Course Orientation for Fully Online Learners

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  • Why does a course orientation for fully online learners matter?
  • What goes into an orientation of an asynchronous course?
  • How do I help students to complete an orientation?

Fully online learning is different from what learners normally expect from in-person learning. This teaching tip explains how to provide a course-level orientation to prime your students for success in your course.  

Orientation to Asynchronous Learning

Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash

A course-level orientation provides opportunities for students to learn what the course is about, who is in the course, what tools are used, what guidelines and procedures learners should follow, and how to get help if needed. Orientation is usually a first-week activity.

The orientation for an asynchronous course is more detailed than orientation for an in-person course because learners do not have real-time access to you for help when they need it.

How Orientation Helps Students

At the beginning of your course, students will need explicit direction from you to understand the course and pay attention to you as their professor. 

A first-week orientation can help students to not only become familiar with the course but also reflect on the habits and traits they will need for success in asynchronous learning. By being clear about how students should act and communicate with others, you also promote a positive learning environment that will reduce misunderstanding and conflict.  

Especially for those who are new to asynchronous/online learning, course-level orientation is an important part of getting students off to a strong start in your course!

Did you know?

Students can learn about asynchronous learning via the Conestoga Online page. Students enrolled in an asynchronous course gain access to the eConestoga modules, Learn Online: Resources for Remote and Online Learning.

Education research has described some of the positive effects of orientation: 

  • Learners who have an orientation feel they are better prepared for their online courses (Jones, 2013).
  • Orientations can promote a sense of belonging as well as learner readiness (MSU, 2019).  
  • Learners with an online orientation are more likely to take advantage of student support services (Peatman, Betts, Parker, and Porch, 2017). 
  • Orientations show an increase in student retention (Jones, 2013; Shaw, Burrus, & Ferguson, 2016) 

Orientation Saves Time

By sharing information that anticipates common questions, you reduce your students’ anxiety and confusion. This can lead to fewer one-to-one emails and less time explaining things after the fact. While orientation does takes time for both faculty and students up front, it will save time in the long run (Abdous, 2019)! 

Once you have created the course-level orientation (suggestions below), your orientation may re-used in other courses and updated each semester. 

What to Provide

Course access and wayfinding 

  • Email information on how to get into the course, including the LMS log in page and course log in page
  • Course shell information on what to do first when students get there. For example, use an announcement and direct your students to the “Welcome to the Course” page in the Course Information section. 

Who is teaching and taking the course

  • A short summary of your professional information and contact information 
  • Your response time (2 business days) and how you prefer to be addressed 
  • An icebreaker that helps students to get to know each other (you should participate as well!)  

Course information and course tools 

  • Highlights, key topics, and contexts of the course 
  • How the course is structured, including a course schedule and the types of learning activities
  • A list the key eConestoga and other tech tools used in the course  
  • How students will be assessed, how grades are calculated, where grades are located, and assignment policies  

Student traits for success in asynchronous learning 

  • Behaviours and attitudes as well as technical and digital literacy skills that lead to successful asynchronous learning (Holcomb, King, & Brown, 2004)
  • How much and how often you expect students to interact with each other, including response times
  • How students should communicate with you and each other, including tone, civility, agreeing and disagreeing, and references 

How students can get help 

  • Where students can find more information about the course and their program  
  • Relevant institutional policies related to evaluation, grading, academic integrity, privacy and confidentiality, accessibility, copyright, etc.  
  • Where students can find more information for how to get help with student, academic, and technical issues   

To get some more ideas for course-level orientation, see below. 

Note: Links were curated by the Quality Matters course, “Orienting Your Online Learners.” 

Encouraging Orientation Completion

Make it easy to access. You may put your course-level orientation in the first Essential Elements section, Course Information, in eConestoga. Or, you may choose to provide a separate module, titled Orientation, so students know where to go if they need this information during the course.  

Make it useful. There are many short “how to” student videos provided by D2L Brightspace to help students get familiar using LMS tools. They are curated in the link below, but there are additional videos on Youtube as well. For example, see eConestoga Student Orientation videos.

You can also provide one-stop contact information to the Student Success Centre, Library Services, and IT so that students can access academic and other student supports. See these two resources from Conestoga to help students get the support services they need at the time they need it: What online support services can I access? and Get help online – Remote Service Hours.

Explain its value. Students will be more likely to complete the course-level orientation if you explain its value, even for those who have taken other asynchronous courses before. Reinforce the importance of reviewing the course-level orientation with an email, an announcement reminder, and praise to those who have completed it (which you can monitor using the Progress Summary in eConestoga).

Make it personalized and interactive. Use visuals and video to share information. Provide activities that can help students to reflect and practice what they will need to do in the course. Here are some activity suggestions: 

  • Give a traits inventory or survey listing traits of successful asynchronous students that students can use to reflect on what strengths they bring and what skills they may need to develop for success in online learning.  
  • Give a scavenger hunt on the Instructional Plan and orientation information.  
  • Provide an ungraded quiz or checklist so students can review what they have learned.  

Faculty can enhance the orientation experience in simple ways, such as inviting students to office hours, encouraging student engagement, posting important academic dates, and encouraging self-care (MSU, 2019).

References 

Abdous, M. (2019). Well begun is half done: Using online orientation to foster online students’ academic self-efficacy. Online Learning, 23(3), 161-187. doi:10.24059/olj.v23i3.1437 

Holcomb, L., King, F., & Brown,S. (2004). Student traits and attributes contributing to success in online courses: Evaluation of university online courses. The Journal of Interactive Learning, 2(3), 1-17. ncolr.org/jiol/issues/pdf/2.3.4.pdf 

Jones, K. (2013). Developing and implementing a mandatory online student orientation. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network. 17. 43-45. 10.24059/olj.v17i1.312. 

MSU (2019). The faculty role in new student orientation.

Peatman, S., Betts, K., Parker, M., and Porch, T. (2017). Retaining online students: 3 expert perspectives

Shaw, M., Burrus, S., & Ferguson, K. (2016). Factors that influence student attrition in online courses. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 19(3). 

Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.

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