There are many obstacles that contribute to the high failure rate for students who take online classes. What do you think are some of the reasons why approximately half of all students fail their online classes? What can we do to help students become more successful?

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Tags: online, pedagogy

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I think some of the reasons for failing an online class are that students need to set aside time to participate in it and that teachers need to communicate more with their online students to make the feel a part of the "class".

Speaking of which, do you have suggestions for discussion ideas for an online math class and the tools to best accomplish that?
Mary, those are 2 very valid points. I think that teachers need to teach students strategies for online success. Teach them how to schedule time, how to organize, how to read online etc.

The communication point might just be the most important part of teaching online. Most students are not that motivated to do the work and a personal, communicative relationship with their teacher can really help to provide some buy in for the kids. More than that though, there is a human nature aspect involved too, many people dont want to let down those they care about. Albeit, that may be less true in teenagers :)
I was talking to a close friend who teaches at a community college where I used to teach and we were discussing the type of student who takes an online class. I have found that students who are attracted to online education because of the convenience and flexibility offered may be sunk because they think the course will be easier online or that working independently can fit around other classes, work schedules and/or home life. These same students seem to underestimate the self-discipline and motivation required to succeed in the class, not unlike people who go into business for themselves, but the business fails because the owner is unwilling to put in the necessary investment of time and presence to make the business succeed.
And I think we as creators of courses can thwart some of this if we utilize the tools of engagement and best practices in the courses themselves. I think that the expert teacher of an online class or even a blended scenario, engages students and creates a learning environment where students are purposeful about their interactions, and also held accountable for them.

One idea would be to begin the class doing an interactive activity vs. just introduction of content. As in the way we, in traditional classrooms, make it a priority to establish a feeling tone and learning environment, in online, I think students might be more successful if they felt connections to others and not just a lone duck when it came to the work. So this first activity can be -- instead of asking them to introduce themselves, have them contact someone else and then introduce the other person in the forum. Using the web 2.0 tools available to us these days, students would probably enjoy this activity and also it would force them to reach out and come out of their "solo" environment.
I am somewhat frustrated in the online environment because the interaction you bring up came so naturally to me in the "live" classroom, but I don't feel I have been successful in establishing the "tone of inclusiveness" in my online class. I do have face-to-face contact with my students once a week, so I do have some opportunity for personal interaction. I am hoping to collaborate with one of my colleagues (who is also on this network) about ways to incorporate more interactive tools and ideas into the online portion. The activity you suggest is very good... what type of tool would you suggest using? Thanks.
I so agree with this approach. Remember "icebreakers" from all of those workshops we have attended? I think there is a huge difference in online classes that use these activities to establish an online community right away. One of my favorites was to describe yourself using 5 nouns (harder than you think!). Students should be required to respond to the posts of their classmates and given credit for thoughtful or innovative responses (some thing beyond "cool" etc.) The class was required to create a table displaying each student and a factoid about them (we could use social network pages for research if they weren't blocked!)

One of the imperatives is that the instructor MUST be an active participant in the class. They are obligated IMO to respond to their student's posts often and be encouraging to the reluctant posters by asking questions! Because we are not f2f we cant give that smile and a nod, pat on the back, it must be in print! :-)!
Engaging students in an online class is so important. There are so many things we can do to get students to talk to each other. I agree with Ann that students must be required to post more than "cool" or "I agree." It is only through proper modeling that we will ever get students to move beyond meaningless responses. Here is the rubric we came up with to use at my school to use to evaluate the discussion forums: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddd4k7mm_1663v942mch

Ann, I know how frustrated it is to have sites blocked. I have worked very hard to get sites at my school unblocked. I even managed to set up a Ning for students. I have found that we have to talk to everyone about what we are doing with Web 2.0. We need to share our experiences with other teachers and administrators. We have to find a way to convince educators who are not sold on Web 2.0 that the benefits outweigh the risks. You have some amazing classes set up. I hope you are planning on sharing what you are doing at a school board meeting. They would be blown away!
How long have your students been using Ning? I think its great and could help us to pull everything together for our students (and myself) :-) ahh more homework for me! Posting photos and a description/discussion in Ning for each student's photo assignment might be a great tool for critiques.

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They will start using the Ning this fall. I had originally thought it would just be for the students at VALTS and the virtual school, but I really would like to open it up a little to students from other schools that we invite. I really am determined to get my students out on to the web outside of the "walled garden." Even if only a couple of my students are able to connect with a couple of students in other parts of the country (or world) it will be an amazing experience for them.

If you decided to set up a Ning please let me know how it goes.
The one tricky thing about this is liability. You have no control over outside students and they are not subject to your school or network AUP.
We have our Ning closed specifically for this reason. Although, we have 750 students we are inviting this semester, and less than 50 know each other so its just like they are meeting people from the 'outside' world. :)
Cory,
Good point! We don't have nearly that many students, but they are still so spread out over western Nebraska that they do not know each other.

I'd still like to have students at my school work with a class on a small project. This is an invitation to anyone on this forum to contact me if you are interested. I teach social studies, but I'd love to get the English, math or science teacher at my school involved in a collaborative project. Even doing something as simple as having our students discuss a current issue on a class blog would be a good start.
When you're in the "traditional" classroom, the teacher guides the conversation, asks questions and keeps the learning juices flowing. Many times in an online setting, the "guide on the side" part of the learning process is missing. This is where all the Web 2.0 tools can be used to help motivate students, get those conversations going and help lead students to those "a ha" moments.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to online education is that most teachers just throw their offline curriculum into a virtual environment and expect it to work. Teaching online requires a different approach and IMO requires the teacher to be more actively involved in the day to day activities of the online classroom.

I also think that in order to be a good online teacher, you need to also have the experience of being an online student. I would urge anyone who is going to teach online to sign up for an online class and see what works, and what doesn't when teaching in a virtual learning environment.

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