Fostering instructional immediacy in online classrooms
How can we create online learning environments that are as dynamic, collaborative and successful as the best face-to-face classrooms? Is it even possible? My own experience in online graduate teaching over the past 12 years suggests an emphatic “yes”. Or, should I say, an emphatic “yes, but…”.
Just as there are multiple and diverse classroom-based teaching approaches (some more successful than others in engaging learners and mobilizing knowledge transfer), there are as many ways and means of online instructional approaches. All students, regardless of the learning platform, engage best when they experience high instructional immediacy. That is, a sense of warmth, caring, support and positive regard in the learning environment.
A recent book focused on online teaching in the health professions (Melrose, Park & Berry, 2013) offers tips on creating and maintaining instructional immediacy in online settings, and it’s validating to see many of my own approaches and strategies reflected.
Here are 10 tips for how online instructors can project warmth and likeability (instructional immediacy):
1. Post a positive and supportive welcome message to greet students the first time they log into the course and each week thereafter
2. Share online bios (pictures are a bonus) (students and instructor)
3. Create smaller sub-groups for online discussion and reflection on course materials and assignments (8-10 students is optimal in my experience)
4. Include short (< 5 minutes) videos introducing course topics and offering tips and key learning to personalize each week’s focus
5. Assign “learning buddies” among students in the course to structure collaboration and collegiality
6. Have early and ongoing online conversations about process (versus course content)
What is it like to be in this course?
What are you looking forward to, and what is one thing you are concerned about?
How can we challenge each-other in ways that foster debate and dialogue but still feels respectful and affirming?
How can I (instructor) help maximize your learning and value from this course?
7. Set clear expectations in the Course Syllabus about online participation (my expectation of students is at least one original post per week, and at least two replies to other students’ posts per week)
8. Offer targeted encouragement at points in the course where motivation may be flagging (e.g., right after Reading Week, towards the final weeks of the course)
9. Use intentional word choices in online communication with students:
|The focus of this course is…||Our course will focus on…|
|You will be required to…||We’ll be working together to accomplish…|
|Students’ feedback has indicated…||The conversation in our group this week has highlighted…|
10. End the course with an explicit call to action – How does the learning in this course fit into the bigger picture of students’ learning trajectories and career goals? (here’s an example)
Student course evaluations attest to the possibility of online learning as a fun, rigorous and enriching alternative to face-to-face contact. Here are some representative student comments from the course evaluations for the 2014 online course I taught, both positive and negative (but comments overwhelmingly slanted toward the positive):
The instruction was very clear and very intellectually stimulating. The video clips were very well presented and made the instruction seem not virtual at all.
I enjoyed the online format of the course. I feel the online discussion help my learning and I benefit more from these discussions than in-class ones.
I really didn’t like the fact this course is online. I feel that I could have learned a lot more by having a classroom environment and participating through talking instead of writing
weekly reflections just because I had to.
Excellent, the most involved and interactive online course I have ever taken. I felt very engaged and connected to the instructor, students and material.
As students increasingly orient themselves to rich digital communication and sharing, this teaching/learning platform is aligned with what our students are already doing in their day-to-day lives. Not every student, but lots of our students.