In an effort to create high-quality online courses, the Instructional Design team and many of the online faculty fellows at Wichita State have become certified Quality Matters peer reviewers. Quality Matters, or QM, “is a faculty-centered, peer review process that is designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses.” In their peer review courses, QM stresses the importance of designing the online classroom. Rather than focus on what happens while a course is delivered, QM looks specifically at how an instructor or instructional designer designs a course to be implemented.
While I do think delivery of an online course is just as important as its design, QM’s emphasis on design does make me think quite a bit about how to create an atmosphere of trust for my online students before they even login at the beginning of the semester. When teaching in a face-to-face classroom, trust is built through consistent interaction between student and teacher. The asynchronous environment of an online course can lose this trust-building experience. So, when designing a course, I always think long and hard about how we can build trust in our students and instructors before the class has begun. Here are some steps I take in my own courses to design for trust:
- Scheduling: Creating a clear and concise course schedule for students helps them to trust that they will not be surprised by assignments, due dates, or requirements from their instructor. If students can trust that the schedule they looked at in August is the same as the schedule they refer to in October, they know they are completing the requirements for the course. At the same time, instructors can trust that their students will complete required assignments on time. The pressure for instructors to constantly send out reminders or “baby sit” their students is reduced.
- Policies: Having an assigned area in an online course that is dedicated to policies means that students are immediately alerted to the policies of an instructor. I like to set up an introductory quiz for my students early in the semester that requires them to read through the policies. That way, students are aware of the policies and can trust that they will not change. This is especially important for items like late work policies that vary instructor to instructor. Instructors also benefit from these cemented policies by trusting that their students will not try to take advantage of the online format. For example, if one of your online classroom policies is that students must submit work in a Word document, all students will be aware of this initially and most—if not all—students will avoid breaking these rules.
- Student Support: Dedicating an area of your online class to links and information about university student support helps students trust that their instructor is concerned about their individual needs. If students know that they can trust their university to provide solutions for these needs, then the online classroom has laid the groundwork for an online, university community. At the same time, instructors can trust that these students are aware of avenues of support and are able to find the help that they need. Instructors can trust that students have the tools and support they need to perform well in their class.
- Human Components: Including elements of humanity in courses like talking head videos and instructor introductions helps students to trust that there is a human instructor available to them over the course of the semester. This also improves the general atmosphere of the classroom. Nancy Coppola, associate professor of humanities at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, says that “Students take their cues from the instructor, and when the instructor is not there, the students will be negative. But if the instructor is positive from the beginning, showing emotion for the students and the content, students will respond in the same way.” If students are met with an instructor on the first day of the course, the can continue to trust that the instructor is always present and positive. In turn, instructors can trust that their students are aware of their presence and their ownership of the classroom.
- Easy Navigation: Creating navigation signposts for students helps them to trust their interactive, online classroom. Students can trust that everything in the course has its place and everything is in its place. Online students are busy, and their classroom hours are often inconsistent. It’s helpful for them to trust that they will not have to waste their learning time getting used to new tools or navigating a confusing classroom. By putting learning first through easy navigation, Instructors can trust that their students are entering a comfortable learning environment where they can be preoccupied with learning activities rather than locating assignments.
- Providing Supplemental Activities/Information: If done correctly, online learning can feel like so much more than students checking off requirements. By providing students supplemental activities and information, they can trust that their instructor is invested in their success. It is not uncommon for instructors to hand out supplemental information in a face-to-face class, why should that be lost in the online classroom? At the same time, instructors can trust that students have access to accurate materials for further learning. Rather than relying solely on students to investigate learning further, instructors can help promote learning through preplanned supplemental information.
These elements are only the beginning of constructing a trust-based online classroom. The process of building trust has to be maintained by an instructor throughout the course of a semester. Tomorrow, I’ll touch on how delivery can improve trust in a designed classroom.