Please keep in mind that this site is actively being revised and content may change.
If you need help with any strategies listed on this page, please contact a CELT consultant.
In May 2017, Purdue University Fort Wayne surveyed our online students to understand their online learning experience, and to identify areas where effective strategies could be developed to better support student learning online. The top five challenges reported by those 426 students were:
- Keeping up with assignments, materials, deadlines, due dates.
- Lack of communication from instructor/disconnect with the instructor/unclear expectations.
- Time management.
- Low quality of instruction or lack of instruction from faculty.
- Not enough assignment details from instructors.
There are different strategies to address these challenges. It is especially important that faculty ensure their online students know:
- What they should be doing at any specific time (Timeline),
- How to complete assigned tasks (Instructions),
- How their work will be evaluated (Evaluation Criteria), and
- How they are doing (Progress).
You might be working with students who are new to online learning. Please refer to different strategies you can use to adapt to prepare your student for online learning. Every instructor has their own teaching style and unique pedagogical considerations. Therefore, please feel free to request a one-on-one consultation with a CELT consultant to discuss your pedagogical needs.
Now, let’s take a look at different strategies to address the four general categories mentioned above.
Use the Simplified Brightspace Course Template.
All faculty, even those who are not currently using Brightspace can use the course templates developed by consultants and your fellow colleagues based on evidence-based practices. The templates provide a simple navigation sidebar to help students quickly find the course content. If you need help copying or modifying the course templates, please contact a CELT consultant.
Provide a checklist/schedule
A course schedule or an assignment checklist are commonly used by online instructors to help students keep track of their progress.
The best time to communicate your course continuity plan is before it is needed. Spend a few minutes reviewing the plan with your students and post it to your course learning management site (Brightspace). You can use announcements to remind students of upcoming assignments and projects. You can also choose to automatically send a copy of announcements to all students via email.
Use the email tool within Brightspace
University email is the official email service for anyone with an affiliation to the university. It is the most consistent and supported method of exchanging email with your students. You may find it helpful to provide students with email guidelines specific to your course (e.g. subject lines must include the course number; you will reply within 24 hours, etc.) However, exercise caution when dealing with confidential information. Should the need arise to teach remotely, communicating within your LMS is the safest option and one that provides students with a single point of contact for anything related to your course.
Make sure student have all necessary course materials
In order for students to continue following along in the course remotely, they will need access to all required course materials. Post items such as handouts, readings, presentation slides, and assignments on the course site. Provide clear instructions to tell students how to access those materials. Please follow copyright law when posting materials online. Investigate your options for embedding or linking course materials when teaching online and whether your situation allows for copyright exceptions.
Labs, recitation, field work alternatives
To mitigate the effects of losing the in-person interactions and hands-on experiences that outside-of-class components provide, consider establishing alternative, but equivalent activities for those components. Consider the following:
- Putting components online: Labs often require specific procedures or hands-on work. When that is not possible, find online videos or video-record your own demonstrations and post to your online course. Connect students with online simulations, and provide opportunities for them to breakdown and analyze data. and save what is necessary for when students can return to the physical space.
- Use virtual labs or simulations: Online simulations can provide a similar experience to hands-on activities. Provide students with a structure for engagement with simulations and clear instructions on what to submit via the online course. The PhET website provides simulations for online engagement in Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Mathematics, and Physics. For construction or civil engineering-specific experiences where you might normally visit field-sites, there are online simulations to walk students through various processes. Visit letsbuild.com for a list of construction simulation games, and explore the construction simulations located on InteliBuild’s YouTube channel.
- Provide raw data for students to analyze: In a case where students collect and analyze data, you can demonstrate how to collect the data and provide students with the raw set of data to analyze on their own. This allows them to practice the data collection phase themselves until they can return to class.
- Explore alternate software access: It is not always possible to have access to specific software on all of your students’ personal computers, tablets, or phones. In the event a separate lab space cannot be set up for students to engage with the software, consider finding an equivalent accessible to all students.
- Increase alternative interactions: Outside-of-class components have the potential to offer a more individualized experience. The use of discussion board tools in the Learning Management System, can allow for off-site interaction until students return to your labs and recitations.
- Use Kaltura for student presentations and/or performance. Students will have access to create and stream videos through the university’s Kaltura mediaspace.
Use reader-friendly languages
When teaching face-to-face, instructors have the opportunity to explain and respond to questions regarding assignments or project expectations. For online assignment expectations, try to break your assignment instructions into sections such as “Purpose,” “Grading Criteria,” “Timeline,” and “Submission Method.” Download the Informative Speech Assignment Instructions [PDF] as an example of project instructions.
Note: A quick way to check whether your instruction is clear is to have a friend or colleague read it over and explain back to you what students are expected to do.
Use a question & answer forum
Instructors can create an online Questions & Answers discussion forum in Blackboard to address students’ questions in a timely manner. This will also save you from answering the same questions multiple times. Strategies to make the best of this tool include:
- Allowing Students to Subscribe to the forum. By subscribing to the foum, you and your students will receive automatic emails when new questions are posted or answered.
- Communicating clearly your response timeframe.
- Instructing your students to use the forum to seek answers to their questions. When students email you a simple question, encourage them to post to the forum.
You can follow the step-by-step instructions in the video on how to create and subscribe to a Questions & Answers Forum in Brightspace.
Hold synchronous online meetings
Synchronous online meetings are useful to provide students guidance and feedback for projects and exams. Read more on the Online Meetings page.
Allowing students to subscribe to the forum. By subscribing to the forum, you and your students will receive automatic emails when new questions are posted or answered.
Share grading rubrics and checklist ahead of time
Sharing the grading rubric or checklist will help students understand your expectations. They can also make the grading process more consistent and transparent.
Share examples of work for different performance levels
Another way to communicate your expectations of student work is to show samples for different performance levels. Make sure you get students’ permission to share their work and remove all identifiable student information from the samples.
Update students’ grades in the Gradebook
Grade students’ assignments in a timely manner, and update the Grades in Brightspace. This informs students of their progress and allows them to make adjustments accordingly.
Provide re-submission with feedback
Draft submission and high-quality feedback from the instructor can help students improve their performance. You can also consider holding a synchronous online meeting or creating instructional videos to address the common challenges. You can find more resources on the instructional videos page.
Use Brightspace features to support struggling students
The following Brightspace features will help instructors identify and reach out to students who might be struggling.
- Class Engagement in Classlist: Go to Classlist and click the Class Engagement tab. You can see the number of students who have not visited the course in the past 7 day. Click on the card will show instructors the students’ names. Instructors can also email each or all of them directly.
- Class Progress in the Navbar: The Class Progress tool in the course navigation bar tracks your learners' overall progress as a course and individually. Instructors can also use the Settings to change the class progress data to view.
- Email students with no assignment submission: Go to Course Tools>>Assignment, and click the specific assignment. Click Email Users Without Submissions to remind students of the upcoming due date.
- Intelligent Agents: The intelligent agents tool can monitor students’ login, course activities and release conditions in a course. Instructors can use the tool to manually or automatically take certain action to students meeting certain criteria. For example, an email can be automatically sent out to students who did not pass a quiz with additional resources.
- Course Overview Widget: The course overview widget on the course homepage provides useful data on Class Engagement, Course Access, and Tool Access.
- View Reports tool: Click Table of Contents in the Contents. Click Related Tools and choose View Reports to detailed user or content statistics.