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Mental gymnastics: Finding the balance in an online course

This past spring was not something we expected. We’d all agree about that. For some, it was significantly more stressful than others. Throughout all my pandemic-related research, I’ve heard several different statistics. Most recently, I read that nearly 70% of faculty in the country had never taught online before!

From a coach’s perspective


As you can imagine (or know personally!) those of us who support faculty have been quite busy, addressing many common themes. Faculty members ask us for insight into their course design; we notice things like excessive numbers of assignments; or, we see a long list of assignments—like showing the entire course at once.


Maybe there’s a lack of organization in the LMS. Perhaps the instructor was unclear about the student workflow, or there’s insufficient feedback for student work. Maybe the professor was not familiar with and then underutilized communication tools. We’ve had many discussions about selecting and delivering quality subject matter content; ways to deter and eliminate cheating; and the importance of having your course materials clearly set up and easy to navigate.


Extra points for balance and flexibility


The topic we haven’t had as many conversations about is the emotional side of an online course. Because of the urgency, many professors hadn’t had the chance to really reflect upon course design and effective tools to support students. Just how on earth do you create an online environment with that in mind? If we want students to stay enrolled and engaged, we need to strive to find a cognitive-emotional balance in your course.

We’ve got to be flexible.


Perhaps this might include reflecting about things like growth mindset, embedding study tips, or sharing best practices for students for online courses. Although we might acknowledge the importance of these in theory, their significance is frequently buried under a mountain of other concerns about accessibility, the content, tracking of student progress, and data reporting…


Let’s talk about the assignments first. There is a mind-numbing list of possibilities. What strategies do work? You can read more in The Learning Scientists, but they boil down to this:

  1. Utilize concrete examples: illustrate ideas with examples that students can easily grasp.

  2. Be a coder: a dual coder: integrate words with images.

  3. Utilize elaborative questions: ask questions that help students connect new learning with prior learning.

  4. Practice retrieval: have students practice with test questions on what they remember.

  5. Interleave the practice: mix practice test questions from a variety of lessons.

  6. Space the practice: delay interval periods between practice tests.

Ah, you ask, what happens when we really check these out? Read a recent article about student performance. In this study, note the role of student ability and the finding that spacing particularly increased quiz performance for low ability students.

Here’s a mental note: we should think about the amount of material we release at one time—that can be overwhelming. Instead of having the entire list of assignments show, many of us share only a unit or chapter at a time.


We know, however, that it’s not just content we need to think about.


Reference Link:

https://www.pearson.com/ped-blogs/blogs/2020/07/mental-gymnastics-finding-balance-online-course.html