Semester Timeline

Despite hopes to the contrary, an online course does not "run itself" during the semester. In fact, for some instructors the amount of work required for a fully-online course matches or even exceeds the time required of a face to face class. You can minimize problems by planning and structuring your course in certain ways, and by setting effective expectations for your students.

Before the Semester

Webcourses can be administered using only familiar Microsoft Office programs, such as MS-Word (.doc) and PowerPoint (.ppt) files that you upload and allow students to download. Many Webcourses, however, make use of HTML files that display natively in the Webcourses interface. If you are using or creating HTML files, it is wise to build these locally on your computer, and upload them to Webcourses later. Building them only inside Webcourses offers no redundant backup, and you will not have access to those files in the event of a Webcourses outage. Instead, keep your master documents in your own computer, and upload copies to Webcourses.

When you create a class in the Faculty Webcourses Manager, one of your choices is whether to combine similar sections together. This option exists to make administration and grading easier during the semester; rather than click into each class to make changes, you can do it all at once. Also, the discussions your students have with each other may well be richer, since there is a double-sized pool of participants.

If you link the classes, you may wish to devise a method to see at a glance which students originally came from each section. In the TEACH tab, click on GRADE BOOK and then create a new column named SECTION. Then, edit that column and manually place a number there for each student, such as 0061 and 0062 (or whatever the section numbers are). Next, sort by last name (which should already be the default), and then sort by SECTION, and your grade book should now be organized alphabetically for Section 0061, and then alphabetically for Section 0062.

Students in fully-online classes often fail because they are their own worst enemies when it comes to time management. It may be an effective strategy to therefore construct tighter and stricter due dates. Make more assignments, each worth fewer points, rather than a smaller number of large ones, as a way to encourage them to work toward the goal consistently, rather than all at once.

 

During the Semester

Communicate to students right at the start that their tasks are to be completed throughout the semester, rather than all at once at the end. Many instructors email their students as the semester begins, sometimes with instructions for how to find the course and how to log in, as you may have students who have never taken an online course at UCF before and do not know how to begin.

Expect heavy drop rates in the first week of classes, the add/drop phase. You may also see higher withdrawal rates later in the semester than is true of face-to-face classes. For whatever reason, many students adopt more of a "shopper's" mentality with online-only courses.

One of your main jobs, as you might expect, will be to answer student questions by email. These come either at your own email address or from the email tool within Webcourses, or both. Regardless of how you indicated your preference to students, some may email you in the opposite fashion anyway. You may also wish to hold virtual office hours via the CHAT function in Webcourses.

Try not to feel that you must fix every complaint, for some may complain no matter how your course is structured. You should, however, address the complaints and respond to them in some fashion.

Another large task throughout the semester consists of monitoring discussion boards, if you have allowed this course tool. As instructor, you are required to actively monitor and administer this activity; if students misbehave or step out of line, you will want to intervene (options include editing, deleting, or hiding the messages or threads in question).

As the semester progresses and students take assessments, you may wish to evaluate your overall assessment strategy. If there are too many quizzes, you can still trim them actively in mid-term. If the students are having trouble finishing quizzes in time, you can adjust quiz settings to allow for more time, allow them to re-take exams, or almost any number of variables.

Students with disabilities who have been cleared for double the normal test time can have their needs met by simply duplicating the quiz, setting its time frame at double the old length, and using "selective release" to grant only that student access to the duplicated exam.

Students often seek make up or extra credit work. If you decide to meet their requests, you might again need to adjust quiz settings, or simply grant additional points in the grade book.

One strategy to reduce your workload when grading items manually is to employ the "grading forms" tool, which provides a rubric to save you time when assigning scores. Once the rubric is set up, you can simply provide a summary grade to the students and point to the relevant cell(s) of the grading form as the explanation/justification for the grade they earned.

Lastly, consider what back-up plans should be in place in case the system breaks at a critical time. Scheduled maintenance times can be located at http://cdl.ucf.edu/system-status/, and you will want to know those so you can steer clear of those windows when assigning work.

When unexpected downtimes occur, students' ability to complete assignments may be compromised. Center for Distributed Learning tracks those downtimes, so that instructors do not have to simply take students at their word when claiming access problems. The downtimes are displayed at http://cdl.ucf.edu/system-status/.

 

Preparing for the Next Semester

As the semester progresses, keep notes on what elements you may wish to explore or change for the next semester. If you are building files locally on your computer, keep a separate folder with duplicate course materials that you can update as you go. It's better not to overwrite the materials from the current semester, so that you can keep a record of what was asked of students in the current term.

When the semester is over, create a backup of the course. In the BUILD tab, select "manage course" and then BACKUP. Once you request the backup, it goes into a queue to be created. Check back a few days later to see the backup, and download it locally to your own computer. The files it creates cannot be opened just by browsing your computer, but you can use a Webcourses account to re-upload the backup material and re-populate the class experience back to this state.

Because you cannot view those files natively in your computer, you may wish to create readable backups of discussions. First click on ALL TOPICS, and then at the bottom of the page, select the "page" setting to be ALL. Next, near the top of the page is a check box next to the word SUBJECT; clicking it will place a checkmark into all the lines of the page. With those boxes checked, scroll to the bottom and click CREATE PRINTABLE VIEW. The result will pop up in a new window, and you can copy-paste everything into MS-Word for saving on your own computer.

You should also download a copy of the grade book. In the TEACH tab, view the grade book and click the button "export to spreadsheet" near the bottom. The defaults on the next screen can be left alone; click EXPORT to open or save the file as a .csv (which will open with MS-Excel when double-clicked).

You should retain course and grade information for at least three years, according to law. Many instructors simply keep the records indefinitely.

 

 

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