Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Managing Courses With many Students

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jul 08, 1998

Posted to WWWDEV 08 July 98

I was asked for a survey how to handle many students (>100) in an online course. I thought my answer might be worth sharing with this list. It would also be useful to hear your suggestions. The result miight be worth compiling as a general information sheet.

Hiya, wrote: Could you elaborate on how a teacher could handle so many online students?

I didn't say all my experiences were successful ;) but I think I can elaborate.

1. Do not, under any circumstances, build regular email correspondence into the course (eg., do not put a forms-based email reply at the end of unit two). What you get is a flood of emails that you cannot possibly handle.

2. In general, do not insert pre-programmed personal interactions into the course. Even at 10 minutes per, 100 students translates into a thousand minutes of work.

I learned these the hard way. :(

Any more 'do-nots' from the WWWDEV readership?

OK, what to do instead:

1. Use discussion lists (eg., WebBoard, or Web Crossing). This allows you to pick and choose what you are responding to. Also, it stiumlates interaction between students. The more students are talking to each other, the less they need to talk to you.

2. Use mailing lists & other bulk mailing devices. The time savings are obvious. I have never actually used a mailing list, but I have used web-based bulk emaillers.

3. Automate. Several items here:

3a. Build in automatic email responses at key points. This way, students are getting feedback, but you don't have to do it.

3b. Build in self-correcting quizzes. You *cannot* personally mark all the exercises a student may go through in a course. Also, though, have self-correcting quizzes record themselves (I have them create HTML-based records) so you can review students' work on an as-needed basis.

3c. Build a response library of often-used comments. Best way, if it's not build into the online course software? Write them in Wordpad, then save them as Word Pad scraps right on your desktop.

3d. Use systems which track student progress, so you can identify when a student needs a kick in the ...

4. Adopt a general strategy of interacting on an as-needed basis. Personalize instruction - deeply personalize instruction. Some students, you will interact with only once of a few times. Others will require more interaction. *Do not design courses on the lowest-common denominator level* (eg. Do not plan like this: 'some people need to have all their work marked or they won't do it, so I'll mark all of everybody's work').

5. Delegate. Especially in an online situation, you aren't the only person capable of instructing the student. Many students ask their instructor technical questions (how do I send email, how do I find Yahoo?). Set up online courses so they receive this support locally. Same with coaching and motivation. Your impact online will be limited. Get someone locally to do it.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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