Bill of Rights for Online Learners

A colleague sent me a link to a YouTube video produced by Quality Matters, a faculty-centered, peer review process that is designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses.  In the video, online students share what they outline as the rights of online learners.  I’ve shared the video below.

Looking at the QM Online Students’ Bill of Right video, a few clear commonalities stand out.  I thought I’d share some of these commonalities and weave in the rights for online learners from the video.  While the video discusses what online learners should expect, I have outlined these commonalities from an instructor’s point of view.

1.  Structured learning experiences are critical.  Since the online environment is the main space for students to engage in the class, providing a course shell with logical and consistent structures is critical.  Unlike a face-to-face course where students walk into a classroom, online learners interact with a space that instructors usually create themselves. Online instructors must determine how to organize content to provide logical, consistent structure for students.  In our professional development sessions on campus, we advocate that online instructors create a short orientation video for students at the start of an online class.  The orientation video can show students were to find important elements of the course and how to interact via discussion boards or how to submit papers to online drop boxes.

2.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.  How should students interact with the content, the instructor and with other students?  How often should they log in?  How should they contribute to the course?  How are students being assessed?  When should they expect responses from their instructors?  All of these expectations and processes need to be clearly stated so that students know how to interact and participate.

3.  Students can’t complete what they can’t access.  Sometimes online instructors lose sight of all of the technologies that students need to be successful in their online class.  They assume that since they have access to some specialized software or application, students will as well.  We’re living in an era where so many proprietary applications are being replaced by substitutes that are available for free online.  Why use Microsoft Word when students can create documents with Google Docs?  Why upload a Powerpoint file when it can be shared online via Slideshare.  The key is to utilize course content that is easily downloaded or web-based to reduce the need for additional applications outside of the online learning environment.

4.  It’s still about learning.  While instructors can get lost in discussions of file formats or placement of icons, the important concept to remember is that online courses are still learning environments.  Instructors need to provide clearly stated learning objectives that are appropriate for the students in the course.  Instructors need to develop and select course materials that help students build understanding and be successful in the assessments.  Instructors need to create assessments that are fair and match the learning objectives of the course.  While the video outlines what online learners should expect from their online classes, I think good online teaching demands these elements as well.

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