CourseSites Exemplary Course MOOC Week 2 Round-up. Guest Blog Post from Kimberly Seeber. Kimberly lives in Bloomington, Indiana, US. She is a licensed elementary teacher and a graduate student in the Instructional Systems Technology residential master’s program at Indiana University. Her interests include technology integration in the K-12 environment and online learning.

In Tony Robbins’ Ted Talk, he says humans need certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth, and contribution in order to feel satisfied and fulfilled.  Online course instructors can incorporate these needs when creating an online environment thereby empowering students to experiment with new ideas and share their perspective.  Students will engage and succeed in an online course when they feel respected, valued, and understood.  Week Two’s discussion in the Designing an Exemplary Course MOOC uncovered insightful ideas that communicate the message, “You belong here.”

CERTAINTY Online courses need to provide enough structure and support that students believe they can be successful.  A privacy policy lets the students know their work will not be shared outside of the course without their permission.  Sharing work with others could be scaffolded beginning with first, the instructor, then peers, and finally the public.  An online calendar and task list could visually display due dates so students stay on track.  Frequent messages on an announcement board inform and remind students of course happenings.  Alternatively, a class newsletter or an online newspaper such as Paper.li keeps the class up-to-date.   Clearly defined expectations and assessment rubrics take the mystery out of what “instructors want.”  Likewise, specific participation guidelines in the form of a rubric provide students with enough structure that they know how to engage in discussions meaningfully.  Offering routine virtual office hours either in a chat room or via Skype encourages students to pop in and ask questions.   It is recommended that instructors specify their preference for communication outside of the virtual office hours so that they don’t always feel like they are “on call.”

VARIETY Novelty, variety, and challenge inspire students to engage in online courses.  Instructors shared unique ideas that keep students coming back for more.  One instructor motivates students to learn new technologies by providing technology support and encouragement.  Others use Edmodo, Voki, BrainPop, Google Hangouts, Twitter, and Flash animations to get students’ attention.

SIGNIFICANCE Students need affirmation that they are special and needed in an online community.  A virtual coffee house in the form of a discussion board or chat room connects instructors with students when they engage in “small talk.” By giving up some control, instructors can motivate students to become actively involved in their own learning.   Permitting students to make choices and decisions about what they learn and how they learn give them confidence to take risks and explore what is meaningful to them.  Allowing students to choose whether they work on a project individually or in a team honors their preferred learning style.  Assigning roles such as “discussion board summarizer” provides students with a specific purpose, which connects them to the course.

CONNECTION If instructors do not make efforts to create a sense of belonging, it is possible for students to feel isolated. Instructor presence is essential.  Beginning the course with a personal introduction is one way to welcome students.   Using audio and/or video to record the introduction personalizes the experience.  Taking the time to find out why students are taking an online course strengthens the bond.  Pairing up students to be “critical friends” transfers some of the responsibility from the instructor to the students and at the same time initiates peer support and friendship. Vodcast lectures give instructors a voice in an otherwise predominantly text-based environment.  Assigning students to review each others work provides opportunities for students to receive valuable feedback.  Collaborative projects bring students together.  Using video conferencing tools such as Collaborate, GoToMeeting, and Connect allow students to interact with the class synchronously. Ning goes one step further by connecting students with the outside world.

GROWTH Students need to be challenged and supported in order to make significant progress throughout the course.  Personalized feedback from the instructor and the other students is valued and appreciated.  Instructors can record feedback using audio and/or video.  Inviting guest experts to speak to the online class is inspiring.  Assigning personal blogs for reflection and public blogs for peer feedback is a great way to give writers a purpose and an audience.  Creating learning contracts involves students in setting their own goals and committing to projects.  Using a performance dashboard visually displays student progress.  Self-assessment tools used throughout the course necessitate deliberate reflection.

CONTRIBUTION Students feel significant and connected if they believe they are adding value to their community.  Assigning a student to take charge of a weekly discussion provides them with an opportunity to practice leadership in a safe environment.  Assigning controversial roles in a debate immerses students in a position to justify their thinking and support their claims with evidence.

In sum, incorporating Web 2.0 tools and activities infused with a human touch have the potential to engage even the most reluctant online students.  To conclude this emotionally-charged blog, I leave you with the Six Human Needs Test.

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