Reaching out to students at risk: what I’ve learned from 25 years of teaching university marketing/business courses, both in the classroom and online.
1) BE PRO-ACTIVE. Some students who need assistance will speak up, but many of those who really need help will not. I don’t wait for them to contact me; I contact them By reaching out, I try to encourage students to ask for the help they need.
2) WATCH FOR INDICATORS. The first week/pre-course online introductions have always been my first marker. Did all students post at least a few lines about themselves? By comparing the posts to the student roster, I can see who has not yet participated.
If a student is not participating on introductions, their performance on more complicated online exercises can suffer. I need to find out what issues the student is facing, work with him/her to address them, and to ask for assistance if available. The staff may know why this particular student is having issues and can give me additional insights.
3) DON’T TAKE “OK” FOR AN ANSWER. I learned this in the business world with clients and it’s equally true with students. If I’m working with the student and answered any questions raised, I always close by asking: “Did I answer your questions completely?” If there’s any ambiguity in the student’s response (text, email, chat, Tweet), I’ll verify: “So we’re both clear on the difference between the Theory X and Theory Y management theories? Have you ever had a Theory X boss or teacher? Really? So you know these can be tough managers. Would you prefer a Theory Y? Why?” I don’t have to dig too far or too deep to find out if the student now grasps the concept..
4) QUIZZES GRADE ME, TOO. If the curriculum allows, short quizzes during the course of the term tell me if I’ve adequately covered what I set to out to teach. If a significant number of student miss the same questions regarding the same areas, then that means I have a job to do.
5) HOW AM I DOING? I currently use anonymous online polling (from free sites such as PollDaddy and SurveyMonkey) to ask students three to five short questions about the class to date. I’ve found out that for the typical online student who has a family and a job that Sunday is the worst night for assignment deadlines. I learned this from students telling me; it was simple to move a deadline by one day and late assignments dropped to zero.
6) JUST BECAUSE I HAVEN’T HEARD ANY COMPLAINTS DOESN’T MEAN THAT THERE’S NOTHING WRONG. See 3), 4), 5) above. No news is not good news; it may, in fact, be concealing some very serious student issues. Without pestering students, I monitor the discussion boards and gradebook to look for signs of improvement, consistent performance, and any future problems, such as a sudden drop in assignment completion or GPA.