Students — even students who may miss a class session or two — still need to understand what they need to do each week, budget appropriate time for it, and spend the majority of their time learning and not figuring out how to navigate each individual class.
The suggestions below may seem like overkill to some — do we really have to tell our students what to do in all these different ways? But teaching in this way does not take any more time than teaching another, and will pay dividends almost immediately in reducing the amount of late work and requests for exceptions, at least by a bit. And the things below? They address the complaints that we hear most from students: that they spend far too much time each week trying to figure out what is due, what order to do assignments in, how much time they should budget.
Organize your course in a week to week module/folder structure. Students can spend significant time in online courses just trying to figure out what is due when. While your syllabus is still the ultimate guide, setting each week of the course up in your LMS as a separate folder (Blackboard) or module (Canvas) that contains links to all the documents, assignments, and assessments the student needs to complete that week can significantly increase the time the student spends learning rather than navigating your class and decrease student stress.
Give a weekly summary via announcement or small document. In the physical classroom, you likely often begin the class week with a concise summary of what the work for the week will be, and what ongoing efforts students should be engaged in. It might sound like “As of last week, you should have started your group projects, make sure your groups have met. This week you’re going to continue work on that project. We’re also going to read chapters nine and ten, and on Friday there will be a short quiz.” Often you’ll have it on an initial slide. That is, even though the week’s schedule can be found in the syllabus, you break it down for the students, and it helps students stay on track, and encourages them to plan their week accordingly.
You may be doing this in synchronous Zoom sessions as well. All the same, it doesn’t hurt to take that text of the slide, or copy that week’s portion of the syllabus into a course announcement you send out to all students, or, alternatively, put it as a small document at the top of your weekly module/folder.
Establish a “rhythm of the class” Experts sometimes talk about establishing the “rhythm” of an online class, by which they mean trying to make the sequence of activities in the class each week as similar as possible. As an example, each week the students may need to read a chapter or two of the textbook, answer a short quiz, read or view a relevant news story, and apply the concepts in the textbook to the news story before coming to class. A math class might have students read a chapter, watch an explanatory video, try some practice problems, come to class with questions, then take a short test.
Not every week can be exactly the same. Midterm and finals weeks will be different, and many classes shift into project based work later in the semester. But by following a common pattern when possible, students will be better able to judge workload and build a weekly schedule that can rely on repetition and habit.