Constructing a syllabus for an online college class can be a tricky task. My syllabus looks like the syllabus of a traditional class, but I have a section that functions as an “online disclaimer.” It accounts for some possible preconceptions students might have about online classes, one of them being that because we do not meet in real time, the course will be “easier.” I address this misconception by stating that students are actually required to complete more coursework than a traditional class as lectures and discussions are substituted with assignments and/or quizzes. The payoff, however, is that we have flexibility in deciding where and when we complete coursework. I complement this benefit with the fact that online classes still require students to meet deadlines, stressing that meeting deadlines are especially important in online contexts because it gives instructors proof of their virtual participation and attendance.
The next section glosses over a few details about maintaining online etiquette and about taking responsibility for one’s access to reliable technology. For the discussion boards, I have students post responses to questions about literary texts but also require that they respond to at least two of their classmates’ posts. This would ensure that students are maintaining some form of dialogue that they would typically develop in a discussion-based classroom. I also ask they maintain strict etiquette that reflects Wayne State’s student code and conduct policy. It’s important to me that they understand that though the genre they are using to communicate is informal, discussion boards are regulated by an educational institution and not a random online user/ layperson.
I want to briefly use the rest of the post to reflect over these choices. Asking students to respond to other student posts concerns me on multiple levels. It will require me to “police” their activity so that I can ensure that a safe and respectful environment is maintained. It also creates potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding that I cannot immediately resolve and alleviate. Moreover, resolving altercations/misunderstandings in an online context could exacerbate an already tense situation. Of course, if I feel I cannot handle it, even after I try meeting with students in person, I could hand it off to the Dean’s office. I would only use this as a last resort because my aim would not be to punish them but to help them complete the class in the most constructive/effective way.
I do not like the idea of policing my students’ activity but since I have them communicating with one another, I feel it’s my responsibility to check their activity at least every 48 hours. I’ve had students dialogue in previous online classes (but not on a weekly basis) and it has only resulted in productive commentary. I hope that continues to be the case but should altercations occur, at least, I have taken some time to reflect on some ways of dealing with it.