Monday, November 26, 2012

Pinging Students in the Online Environment

What follows is focused on online learning, but I think that it has weight with consideration to even face to face classes.
pinging:  present participle of ping (Verb)

  1. Make such a sound.
  2. Cause (something) to make a such a sound.
Pinging  is an onomatopoetic word; it sounds like the sound it makes.  "Ping" often indicates a higher pitch sound, often like a formal dinner bell.   Within the digital world, it has its origins with blogging.  It's a means to sending out an alert to various sites that your site has updated (akin to the dinner bell, it's a sound going out to indicate that people should come in).

Borrowing from the above, I'm going to discuss the idea of "pinging" our students.  Herein, we'll talk about why to ping students, ways to ping students, and how to make pinging efficient.  This is very important for online courses but also have value in the face to face classes.

Why Ping
The concern about pinging the students often centers on recognizing them as adults and determining that they can make rational clear choices and decisions--they don't need to be babied as the saying goes. But I don't know if that's entirely accurate (both that they can make rational clear choices and decisions AND that pinging them is equivalent to babying them).
Over the last 50 years the college environment has significantly changed.  From researching in the library to researching at home at 3am in your pajamas, from dorms so students can live on campus to online education where students may never visit the campus, the context of learning continues to shift.  What that means for the typical college student is the are given less cues to direct them to their learning.  It's not them being lazy so much as there is less contextual cues for them to go do their work, because their personal, professional and school life are much more intertwined and shifting from one to another though easy in one sense, is still a cognitive shift that needs some nudging and direction.

Reluctant instructors often feel it's not their responsibility to remind their students and I have certainly felt that at times.  Yet, I cannot deny my own experience that when I do send out reminders and such, I get more students submitting their work on time and more students willing to acknowledge and discuss the missing deadline.  If scheduling an extra reminder or two generates better success for my students, I'm inclined to favor it as a practice.

Ultimately, it's about helping to prime the students so that they can make better choices in their lives.  If we know that they are bombard with hundreds if not thousands of advertisements a day along with scores of emails, texts, and phone calls; it can be extremely hard to remember or recall or even shift focus onto course work.  A reminder from the instructor can help nudge the student into the needed mindset to get the work done.   

Finally, with particular attention to the online environment, students can feel awfully isolated.  There is no physical classroom and much less human interaction.  The instructor can use pinging as a way to provide a life-line to a student who is teetering on the edge of failing or passing, of staying or withdrawing from the class. 

Ways to Ping

Class Recap Email & Announcement:  One way to ping the students is to send a class email reminding them of what was gone over in the Face-to-Face or Online Class using the class-email feature and the announcement  feature in Angel.  This is a great opportunity reiterate reminders and identify important points from the class.  It's also an opportunity to identify and validate their work and contributions to the course.  It's useful to use both the Announcement in Angel as well as the Group Email to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity to see the message.  It's often easy to compose the message in Announcements and then copy and paste it into an email.   

Assignment Deadline Reminder:  Whenever there is an approaching deadline for an assignment either due in class or online, I often send a 1 week reminder and a 24-hour reminder.  As I'll talk about in the automate feature, this isn't particularly time consuming and again, serves as a useful way for students get in any last minute questions or map out their week better.

Create  a Course Hashtag You could also create a course hashtag for your class on Twitter so students can be reminded, ask questions, or interact while on the go.  This can also be useful since peers might be able to respond more timely than you.

How to Make Pinging Efficient

Copy previous messages There's no need to reinvent the wheel.  Once you've created a message, copy it, being sure to change the dates, assignment, and other relevant information.  

Create temples:  Depending on how many different ways you want to ping your class, it might be useful to set up templates for each kind such as Assignment Reminders, Assignment Changes, Missing Assignments, Recommended Readings, Sharing Timely Research/Information Related to the Course, General Check In ("How are you doing?"), etc.  This allows you to just plug in the specifics and send it off to students.  

Automation in AngelWith both of those steps achieved, you could also create a series of automations within Angel which will automatically ping your students (with emails) upon different events within the course (submitting or failing to submitting an assignment, failing to log into the course for more than a determined period of time) or just general reminders in relation to course events (1 week prior reminder, etc).  This is a great feature as it allows you to create the automation and it will run on its own at the correct time; you can also copy these over from semester to semester.  
Ultimately, the goals are to make sure students do not feel they are out on the wild frontier with no real interaction from their instructors and to do the best we can to help guide and remind the student towards accomplishing the tasks and work within the course.  

What ways have you found to ping your students?  What combinations do you see most success with?  For what reasons might you want to ping your students?