Helping Online Students Succeed

*Editor’s Note: This is an article from The Teaching ProfessorIf you are interested in similar articles, check out The Teaching Professor membership.**

When students do poorly on an assignment, faculty generally chalk it up to either a) lack of effort or b) lack of intelligence. But problems in product are usually problems in process, and often students lack the “self-regulated learning strategies” needed to be successful (Wandler and Imbriale, 2017). Self-regulated learning strategies include goal setting, self-monitoring, and help seeking.

This can be a particular problem in an online class, where students must be more self-regulated than in face-to-face courses because they lack the structure of being required to be in a particular place at a particular time. It can be easier to drift away from a class without that schedule.

The good news is that students can be taught self-regulated learning strategies as part of an online course without distracting from the course content. Teaching these strategies as part of the course will not only help student achievement in that particular course but give them skills that will serve them will in future courses.

1. Self-regulated learning module

One thing an instructor can do to teach self-regulated learning skills is to simply incorporate a dedicated module to it at the beginning of the course (Wandler & Imbriale, 2017). An already-existing online module to assign to students would be nice, but I have not yet found one. Instead, you might be able to cobble together a module from resources that your librarian suggests. Such a module can cover study strategies, time management, and other skills necessary to succeed in an online course.

One excellent source of content for a module on learning strategies is Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski’s excellent course, “Learning How to Learn,” a free MOOC hosted on Coursera. Using videos with embedded questions, the instructors provide practical ways to improve learning skills. You can pick individual course modules to assign to students and, to ensure that they go through the modules, post some sort of simple quiz assessment at the end of each module.

You might also want to create your own learning content. For instance, I created a screencast tutorial for students on how to read academic work. See it at You might do the same for other skills your courses require.

2. Reflection journals

A wise man once told me that experience does not teach; only reflective experience teaches. How often does some activity that we try in a course bomb, and we promise ourselves to revise it the next time around? We need to reflect on what went well or poorly to improve on our performance, and we should approach our own learning skills in the same way.

A reflection journal can foster students’ self-evaluation of their learning skills. Students can be asked to answer quiz questions each week about their learning, which, although not graded, can nevertheless be a class requirement (Wandler & Imbriale, 2017). I would suggest the following questions as a starting point:

  1. What am I to learn this week? (completed prior to the activities)
  2. What did I learn this week?
  3. How well did I learn it?
  4. Is there anything that I still need to know, or know better—and if so, how will I seek the help I need to do that?
  5. What worked well—or not so well—in my approach to studying course material or preparing my assignments this week?
  6. What have I learned about my own study skills this week, and what will I do better in the future?

3. Student reminders

Wandler and Imbriale (2017) recommend sending students frequent text message reminders about upcoming deadlines or other pertinent information. I have long thought that faculty do not do enough to remind students about course activities. Faculty tend to provide a syllabus at the beginning of the course and then rely on the students to keep that guide in their minds throughout the course. However, we all face a deluge of duties and information, and we all need to rely on reminders to stay on track.

Texting students individually is laborious, and email is passé among students, so I recommend using a texting app that pushes out texts to groups at once. Remind ( is probably the most popular push messaging app on the market and is specifically designed for education. Faculty can organize students into classes and simply text the class to get a message to everyone. Those texts can include images and other content, and the instructor gets a history of class texts.

ClassUpdates ( is a recent addition to the push messaging market that looks very promising. Whereas Remind is designed more for teacher setup, ClassUpdates is designed more for student setup. The student creates a profile and puts the teacher’s text number into it to get messages. This decreases the teacher’s burden of setting up students to receive messages. It also enables a department to expect all students to download the free app so that multiple teachers can use it.

4. Scaffolding

Scaffolding is another teaching tool underutilized by educators. In higher education, we tend to give students an assignment and send them on their way to figure out how to do it. Some faculty think that giving students step-by-step instructions is spoon-feeding them, but in reality, it is just good teaching. Wandler and Imbriale (2017) recommend scaffolding by breaking the work into smaller pieces, providing sample work and rubrics, setting up a peer collaboration network where students can ask questions of one another, and providing outside resources.

While these steps might help, they strike me as not addressing the central issue of providing directions on process. Describing the process of developing the work would benefit the students more. For instance, when assigning students to develop a Wikipedia article on a medical ethics topic in one of my classes, I told them to first learn how to develop articles by going to one site, then see what the rules are by going to another. I also gave them ideas on how to organize their group to parse out the required parts of an article, how to deal with required revisions, and how to put together a draft using a shared editing system such as Google Docs.

Discover how your online classes will go better by incorporating self-regulated learning strategies into your own teaching. 

This article first appeared in The Teaching Professor on October 26, 2017. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

John Orlando writes, consults, and teaches faculty how to use technology to improve learning.  He helped build and direct distance learning programs at the University of Vermont and Norwich University, and has written more 50 articles and delivered more than 60 workshops on teaching with technology.  John is the associate director of Training at Northcentral University, serves on the Online Classroom editorial advisory board and is a regular contributor to Online Classroom and Faculty Focus.


Wandler, J., & Imbriale, W. (2017). Promoting undergraduate student self-regulation in online learning environments. Online Learning21(2). doi: 10.24059/olj.v21i2.881

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Effective Online Strategies to Improve Your Online Teaching

Online teaching. Online learning. Online engagement. You’ve heard it all when it comes to online pedagogy. But have you come across a resource that contains all the online pedagogy techniques and tips you could ever want and imagine about online teaching?

You want to create effective online videos, but you also want to make your online discussion boards more engaging, while at the same time incorporating synchronous and asynchronous activities into your online classes that infuse equity and diversity. Meanwhile, you’re trying to maximize your time and manage your online office hours while reaching out to students struggling with the online realm. And you’re doing all this amidst a pandemic. Sound familiar?

The following articles, reports, resources, seminars, programs, courses, and more will help ease the craft of becoming a brilliant online instructor while providing you with effective online teaching strategies to balance and maximize your time. 

Browse our topics below:

Online discussion boards

“I really enjoyed reading your post. I especially liked the part…”

Does this look familiar to your online discussion posts? If so, have you ever thought about using superheroes, games, or student autonomy to help guide your online discussions? Or maybe you’re not asking the right questions to stimulate engaging online discussion. The following articles and resources offer techniques and strategies to encourage a lively online discussion among your students while offering students a safe space to share their voices.  

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Creating effective online videos

As many transition to online learning, creating videos may not be in your repertoire. But that’s the wonderful element about teaching—you’re always learning. Maybe you’ve gotten more familiar with creating online videos, but you also may be interested in taking your videos to the next level. Here, you’ll learn how to transform your lectures into online videos while also learning how to create animated videos and trailers that treat your work like a coming attraction. Being an effective and engaging online teacher will be easy with your newfound video-creation skills. Lights. Camera. Action!

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Incorporating equity and diversity into your online class

Making sure your students feel included and accepted is always a priority but not necessarily at the forefront of online course design. So, how can faculty and universities not only make diversity, equity, and inclusion a mission on campus and in the classroom but also portray inclusivity throughout all online courses. These articles, free reports, and seminars focus on creating a welcoming and diverse environment in all online courses and while portraying inclusivity through your online teaching. You’ll learn how to infuse equity into all of your online course content, assignments, and syllabus despite being behind a computer screen.

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Maximizing your time in online courses

You’ve got 495,903,237 things to worry about in an online course. Is your video working? Are students tuned in? Are the breakout rooms in full discussion? Does someone have a question in the chat? And how will you structure virtual office hours for your students? Here, we offer tips for utilizing teaching calendars, offering virtual office hours, and honing your online course design skills to help maximize your time and effort. You’ll utilize effective teaching strategies that encourage time-saving tips and align with the rhythm of the online semester.

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Strategies for teaching students who are struggling online

Not all students are equipped to handle online classes, but it doesn’t mean they can’t become equipped to flourish in their online courses. Although teaching student autonomy is no easy feat, there are numerous strategies to encourage your learners to become successful in their online endeavors. Maybe your students need some “Midweek Motivation,” or maybe your students need a reason to feel connected to you and the class.  The following are ideas, tips, and strategies for the students who ghost, for those who just need an extra helping hand, or for those who show defiance toward taking classes online. You’ll learn how to assess online learning while motivating your students to succeed in their online classes.

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Engaging students online with asynchronous and synchronous activities

Should classes be live? Should all lectures be recorded so students can go at their own pace on their own time? Is there a perfect harmony to mixing asynchronous and synchronous activities in your online classes? But most of all…how do you keep your online students engaged? From virtual escape rooms to hidden Easter eggs and emoji slides, there are numerous synchronous and asynchronous activities you can implement into your online classes to keep your students on the tip of their toes. Learn how to spark student engagement in the first ten minutes of your online class and gauge learning through energetic assignments and assessments. Keeping students engaged won’t be an issue for your online classroom with the following resources, games, and apps.

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Pandemic teaching resources

In response to COVID-19, we’ve seen instructors and universities from around the world come together. We know this is not an easy time. But we also know the collaboration in terms of resources and community has been absolutely outstanding—you are not alone in this. Here, you’ll find a memo to students on punching through the pandemic, resource guides on navigating trauma-informed teaching, and a free report on teaching online with poise and positivity. From transitioning to an online course to fostering a productive conversation with your students, these resources, articles, free seminars, and products shed light on education initiatives that we hope you find useful during this time of uncertainty.  

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The post Effective Online Strategies to Improve Your Online Teaching appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

Teaching HyFlex: It’s a Genre Problem

I came home from my second day of teaching my “HyFlex” class (some students in the classroom and others on Zoom) utterly discouraged. Despite my efforts at planning activities that I thought would be engaging, the students were mostly silent and distant (literally!). It was so difficult to know how things were going when I could only see a few student faces at a time on Zoom over my screen-shared slides. The students in the classroom, behind their masks, did their best, but it wasn’t the classroom I was used to, and I felt drained. Worse yet, I felt like a bad teacher.

As I had a shaky conversation with my husband that evening, I realized that I had invested a pretty good chunk of my identity in being a “good teacher.” And it was this sense of failing as a teacher that had me feeling completely unmoored. What was wrong with me?

Of course, “Covid teaching” has shaken all of us, and I knew I needed to give myself a little grace. But I had approached the fall semester feeling ready for the challenge. I’ve taught some of my classes in completely online formats (asynchronously) for four years. I’m no newbie. Over the summer, I participated in several Zoom workshops and virtual conferences. I also lead a week-long virtual writing workshop for high school students. I was starting to feel pretty comfortable in Zoomlandia. But this–a revolving door of students in the classroom AND on Zoom–this felt utterly foreign to me.

Happily, I teach writing, and recently, our class started to look at the concept of genre. Genre is a way of talking about repeated forms or categories of texts that come with their own expectations, rules, and structures. I push my students to think broadly about writing genres like resumes and even cereal boxes. In class, I talked about what I call “genre problems.” Often, I suggested, problems with writing are actually genre problems. A piece of writing seems “bad” to us because it doesn’t fit our expectations for a given genre. I find that the concept of genre helps shift students’ mindset about writing. Just because this piece of writing failed doesn’t mean you are a “bad writer.” It usually means you didn’t fully understand or address the conventions of the genre. If it’s a “genre problem,” then you can do something about it; you can study the genre more carefully and learn how to adapt your writing to the genre expectations.

That’s when it hit me, my problem with my hybrid-flex class wasn’t that I was a bad teacher. It was a genre problem.

I had assumed that my experiences teaching in the classroom, online, and on Zoom would prepare me for this fall’s teaching situation. But HyFlex wasn’t just a combination of all of those methods (although it does borrow from all of them). HyFlex was a new teaching genre, and I needed to investigate this genre and address its limitations and possibilities.

We are all new to this genre. Even those few teachers who have been using HyFlex for years were not doing so in a context quite as “flexible” as the current situation on many campuses. So, I propose that we all further investigate this new genre. In that spirit, here are some things I’ve learned so far:

  1. “Interactive” looks different. I have found the Google suite to be extremely helpful for interactive work in my HyFlex classroom. I use Google docs, slides, and Jamboard daily to discuss readings and do group activities. I’ve taken to setting up a Google Doc ahead of class with a table of questions for discussion (rows are pre-labeled with student names). I can see exactly who is participating in real time. (Side note: I set up a shared Google Drive for our class. This makes it possible to make new Google Docs or Slides on the fly during class if necessary and have them immediately accessible to all students in the class).
  2. Community looks different. I make a conscious effort to speak directly to students attending virtually as well as those in the room. As I see them sign into Zoom, I greet individuals and chat with them. One of my in-person students mentioned how surprising it was to hear me apparently talking to no one before she realized I was speaking to a student on Zoom. She appreciated that the class is not split into “participators” in the classroom and “observers” on Zoom.
  3. Group work looks different. I like to use Zoom breakout rooms, but the in-class component adds complexity. I’ve kept my pre-assigned breakout rooms, but I added a fifth breakout room just for in-class students. I manually re-assign this group each day based on who is in class. Those in the classroom can talk directly to each other, making the most of the in-class context.
  4. My role with groups looks different. In the classroom, I like to move around and interact with each group. With HyFlex, this is more difficult. I’ve had to give up some control over the groups (I can’t “see” them in the breakout rooms), but I’ve found that the Google collaboration helps me keep tabs on the work they are doing. If I assign each group a Google Slide in a shared slide deck. I can have the slides open on my laptop and can see at a glance which slides the students are looking at and what they are writing. I’ve also built in more time for each group to report out, and I use that time for the kinds of probing questions I would normally ask during the group work. The whole class benefits from our interactions in ways they probably missed during previous in-person semesters.
  5. Connecting with students looks different. After my disappointing first week, I arranged to meet with each of my 25 students individually in 10-minute time slots on Zoom. It made a world of difference in my own attitude. Those short, one-on-one conversations helped restore some of what I was missing in my HyFlex classroom–the opportunity to get to know students and connect with them. I realize not everyone can do this, but perhaps even in larger classes faculty could meet with students in groups of five or six. For me, it was an important way to preserve one part of teaching I find most satisfying.

My most important lesson so far has been to recognize this as a genre problem. I don’t have to feel that all my teaching experience has betrayed me. I can change my mindset to become a student of this genre. I can look for what it makes possible. I need to be careful of assuming that what works in other teaching genres will work in the same way in this one and be prepared to make adjustments and even try new things. And that makes it easier to come back into the classroom (and log into Zoom) each day.

Maria Bergstrom, PhD, is a lecturer in the humanities department at Michigan Technological University. She teaches writing, professional development, and literature and also serves as the undergraduate academic advisor for her department. She is particularly interested in questions of teaching and learning related to online teaching, active learning techniques, and the use of reflective practices in the classroom.

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