helpful, courteous, timely and informative no matter how silly my question was. Assistant Director Mary Lea Moore, Director Anne Klingen, Testing Center Director Catherine Hultman and Instructional Designers Wan Latartara and Pari Bhatt have all gone out of their way to be helpful.
About the Author
Robin Street is a senior lecturer in journalism and public relations in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She teaches JOUR 391 and JOUR 492 both in-class and online. Her JOUR 391 class received honorable mention in the 2015 Paragon award for outstanding online class.