Online for THIS student in THIS situation at THIS time?

Education from the perspective of this NBCT is not one size fits all. It is and always should be a question of what is right for THIS student in THIS situation at THIS time.

So, while I personally have transitioned from web-enhanced to blended to fully online teaching it is important to recognize that not every student is ready for the complete leap. That is why I consider one of the most important first steps for working with any of my students a thorough formative examination of where they are in the terms of the online readiness puzzle.  I define readiness as Time, Willingness, Computing Ability and Interest.

Assessing Time and Willingness

One approach which I have used is a simple online readiness questionaire. It is a worksheet for students, parents and schools to think about how and when the student will have the time and willingness to devote to a fully online class. A version adapted from the VSS conference in 2005 and the one used by Illinois Virtual School can be found here.

Assessing computer Ability

This is going to very much depend on what you need students to be able to do in your course.  So I will break this out by skill:

Typing ability:

I recommend having students take the simple free typing test found at Typing Pal.  The test will give students a rating as well as a free 30 day trial of their lessons to improve skills if needed.  I don’t actually require a specific rating, and myself only scored average.  I simply use this as a conversation starter and self check.  If students wish to improve proficiency I encourage them to use the 30 day trial.

Download, Edit, Save, Upload:

In my course one of the first assignments is to create a document where they tell me about their hobbies and interests.  They must save the document and then upload it to a dropbox.  This helps me get to know them at the same time as it provides a simple assessment of their ability to save a document and upload it.  I follow this assignment with an assignment to download a copy of their course schedule, type their name in the box, save it and then upload it.  This provides an opportunity to assess not only their abilities, but also to trouble shoot any issues with their computing system which might prevent them from downloading.

Post and Reply:

Another basic skills assessment I incorporate into courses is a Student Lounge discussion board.  Students are asked to post about themselves (in school appropriate language) and reply to a classmate.  More and more with social media this assessment is becoming one of the most commonly passed early assessment for my students, as soon as they recognize it’s similarity to facebook and other social media sites.


I assess student ability to navigate the page with a simple four question email quiz.  I ask them how many units their are in the course, how many points a test is worth, what is next to me in my picture on the website, and if they have any questions about what they have seen.  A secondary embedded assessment is that these questions are posted in the course news, and my email address is listed on the page, but they have to find the email address and news item and open email and send correctly on their own.  These basic navigational abilities can be a real road block to student success.  If a student struggles with this, a phone or web conference is in order to make sure that they get started on the right foot.

Alternative all in one assessment at a cost

There are services out there who will custom build a solution for assessing all of these items for a school.  There is a cost, but if you have a high enough volume you are serving it may make more sense to go this way so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  One such service is Smarter Measure which produces a report and suggestions for additional learning for schools.

Assessing Interest

OK, so they are in my course, right?  So they must be interested.  Not necessarily.    No more than every kid in my face to face chemistry class was just dying to learn about the parts of an atom.  So why is this such an important feature for online success?

The difference is that in face-2-face instruction there is a captive audience with a dedicated work time.  Even the most uninterested student, if they attend school, is bound to do some of the work.  Not so in online education.  Online education requires the active participation of logging in, the active participation of reading/viewing materials, the active participation of submitting work-no points for just showing up.  This is a HUGE paradigm shift for students.

Therefore with an online student, I spend some time getting to know why they are in my class.  In addition, I ask them to tell me their goals for the class.  That can set the tone for the entire class.  I also let them know that I share their goals and am willing to work to help them achieve them.  Building that common purpose through up front communication can make all the difference for THIS student in THIS situation at THIS time.


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