Instructor Feedback in Vista Classes

Recently I read an article that stated the number one complaint of students taking online classes is the lack of instructor feedback. Of all student complaints, I have to say this one is worth special attention. Feedback is something we need in order to become better. Whether it is on a personal level when you ask someone how your cooking tastes, or on a professional level when you read your annual review, feedback helps to shape our processes and actions.

In the article, Overcoming the #1 Complaint of Online Students: Poor Instructor Feedback by Errol Sull in Distance Learning, Online Education, the author describes surveying 300 students who overwhelmingly state that poor feedback from their instructors is a major concern. I have listed his ideas below and with each, give my take on it and where in Vista instructors can address this concern.

* Check email at least three times daily. Students may be in different time zones; their professions may dictate varied posting times; they may have sudden problems—whatever the reason, checking your course email regularly will keep you on top things.
My take on it: Tell your students explicitly how often they can expect you to check mail. Maybe three times is too much for you. That’s fine, but let them know clearly what to expect.
Tools in Vista to use to let them know:
*In the header, along with your other personal information like office hours and contact information, clearly state where students should mail you. If a student gets no response from your university mail, they will then try to mail you at every address they can find. It is ok to tell student “Email me at Vista ONLY.”
*Obviously the mail tool is a good place to have your course mail funneled. It will keep course mail out of your university mail, and it will be obvious that mail in a course is about that particular course and from a student who is currently taking it. (Be sure to turn off the mail tool at the end of the semester so students cannot continue to mail you there.)
*State in your syllabus your email practice. A statement like, “I will check email once a day. You can expect a reply from me within 24 hours. If the mail is addressing an emergency, please contact me via my voice mail.”

* Set reminders of when and what to check. This becomes especially important if you are teaching more than one course, and/or for more than one school.
My take on it: Make it routine to look into your Vista course when you regularly check your university mail. And, of course, check each class. The green icon next to the mail tool button will indicate you have new mail.

* Keep generic postings to a minimum. The generic posting is easy but offers nothing specific to the course and does not connect you to the students. The majority of your class postings should be specific to both the course and the students.
My take on it: Keep generic posting to the announcement tool, and use the tool wisely. People stop reading, and reading carefully, if the tool is used for everything. Use it to share information that is timely and applies to everyone.
Tools in Vista to use: Create a discussion area where generic information can be relayed. Allow students to post information there as well, and clearly label it as Off Topic Discussion to be used for questions, answers and information about the course.

* Answer every email sent to you. You do not need to answer each student email as soon as you see it, but make it a general rule to answer all student emails within 24 hours—and let your students know this.
My take on it: Common sense tells us it is only appropriate to answer mail. Yes each piece of it. However, if you create public areas for students to ask questions, and then encourage them to help each other, you may not have to answer everything. Use peer-to-peer support to your advantage Stop using email as the Swiss Army Knife of technology, and let a bit of the load go to other tools.

* Make your presence regularly known in discussions, chats, etc. Yes, these are for your students, but they need to know that you are monitoring them and that you are active in all aspects of the course.
My take on it: Create areas for student-to-student communication and stay out of it unless it is imperative to add your two cents. Create another area where students can expect you to participate and let students know in the discussion description when and where you will participate.

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