Teacher Tap

Track Them of Lose Them

Monitor each student's progress regularly. Because you do not see each student in person, it is essential that a planned process be established to monitor students at some specified interval.

Keep Track Students. If you do not receive an assignment on time, you will have an additional reason to check on the student, to be sure they are still there and doing okay. Students will "disappear" for a variety of reasons. Illness, personal difficulties, and work schedules are common problems. A student might even move and not notify you of the change. The more regular your contacts, the more likely you are to hear from the student in these unusual situations. In addition, it is helpful to have multiple ways to contact each student. At the beginning of the class, be sure to get their phone numbers and a mailing addresses.

Be Systematic. Design a specific system to be sure that you maintain contact with each individual student. It's like saying "hi" to students as they walk in the room. Consider sending a daily or weekly "hi" message that requires no response, but let's students feel like you're available. It may be a quick message with activity updates. You may even ask for specific responses and track them on a spreadsheet.

Provide Scaffolding. Students need lots of support. Provide scaffolds that will help students through projects and assignments. You can also use these "thinking products" to be sure that students are on the right track. Reception, transformation, and production scaffolds are three types that many people use in web-based environments. Think about helpful guides that students can use before, during, and after a project. For example, students might use Inspiration as part of an endangered animals activity. Or, you might provide guidelines for using the data from an endangered animals chart in a publication.

Keep Good Records. Track student assignments, discussions, email communications, and other kinds of progress. Consider using web-based systems such as Blackboard, WebCT, peer evaluation, and discussion groups.

Send Post Cards. Consider using electronic post cards as a way to maintain contact with students. Greeting cards companies, authors such as Jan Brett, ecompanies such as National Wildlife Federation and ENature provide this free service that can brighten a student's day and encourage them to stay on track. Send notes of praise, encouragement, or reminders. You can also use post cards in instruction. Go to Teacher Tap: Postcards for more ideas.

Vary Assessment. Students are all individuals. Just as they need different activities, they also need varied assignments, exam formats, paper options, and discussion topics. Many teachers worry about plagiarism. Show students how easy it is to detect cheating by going to one of the essay sites. Copy a sentence out of one of their essays and do a search using Google. The essay will come right up. Once students see how easy it is for you to detect cheating, they won't even try. If you're worried about cheating during tests, provide students with portable, web cameras so you can monitor their work.

Vary Assignments. Learning is more interesting when students are doing meaningful work. They're less likely to fall behind if you can engage them in meaningful activities. Consider learning styles when making assignments. Many online courses are full of reading and writing. Consider a visual activity using the software Inspiration. Explore some nice examples such as the Asia project.

Adapted from Virtual Sandcastles: Teaching and Learning at a Distance by Annette Lamb and William L. Smith.

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