Students need structure and organization in order to be successful, and that's more apparent in an online environment than anywhere. Students need the clarity of specific instructions and expectations. When Teaching and Learning Online, students need to take responsibility for their own learning; the onus is on the student. However, it's the responsibility of the teacher to ensure the environment is conducive to learning.
There are many online tools and strategies available to help course designers with content delivery and course management, including methods to help students remain organized and motivated. All of these tools exist in a traditional classroom, but in an Online environment, special care needs to be taken to ensure the communication is particularly clear around the expectations for the Teacher and the Learner.





Clear Expectations

  • Sylabus
    • The teacher has a responsibility to ensure the course sylabus is published in advance of the course starting
    • Although some changes may be forthcoming, having the structure and expections laid out in advance will permit the student to work independently and create a personal schedule or workplan

  • Rubrics
    • Assignments need to be associated with clear and concice rubrics; students need to understand what's expected of them for each assignment, assessment or activity
    • Some Learning Management Systems have grading, rubric and feedback tools built in - removing the need to have assignments emailed or faxed in to the instructor

Tools

  • Checklist
    • In addition to an overall sylabus, when Teaching Online, it's critical to have an organized checklist for students to follow
    • Students can manage the items on the checklist, but need to understand their expectations in an organized manner

  • Workplans
    • Some students will benefit from a dedicated workplan they have a hand in creating
    • Like a checklist, the workplan has a list of assignments, activities and dates for planned completion - but the creation of the workplan rests with the student

  • Calendar
    • Online or course-based calendars are an essential tool when Teaching or Learning online
    • Updates can be managed in one central location, and can be sent out and shared with all students and course participants
    • Online calendars (such as Google Calendars) can be shared among different users


  • QR Code Generator
    • A QR code is a two-dimensional barcode that can be scanned by a smartphone or a mobile device and take the user to a specific page or media piece on the internet
    • QR codes can help students remain organized and add clarity by pointing them to one specific place

Research

Ingham ISD and Michigan Virtual School. (2009). Navigating the land of online learning! Retrieved from: http://web.inghamisd.org/gettingonline/start.html
This resource presents six different perspectives when planning for the inclusion of online classes or online learning in an established educational milieu: Administrator, Technical Coordinator, Counselor, Mentor, Parent and Student. Presented as an online flash-based "game", this resource allows the participant to review significant questions from each of the six different perspectives. Picking one of the "game pieces" allows the user to explore the realm of Online Learning in a novel, but extensive manner. Once the gameboard has been successfully circumnavigated, the user is provided with a list of additional online resources which highlight some of the key features described in the online "game". An educational leader would use this resource as an alternative, engaging way to better showcase the important features that need to be considered. Broken down to the critical components, this resource can act as a checklist, established by school authorities who have already researched and analyzed the strategies needed to successfully implement online learning in a school district. Some parts are State-specific, such as connections to the Michigan Online Requirements, but most of the information is general enough to be of benefit to K-12 educators, leaders and proponents of online education. Before using this resource, the user would have to have a strong understanding of how their specific district would want to implement online learning; this resource doesn't provide any specific rationales, as it works as a checklist of all the various perspectives to consider.

Stavrinoudis, D. & Xenos, M. (2007). The influence of aesthetics and content structuring to e-Learning systems’ users behavior. Proceedings of 11th Panhellenic Conference on Informatics, (pp. 551-558). Patras, Greece. Retrieved from http://quality.eap.gr/Publications/XM/Conferences%20English/C46%20-%20Influence%20to%20E-Learning%20Systems.pdf
In this case study, the researchers surveyed 32 students on their use and understading of two different e-learning systems. It is important to note that neither e-learning system used a Learning Management System, per se, but website-based instruction. The two models explored were either plain HTML-based pages, or pages embedded within frames. The inclusion of screenshots of each of the different scenarios permits the authors to fully explore the visual and aesthetic elements of the online environment while being able to postulate on the functionality of the different systems. The authors determine that to create an effective and engaging e-learning environment, the content creators and designers must address the needs of experienced and inexperienced users. An educational leader would be able to reference this study as an example of how design and interface choices do impact student (user) appreciation and accessibility.

Stenalt, M. & Godsk, M. (2006). The pleasure of e-learning: Towards aesthetic e-learning platforms. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference of European University Information Systems, (pp. 210-212). Tartu, Estonia. Retrieved from http://www.au.dk/fileadmin/www.au.dk/e-laeringsenheden/e-laering_og_ikt/publikationer/thepleasureofe-learning.pdf
In this article, the researchers postulate that successful e-learning requires careful attention to the aesthetic concerns and not just a pure focus on the usability and funtion of the online learning resources and content. They note on the difference between online learning modules and resources, and other non-academic uses of online technologies. Other online tools and software does have a strong focus on positive user interactions based on aesthetics; as should a successful online learning program. Because users (learners) are comfortable and accustomed to one type of online interaction, educational institutions have the responsibilty to offer courses and materials that meet users' expectations for current available technologies. The authors, through their research, propose that designers and developers of online e-learning take aestehtical awareness into consideration when planning out the course content and materials. A leader in educational technology would be able to use this study to enhace teacher and designer practice through an analysis of the current available technologies that students are already accustomed to, and modifying current online teaching practices to become more in alignment with these trends.

Watson, J. and Gemin, B., Evergreen Education Group and Coffey, M. (2010). Promising practices in online learing: A parent's guide to choosing the right online program. Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning.
This document, published for parents and students making choices about their online learning optinos, begins with a discussion of online learning, and highlights the differences between online learning and homeschooling. The collective authors attempt to address some common questions that families might have, and is grounded in the understanding that the reader is completely unfamiliar with online learning. The guide presents a narrative of a fictional family, the Robertsons, as they consider online learning options for their three children. Many significant issues are addressed, including quality of the program, governance, curriculum, technology, student support and socialization. Families new to the concept of online learning would find a lot of value in this publication, as it is comprehensive, critical and yet very accessible. Although intended for parents and students choosing an online program, this document would be valuable to any leader in an online program. By better understanding the options available to all students, the course designers and school leaders can create more appealing, attractive and successful online programs. For example, many families that might have been traditional homeschoolers might begin to see the benefits of online learning if they are presented in terms that are familiar and attractive to the family.