How faculty can spot and support struggling online students

Older woman working online on her laptop at home

Online education has been a vital part of higher education for many years, but with the current COVID-19 pandemic, many faculty and students are experiencing this for the first time. As with any method of delivery, online education has its advantages, as well as its own challenges.

Both faculty and students can save time by meeting online instead of commuting to a physical classroom. Having course materials and various learning activities posted online provides students with more flexibility on both how and when they can study.

On the other hand, heavy emphasis on technology can be foreign and intimating for some people. There may also be a perception that online education causes distance between the learner and their instructor. For faculty, there can be valid concerns that students may slip through the cracks in a virtual classroom. Fortunately, there are ways to both identify and support students who may be struggling online.

Use all available forms of communication

Communication is key when it comes to bridging the distance between the instructor and learner. Some faculty may opt to send out their course syllabus and contact information before the class even starts to help address any preliminary questions or concerns that their students may have. It is generally considered a best practice for faculty to check their email at least once a day and reply to student inquiries within 24 hours whenever possible.

If faculty find that a student is asking a lot of questions and does not appear to understand the materials, then they may want to consider scheduling a quick virtual meeting with that student to go through their questions together. Most virtual meeting software allow for the sharing of audio, video, and other application files, thus making it easier for faculty to accommodate their students’ various learning styles.

When hosting live virtual meetings, try to encourage all the participants to turn their web cameras and microphones on in order to make it a more personable and engaging experience. As most online learning classes are asynchronous in nature, it is okay if some students cannot make these live sessions, but it is a good idea for faculty to make note of who cannot attend, and try to find other ways to reach out to those students. Most virtual meeting software also allows for sessions to be recorded and shared.

Many online classes make use of discussion boards for class communication and group work. Discussion boards are usually asynchronous, meaning students can review and contribute whenever they can (within a set deadline).

Pay attention to participation

Most LMSs offer ways to track both the students’ attendance and their discussion board postings; this is very useful to help faculty identify which students are active. Not all classes are designed in such a way where students are constantly required to log in, but faculty should try to make note of any missing discussion posts or assignment submissions. If inactivity is becoming a pattern, it is a good idea to either follow up with that student, and/or notify their school’s student support services department. It is better to catch these patterns early when there is still time to offer additional support.

Watch for trends in data

Finally, it is a good practice for faculty to keep an eye on their grade book for trends. If a certain student is scoring low, it may be a good idea to reach out to that student with some additional constructive feedback and guidance. If faculty notice that many students scored low on a certain assignment, then they may want to take time out of their next virtual class meeting to discuss this.

More info

For faculty who want to learn more about their LMS, most schools have an information technology services webpage where training resources can be found. In addition, it is always a good idea to have the school’s IT help desk contact information saved in case of any issues or urgent questions. Online education can feel ‘distant’ at times, but having a strong support system can go a long way in ensuring both faculty and students succeed.

About the author
Nelson Hui

Nelson Hui

Nelson Hui is an Education Specialist with Pearson Online Learning Services and serves as a main support contact for various online adjunct faculty. This includes on-boarding them, training them on the best practices for online course facilitation, and assisting them on inquiries relating to processes or their learning management system. He also works with Pearson’s various academic partners to assist them with staffing, and help ensure their faculty are prepared for their teaching assignments. Nelson has a Master of Science in Organizational & Human Resources Development, and a Bachelor of Commerce.

 


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