Orienting Students within your Online Course

Students need to feel like they know what they are doing in your course, preferably sooner rather than later. Instructors should properly assess their own expectations: what am I assuming that my students to know already? What do I need them to be comfortable doing by the time they get to their first graded assignment? What are some low-stakes ways I can set them up for success by introducing them to the tools on this site they will need to use?

We recommend that in the early days of your course you give students a low-stakes assignment that would take them around the different features ofyour Canvas site (see our guide to using Canvas here) and get them acquainted with how you have organized it. While you could, of course, take them on a tour of your site by sharing your screen in Zoom, we recommend creating an asynchronous activity that would accomplish this same goal; you can then use your synchronous time to check in and verify. This would then leave your precious face-to-face time on Zoom open for activities that require interaction.

Questions to consider as you craft an orientation module:

  • Where does the full calendar of graded assignments for the semester live? What questions could you ask the students that would send them on a hunt for it, and would they be able to find it and peruse it easily on their own?
  • How will students know what they are being graded on and how their grades are being calculated?
  • How will students know how they are doing in the class at the 3-week mark? the 6-week mark?
  • How will YOU know how each individual student is doing at the 3 week mark and at the 6-week mark?
  • It's Monday morning and your most Type-A students are planning out the week ahead; they want to put every single item in their planner. Where do they go to see the coming week at a glance? Can they easily find links to everything they need in the same place?
  • It's Thursday and your least type-A students know that probably something is due and it's been two weeks since they logged into Canvas; what are you hoping they will prioritize first? How will you respond when they e-mail you asking you where the thing is?
  • What is the culminating assessment that students will complete in your course? Project, written/oral exam, presentation, etc. What skills are students going to need in order to do this? What tools are they going to need to be experts in, and how can you start scaffolding in those abilities in the early days?

Having considered these questions, choose a tool that you will be leaning on heavily throughout the course of the semester to assess your students (AnnotationsX, VoiceThread, or an assignment in Canvas, for example) and use that tool to create an assignment that will send students on a tour of your Canvas site; send them to find due dates, instruction manuals for different course components, video galleries, or whatever you expect them to access regularly and easily, and make them show you that they know how. This will vastly reduce the amount of cognitive overhead they will be faced with when their assignments become a major factor in their course grade. Contact us if you would like to brainstorm how best to accomplish this for your course!