Communication Plan – EdTech 523

The Online Course Student Communication Plan for EdTech 523 is another good example of “creating policies and regulations” that will govern how groups interact with each other while using instructional technology.  The Advanced Online Teaching course helped me to have a much better understanding of tools I’d need to have at my disposal as an online instructor.  As a traditional classroom teacher I don’t think about some of the following issues very often because the students are right in front of me and I can just handle things as they arise.  But online I’d need to plan for issues before they happen.  The assignment forced me to prepare for administrative tasks like posting forum discussion questions and then make sure that people got actively and meaningfully engaged in answering those questions.  Strategies like letting them know about myself to encourage sharing, being very clear with my expectations for their responses, and then giving them defined spaces (where I may or may not be monitoring their discussions) to collaborate have prepared me to manage online classes better.  A rubric was created that I can use to asses the quality of posts.  With this system in place, I can ensure that my feedback to students is timely and constructive, which is key for success in online courses (Herron, Holsombach-Ebner, Shomate, & Szathmary, 2012).  I feel one of the most critical parts of the plan deals with the personalities that can emerge online and how to deal with them.  Part IV of the plan outlines what those may be, and how an instructor can fix the issue while trying to keep all students actively engaged.  The final part of the plan gives some ideas for how to encourage community, which can be one of the most difficult tasks for online teachers.  I’ve had some professors who did a great job of trying, but sometimes as a student I just didn’t get plugged in with others in the class.  Having ideas prepared in advance is the only way teachers can hope to reel students in, which I feel I accomplished with Part V.  I’m sure that I didn’t cover everything that could possibly come up during a course, but I feel that my communication plans shows my mastery of having a plan for communicating with students in an online course.

Online Course Communication Plan

Part I:  Administrative Tasks

These are general suggestions for instructors that may help in managing discussion forums associated with online classes.

Posting Discussion Forum Questions:

  1. Questions should correlate to the unit/module instructional goals.

  2. Students should be directed to specific readings (class texts, online articles, etc.), podcasts, or videos that give them a place to find background information that helps them answer the question.

  3. If questions fit in with what students are already working on, they will be more likely to to have interest and application beyond the classroom.  Try to ask questions that help them solve a problem they might face as educators, use to complete a class project, or anything that might increase engagement.

Managing Discussion Forums:

As an instructor, put forth clear expectations about as many aspects of discussion forum use that you can think of in advance.  The following are just a few examples.

  1. Make sure that participants know they will be expected follow netiquette guidelines at all times when posting for class.

  2. Be clear as to how many times a day/week students should be expected to check specific class forums.  Students should be active in forums at least every other day.

  3. Let students know how often the instructor will be checking forums posts.  Going to the forum multiple times a day is suggested.

  4. If there are any days that the instructor will not be looking at the forums, let students know in advance so they don’t expect responses on those days.

  5. Keep an eye out for posts that go unanswered for a lengthy period of time (this may be as little as two days).  Respond to the person who wrote the post and try to help if possible.

  6. If there are ‘watercooler forums’, ‘tech corners’, or other less formal discussion forums that may not be related to course content, check in daily.  However, don’t feel the need to jump into discussions unless you are invited.  These areas may be perceived as instructor free zones, but do monitor them for problems that may arise.

Part II:  Discussion Forum Strategies

The following are ideas for ways to make discussion forums more engaging and worthwhile for students.

1. Break the Ice!

We’ve all done icebreakers in traditional classes, but they can be even more essential in an online class where you almost never see or speak to classmates.  Whatever you choose to do,  pick activities that get the students involved together in a fun and non-threatening manner.

YOUnique Icebreaker

This example of an asynchronous online icebreaker focuses on what people may think are things that only they have experienced.  In some type of forum students will post a list of things they think are unique to them.  As students look at each others’ lists to find out who is the most unique, they also learn about their similarities.  A more in depth explanation can be found here.

More examples of icebreakers can be found on this wiki.

2. Let them know who you are.

Post a YouTube video, slideshow, or podcast that gives them some insight as to who you are.  It can be easy for students to feel isolated in online settings.  Feeling they have a connection with the instructor at the start of a class can make the difference in how well they complete the course.

3. Make it clear

Students should always know exactly what is expected of them when completing initial posts and replies.  Make sure the prompt is easy to understand.  If there is a word count that must be met then state that fact.  To help them ration their time it may be good to have a date during the week by which they need to have made their initial post, and another date closer to the end of the week by which they need to have replied to a certain number of their classmates’ posts.

4. Give them some space.

A forum where students can  chat about various class, or other, issues may be useful.  This can be called a general forum, watercooler forum, or whatever makes it sound inviting.  Let them know that you will be monitoring posts from time to time, but that you’ll only join in if specifically asked.  Some instructors will allow anonymous posts in areas like this; but that is up to you.  Check with your institution before making a decision on that either way.  A tech forum, where students can discuss hardware, software, or other technology related issues may also be helpful.  These types of areas can help students form connections that aide them in the class.

5. Give yourself some space.

Students can do classwork at all hours.  They need to understand that you won’t be available at all hours to answer every question.  Instructors should check their forums several times a day, so let your classes know that you will do that.  Also check your email often, but tell students that they can expect a reply within 24-36 hours.  It can be sooner; whatever you are more comfortable with.  Take at least one day a week off and let students know which day it is.  By setting boundaries and letting students know when they can expect your attention, you can avoid many problems.

Part III:  Discussion Forum Assessment

There are many ways to grade forum posts.  Make sure that you have a rubric in place that students are aware of from the beginning.  It can be as detailed or general as you prefer, but should be something that is easy to understand and is defensible by the instructor.

Unsatisfactory    3 points

Basic   4 points

Proficient   5 points


Writing has many spelling, grammatical, punctuation, or style errors. Rules of netiquette were not followed.

Writing was mostly free of spelling,grammatical, punctuation, or style errors. Basic rules of netiquette were followed.

Writing was free of spelling, grammatical, punctuation, or style errors. Netiquette rules were strictly followed.

Content Knowledge

Writing showed little content mastery or knowledge. Almost no relation to the required readings or content was shown.

Writing exhibited basic knowledge of content. Information related to the required reading(s) was evident. At least one source is cited.

Writing showed a clear and vibrant connection to the required reading(s) and content of the unit. Content mastery was obvious. Two or more sources are cited.

Value Added

Writing added little or no value to the class discussion of the specific topic. There was no evidence that the author

Writing in posts/replies try to add outside information to the discussion. They also make an effort to engage classmates into deeper thought about the content of the module.

Writing in posts/replies add outside information or connections to the discussion. They also successfully engage classmates in deeper thought about the content of the module.


The initial post was less than 150 words and/or was not turned in on time.  Did not reply to the assigned number of classmates posts.  Replies showed no depth of knowledge, making no connections between the material and the posts.

The initial post was 150-199 words in length and turned in on time. Replied to the minimum number of assigned classmates posts. Replies were basic in nature.

The initial post was at least 200-300 words, and was written by the prescribed deadline. Replies to classmates posts met or exceeded the number assigned.  Replies were thoughtful and/or probing.

Part IV:  Management Issues and Strategies

Problems are always going to arise in a classroom full of individual personalities, and an online setting is no different.  It’s best to have a plan of action in place ahead of time for taking care of such issues.  Below is not a comprehensive list by any means, but can give you some ideas about what you may experience and possibilities for dealing with it.

  1. Absent students

When you notice that certain students are not completing posts and/or have replies that lack depth, you have to step in to try get them back on the right track.  Ask if they are having any troubles outside of class that need to be addressed.  Depending on the age of the student, a call or email to the parent(s) may be needed.

  1. The loudest typer

Sometimes a student or two can become overaggressive in responses to posts.  These types of students can dominate the conversation and can discourage others from adding their opinions.  Instructors may need to interject themselves into a discussion, or even go as far as to email the student to correct the problem.

  1. The expert

Another type of classmate that can alienate others in forums the one who seems to feel that they have all the answers.  While their information may be right, the way they go about sharing it can be a problem.  They are often frequent posters.  An email pointing out some netiquette rules, and some suggestions for how better to interact with classmates could be helpful.

  1. Poor quality posts

This could possibly be a lack of direction from the prompt; look to make sure you’ve given as much direction as needed for students to complete good work.  Give adequate readings or informational sources from which they can complete research for the post.  If the fault lies with students, try putting a motivational post into the forum.  Reiterate what your expectations are as an instructor for student posts.

  1. Replies lack depth

Encourage students to include quotes from their classmates in their replies.  Seeing that someone values what they said can encourage everyone to do better.  Remind them of your expectations for the number and quality of replies.  It may be needed to highlight examples of good student work, hopefully motivating others.

  1. Students turn in work late

Make sure that you as an instructor have clearly posted the due dates for all aspects of the discussion forum.  If you have made all of your expectations clear, it is up to each teacher whether or not to receive late work.  Some teachers will give each student one free pass on late work while others do not accept it at all.  You may want to look at the background of the student to see if this is something out of character for them.  An email to the individual(s) may be in order.  Be careful not to make exceptions for one student that you wouldn’t make for others.

  1. Lack of netiquette by students

Sometimes ‘flaming’ messages show up on forums.  Things can get misinterpreted or taken out of context.  Students might respond in the heat of the moment and later regret what was typed.  Instructors may need to involve themselves in the forum to remind all parties about proper rules of netiquette.  If things do not get better, emails to the people involved, or even a phone call may be necessary.

  1. Students sharing too much personal information

The anonymity and/or isolation provided by online classes can lead some students to share uncomfortable or inappropriate amounts of personal information in forums.  Again, point out proper netiquette and remind them of boundaries.  Sometimes this can be the result of personal issues; resist the urge to try and solve the problem yourself.  If need be, refer them to the proper department on campus to help.

  1. Technical issues cause delays in the course

There is always the chance that the best prepared instructor or course can be derailed, no matter how temporarily, by technology glitches.  Whether servers are down at the learning institution, students/instructors have lost their internet, or hardware/software have failed to work correctly, it can cause big headaches.  As soon as possible address the problem and let students know what the solution(s) will be.  The quicker you can let students know things are going to get back to normal, the better.  If it is something like a laptop being disabled or destroyed for a student, give them suggestions for ways to complete assignments and keep in touch until they can replace theirs.  Be a calming influence if at all possible.

Part V:  Encouraging Community Among Students

I tried this a number of years ago with my traditional seventh grade class, and it worked better than expected.  I feel that it could be easily transferred to an online setting.  It was called “Super Groups”.  Students chose from a list of superheroes based on the characteristics they admired.  After some maneuvering we ended up with groups of four to five students who would meet as often as needed for the rest of the school year.  Before starting a big project they would meet to bounce ideas off each other, check for understanding, or complain about who was in their project group.  These groups served as a sort of touchstone that was a safe place for them to be.  A similar selection process could occur in the first week to two of an online class.  These core groups could spend a module or two getting to know and trust one another, and then hopefully be a resource for each other the rest of the term.  Building community can be so difficult, and no one idea is going to solve it for every student, but as teachers we need to try new things to find the best way to help our students connect.


Social Media Usage Plan – EdTech 543

The middle school Social Media Use plan that I created for EdTech 543 is a good example for meeting the policies and regulations substandards.  The purpose of the plan that I wrote for parents, students, and staff of fictional North Middle School was to advise them about the current social media use policies that the school had in place, and goals to broaden the scope of device use by students in the future.  A committee will be formed to look into how the school can safely and effectively increase how students use portable computers for educational purposes without increasing distractions they may cause.  The letter outlines a plan of who will be on the committee, tasks that the group will need to perform, policies that may need to be developed, and consequences for misuse of personal devices while at school.  For the institution of NMS to have success with increased use of personal devices and social media, a plan needs to be in place that will “govern the diffusion and use of instructional technology.”  By providing a structure for creating a committee to look at current and future issues, I feel the document helps NMS be proactive in its planning, and demonstrates my mastery of the substandard.


Social Media Usage Plan

To Parents, Students, and Staff; Concerning Social Media Use at North Middle School:

At the present time, students at the middle school are permitted to use the school’s wireless network to access online books to be read during their daily Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) time.  They must check in their wireless device at the front office and get a sticker showing their SSR teacher that their device is allowed.  It is prohibited for students to access the the internet for the purpose of using social media (facebook, twitter, instagram, etc.) or email.  Some parents and teachers have expressed interest in allowing students access to these tools in the future.  Before this can take place the school will be creating a committee that will seek input from stakeholders to assess the implications of such a move.  The committee will survey teachers, parents, and students to see how they feel about this issue and about how our school should proceed.  A teacher from each grade level team, both of the school’s computer applications teachers, an administrator, and the school’s IT department representative will make up the committee.

Surveys for Stakeholders

A main task for the committee will be to see how teachers, parents, and students feel North should address the use of social media use at school.  Questions should address the needs and differences of each set of stakeholders.  Members of the committee will use Google Drive to create surveys that can be completed online, with results shared among committee members, North administration, and IT staff.

What social media sites could be helpful to students at North?

A primary task for committee members will be to determine what types of sites, for purposes of North M.S., will be considered social media under our new policies.  Twitter, facebook, blogs, wikis, photo sharing sites, etc., could all have value for students.  The committee will need to determine which have the best applications for academic uses.  In the survey process, stakeholders will be given a chance to suggest sites that they feel would have the most value.  IT staff will also be consulted to see which sites are most viable given infrastructure concerns.

How May Social Media Be Used

Policies will need to be developed that address social media use by both school staff and students.  The committee must try to plan for potential ways that sites can be used and misused by staff and students.  Questions to be addressed may include:

For what purpose can social media sites be accessed?

At what times during the day may social media sites be used?

Will personal accounts be approved for use during the school day?

Can teachers have some of their own guidelines regarding use in their classrooms?

While it would be impossible for the committee to foresee all things that could go wrong, it should make every effort to research what other districts/schools have done, which policies have been a success, and what problems have been encountered.

Consequences for Misuse

Since new policies will be adopted if social media sites are allowed at North, the committee will need to create steps to deal with misuse by students and staff.  Student guidelines will be posted in the handbook given to each student with their daily agenda, and accessible via a link on the school’s website.  As with other student behavior issues, graduated consequences are recommended.  The guidelines should not simply be punitive after the fact, but should try to be clear in helping students shape social media behaviors.

Teacher use of social media can also be a concern.  Again, it is suggested that the committee research ways that social media has caused problems for educators elsewhere.  Guidelines should recommend teachers follow a model of TAP (transparency, accessibility, professionalism) when using social media.

The administrators and staff at North Middle School appreciate the opportunities and challenges that new technologies present for the people we serve.  We would like to thank you in advance for your input, patience, and understanding as we work to come up with answers to challenging questions.  Feel free to contact us via the dedicated link provided on the homepage of North’s website with your concerns on this issue.  Once created, the committee’s first meeting will be held during during the third week of September.  Minutes of the meeting will be posted to the school’s website as well.


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