E Learning Tips for Student Success

Advancements in technology have literally put higher education at students’ fingertips in the form of distance learning. As more institutions embrace and offer online courses, the number of students tapping into the option is expanding exponentially. And while the online learning concept is straightforward enough, everything from time constraints to lack of oversight to poor motivation tend to get in the way when students sign up for self-directed, online courses.

The 2012 National Survey for Student Engagement singles out students’ time use, programs of study, and co-curricular activities as elements that hamper their ability to engage with online coursework. An absence of collaborative activities can also play a role in a student’s ability to successfully complete distance education commitments. “Online leaders were more challenged in their coursework,” the NSSE reports, “but engaged less often in active and collaborative learning activities.”

Jessica Viecelli-Stimpson, an adjunct faculty member at American International College (AIC) in Springfield, MA, said a lack of instructor guidance could make distance learning particularly difficult for college students. “Students feel a lack of guidance,” said Viecelli-Stimpson, “when there’s no face-to-face time to ask questions or stop at the instructor’s desk on the way out of the classroom.”

In many cases, that lack of guidance leads to procrastination on the student’s part and, eventually, dropped or failed courses. “They know that they can get the work done this week, but they’ll put it off until next week and wind up having to cram it all in,” said Viecelli-Stimpson. To offset that lack of face time, she said online instructors must acknowledge the problem, create timetables (and ensure that they are adhered to), and always keep the lines of communication open.

At AIC, for example, Viecelli-Stimpson and other professors check in with students at least once a week to ensure that they are on track for course completion and to address any issues or concerns that pupils may have. She also alerts students about what’s “coming up” and sends them work and materials to review. “This helps keep the pupils interested, engaged, and on track,” said Viecelli-Stimpson, “even though I’m not standing in front of them at a classroom podium.”

Tapping into Technology

Technology can be a great facilitator for instructors that want to keep their online learners on task. Viecelli-Stimpson said AIC professors use tools like Jing screencast software, Snagit screen capture tool, Audacity’s free podcasting platform, and VoiceThread’s online discussion software to augment online courses and engage students in the experience. Podcasts, for example, can be easily downloaded and then played back on a student’s MP3 player at a later date. “That results in a more universal learning experience,” said Viecelli-Stimpson, “and not just one that’s tied to a computer.”

Using screencast software, AIC’s instructors can capture a specific area of their computer screens, save it as an image, and/or create a video from the content. Viecelli-Stimpson uses Snagit to post mini-lectures on YouTube and then points her students there to watch the 5-minute snippets. To get difficult details across to her computer applications students, she’ll use PowerPoint slides or Excel spreadsheets combined with voice recordings (made by using Snagit) that help students work through lectures, key points, and test reviews.

Viecelli-Stimpson said the screencasts – which are well received by students, who often comment on them in their course evaluations – are particularly useful in helping pupils who might otherwise become confused or frustrated by the online course content. “I get a lot of positive feedback about the various features and tools that my distance learners are using,” she said, “and how well these elements help to get the points across.”