It is important for both staff and students to have a good understanding of where they are in a course and how far through it they are. This allows them to ensure that they are on track to complete within the time frame.

For a traditional on-campus course this is relatively easy for students, as they have clear timetable from the beginning of term which, along with the course handbook, guides the structure of the planned learning.

For an online course, however, there is less structure and more freedom to move between activities and choose the order that they complete them in, at their own pace. While these are important benefits of learning in an online environment, it can be easy for a student to become ‘lost’ in a course or to fall behind, unnoticed by either the student or the teaching team.

In this section we will give you some hints and ideas on how to help students take ownership of their learning path and provide some simple tips as to how how they can monitor where they are and how they can flag to staff when things are not going as planned.

Examples

Easy
Word Tracker

What you can do

Consider setting up a basic word document which outlines each of the activities that you have designed in your course, with space for students to record when they have completed this. This short video provides guidance on how to do this.

Things to consider

  • Resources such as word trackers, usually work best if they are optional, rather than compulsory. Students can then determine if they will be useful to them.
  • This resource could be introduced at the beginning of a course, accompanied by an explanation as to why it might be useful for student to use.
  • Consider asking students to critique the template and let you know what adaptions they have made to make it more effective. In effect, this gives the student the permission to take ownership of this document.
  • Be aware that if you change anything in the course (order or include new activities) that you will need to update the tracker and inform your students of the change.
  • It is a good idea to add the University logo to any resources that you create, this branding helps with marketing to others who may see this material.

How to do it

Here is a basic template to get started. Feel free to adapt this for your own course and to reflect your own style.

Excel Tracker

What you can do

In addition to the use of a basic word table to track progress, Excel can also be used as a means for students to track their progress. Using conditional formatting, an Excel tracker will flag to a student if they have missed a deadline, or if they have an upcoming deadline. Students can also flag items they have completed as they progress through the course

Use of this type of tracker will also introduce students to a slightly more advanced function of Excel and encourage them to enhance their skills in its use. Excel may be useful for their future careers.

Things to consider

The basic template provided below, makes use of the coloured flags, which can be a problem for people with colour blindness. It is therefore good practice to add an additional symbol or text to the colour, to support those who are no able to differentiate between colours.

Microsoft have provided step-by-step instructions to make your Excel spreadsheets accessible to people with disabilities.

 

How to do it

Here is a basic template to get started. Feel free to adapt this for your own course and to reflect your own style.

This template was created by the IT Training team, who can be contacted for advice and support in using Excel.

Calendar and course announcement

What you can do

Within Blackboard there is calendar functionality. Course items with due dates (i.e. assignments) appear automatically in the course calendar. However, you can also use this functionality to set up entries which can act as prompts for students to identify where they are in he course and what to do if they are falling behind. For example:

To stay on target for this course you should have now completed all materials for unit X. Please contact [course tutor] if you are having any problems, or want to discuss anything about the course.

This can also be done using the announcements feature in the VLE and can all be set up before the start of term so there is no need to remember to send these once the teaching has begun.

Things to consider

  • You might have some students who have extensions for various reasons. Be clear to them that the course calendar is set for the standard course time frame, but they can add individual entries to their own calendar if this is useful.
  • Making it clear to students how far they should be along by a particular time can be very useful for students with disability-related time management issues.
  • Be clear in all your references to time such as 1100 EST

How to do it

Blackboard guides to

  • calendar function in Original and Ultra view can be found HERE
  • announcement function in Original and Ultra view can be found HERE
Self-tests

What you can do

Incorporating frequent short self-tests throughout your course can be helpful to students. This not only allows them to monitor how far they are through the course but also helps them to assess how well they are understanding the course materials. Use of questions in a style which can be computer-marked allows students to take the test at any time and is not reliant on staff providing marking and feedback. There are various ways you can set up the test and some of this will depend on which VLE platform your course is hosted on.

Some things you might want to consider:

  1. Do you allow students to retake the test to try and improve their performance?
  2. Do you have time and resources to build a question bank to generate a slightly different test each time?
  3. When would be the best time for students to receive feedback?

    You could consider not providing feedback in the test mode so they only get told which questions they answered correctly or incorrectly but no information on what the correct answer is. You can then provide the correct answers separately in a Word document. This enables those students who don’t want to keep working through the test access to an explanation of the correct answer (including, if appropriate, cross-reference to the learning material) but allows those who want to continue to challenge themselves to continue without sight of the answers.
     
  4. Will the self-test be similar in style to any summative assessment in which case you need to make sure that the question are set at approximately the same level, so a student who is passing all the self-test should also be able to pass the summative assessment.

Things to consider

Make it as accessible as possible bearing in mind the diversity of characteristics.

Ensure that students are clear on whether this is an assessed component and if there is a requirement to complete the tests, or if these are optional.

You need to decide if the tests will have time limit on it and if so ensure extra time is built-in as an inclusive measure or consider having these untimed. Alternatively, consider making these untimed.

How to do it

Blackboard guides to test function in original and ultra view can be found HERE

Pedagogic evidence base

  • Nicol, D. (2007) E-assessment by design: using multiple-choice tests to good effect. Journal of Further and Higher Education. 31(1) 53–64
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Review Status

What you can do

The Review Status tool in MyAberdeen, allows students to mark items that they have reviewed. This feature helps students to track their progress and allows them to focus on items they have not yet completed. In addition, course coordinators can also see which items students have completed by reviewing the students' user progress (please note this is currently only available in Blackboard Original).

Things to consider

  • This should be used as an optional support tool for students who find it useful.
  • The purpose of applying this tool is to support student to track their own progress, so be very careful about using it for monitoring purposes.
  • If monitoring and engagement rules are applied to the tracker, students may change everything to ‘reviewed’.

How to do it

For a guide to using the Review Status tool, click here.

Reflective Journal

What you can do

Students can use a journal or blog to record observations, thoughts, concerns, notes, progress, and opinions that may not be shared otherwise. Writing can build rapport between instructors and students, contributing to a positive learning experience. This style of reflective learning may be new for some students, so you need to help them get started.

Reflective Journal Example

In this example, students are reminded of the learning outcomes that they have been working towards and asked to consider how well they feel they are able to meet these. Further questions are then used to direct the student to take ownership of their learning experience and recognise their role in this.

Example reflective journal instructions:

Please rate your current level of ability for the following learning outcomes:

Learning Outcomes

  1. example learning outcome 1
  2. example learning outcome 2

We suggest using a rating scale of 1-5 as follows:

  1. Very limited understanding or knowledge
  2. Some understanding and knowledge of the key concepts, but large areas which need more time / work
  3. Reasonable understanding of the key concepts
  4. Good understanding of all the concepts presented
  5. Fully understand all concepts presented and have developed learning over and above the course content.

In addition, we suggest you reflect on the following question within your journal entry:

  • What do I think about this course?
  • What aspects of this course were confusing or difficult for me to understand?
  • What more do I need to do to help my understanding of this course?
  • What additional resources have I identified or located which will help me widen my knowledge?
  • How does what I have learnt here build on what I already knew?

Things to consider

  • Make it clear to students if this is part of a summative assessment or if it is solely formative.
  • Students from different educational and/or cultural backgrounds and with different language skills, may find this particularly new.
  • Be clear about the role of a tutor in this exercise. If a student expects a tutor to be reading and commenting on all entries, then ensure there is staff capacity to do this.
  • Be clear if this activity is provided purely for students’ own learning and will not be reviewed by staff.
  • Be clear that staff do have access, so these are not truly private.

Pedagogical Evidence base

Denton AW. (2018) The Use of a Reflective Learning Journal in an Introductory Statistics Course. Psychology Learning & Teaching. 17 (1) 84-93

Hussein, H. (2018) Examining the Effects of Reflective Journals on Students’ Growth Mindset: A Case Study of Tertiary Level EFL Students in the United Arab Emirates. IAFOR Journal of Education 6(2)

Peer Comparison

What you can do

Students studying exclusively online face the challenge of gauging their progress in relation to that of their peers. It is worth considering how you can enable students to monitor their academic progress in comparison to the wider cohort. This can be a motivational tool in an otherwise disparate group of learners, and help reduce feelings of isolation by reminding those studying remotely that they are part of a larger online community.

This can be done either using dashboards or presenting anonymised class performance data i.e. histograms of the number of students achieving each grade band.

Please do note, however, that this should only be done where the cohort is large enough that no individual student can be identified. For small cohorts, you may want to combine data from previous years if the same assignment has been used. You might also consider asking students who have achieved a high grade for an assignment if they would be happy with this being shared with the rest of the class as a learning tool - either with or without attribution depending on their preference.

You may also consider building in peer feedback opportunities where students are able to comment on one another’s work. This can be at a very simple level of asking class members to nominate the best discussion post of the week or more detailed peer feedback on a presentation, for example.

Things to consider

The relative position of an individual student amongst their peers can impact on wellbeing. It would be good to highlight the support available, if students have concerns and require academic/study skills support etc.

How to do it

Badges

What you can do

Being rewarded is a powerful extrinsic motivator. One of the best rewards is recognition for a job well done. You can reward your students for achievements in your course to keep them motivated and to enable them to create a map of what they have learnt.

Within MyAberdeen, you can use certificates and open badges to recognise achievement. These certificates and open badges go with students. These rewards help students to communicate an identity and reputation of accomplishment in their fields of choice. These achievements can help open job and education opportunities, as well as unlock new privileges.

Things to consider

  • Not all students might respond to this motivator, therefore you need to clearly explain to student that this is optional and does not contribute to their grade for the course. Be clear about the purpose of the badge/certificate and the consequences, if any, of not engaging with it.
  • Some students may become overly driven by the badge and be less willing to take risks and challenge themselves and others. Think carefully about what aspects contribute to the badge achievement.
  • Digital Badges are being considered for academic induction participation so there may be familiarity and enthusiasm.

How to do it

https://help.blackboard.com/Learn/Instructor/Performance/Achievements

Pedagogical Evidence base

Carey, KL. & Stefaniak JE. (2018) An exploration of the utility of digital badging in higher education settings. Educational Technology Research and Development 66, 1211–1229