Faculty Focus


Preparing Your Online Students for the Tough Weeks Ahead

Our courses are rolled out to online students with assignments scheduled for each week. Some of these assignments are relatively easy, meaning there will be weeks that are “light” in terms of scheduled assignments, while others will be “killer” weeks because of especially difficult assignments and/or a large number of assignments. While you need to prepare students to do all the assignments, it is especially important that you pre-assist them for those killer weeks. If you don’t do this, their anxiety can markedly increase, their involvement in and enthusiasm for the course can decrease, and you can lose them altogether.

Here are some suggestions to help you better prepare your students and give them a greater understanding of all online assignments—especially for those killer weeks:

Lay the groundwork for the weeks ahead. You know that some weeks will be easier than others for your students, and it’s best to point this out up front. Be encouraging and positive, stress the importance of time management and organization in an online course, and tell the students that your input on all assignments will help them improve from week to week.

Let students know that you are sincerely interested in helping them. It’s up to you to link the course and the students back to you. If the students sense that you really don’t care much about their efforts, you will quickly lose them. By being a constant presence, by responding to student postings and grading assignments in a timely and substantive manner, by injecting some humor into the course, and by giving a little extra help to struggling students, you will keep them involved during the easy weeks and keenly focused in the more difficult weeks.

Stress that an “easy” week is as important as any other week in class. When a course week comes by that seems to have few assignments and/or seemingly easy assignments, students can quickly blow these off by not doing the work or not embracing the value of the assignments. To keep these reactions to a minimum, stress the value of each assignment, even in the slower weeks, including their lessons and use in the students’ everyday world beyond the course.

Put special effort into assisting students you believe might do poorly during intense weeks. You will have students who will do well no matter how difficult an assignment week is; they will appreciate and benefit from all general class postings of encouragement. But there also will be weaker students—students already are struggling with the assignments—who will need extra motivation and attention from you. Emails, chats, MP3 files, and/or calls to them before and throughout an especially daunting week of assignments can often give them the additional information, increased motivation, and needed encouragement they need so they don’t give up.

Remind students of already available course resources. Your school will have a host of online resources always at the ready for your students. These usually include a virtual library, extensive websites and articles related to the course subject, information on plagiarism, a tutoring and/or writing center, and technical assistance. Remind your students—throughout the course—of the importance of these resources, but also relate their use to specific assignments in the course, for all weeks.

Develop an additional library of resources to assist students through all weeks of the course. School-ready resources are developed or made available to help students with studying in general and for specific course subjects. But you can take these resources one step further by adding websites, articles, examples, and suggestions that assist students in tackling and understanding both the course subject and course assignments. It is especially helpful when you post these types of resources for specific assignments.

Errol Craig Sull has been teaching online courses for more than 15 years and has a national reputation in the subject, about which he has written and conducted workshops. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his next book—How to Become the Perfect Online Instructor.

Excerpted from “Preparing Online Students for Course Weeks Ahead—Both Easy and ‘Killer.’” Online Classroom, Nov. 2009, 6-7.