“I Hate Group Work”: How can I facilitate a positive group assignment experience for online learners?

When teaching an online accelerated course, how do you make essential course information stand out from all the rest of the course content? The first week in my course can be overwhelming. In addition to reading the introductory chapters of the course text and participating in interactive lectures, students are provided with a course tour that reviews the syllabus, explains how to participate in discussions, and submit assignments. They also have video tutorials on how to use the text editor, links to web tools that will be used in the course so they can create the necessary free accounts, tutorials on how to use the web tools and how to embed assignments created with the tools in Blackboard. And of course, I want them to introduce themselves to their peers and get to know one another! Important administrative tasks are mixed in with course content, producing a visually overwhelming amount of content for the first week.

What is your experience with a “week zero” module?

During a virtual discussion with colleagues, it was recommended that I try a “week zero” module. The idea behind week zero was to place the essential course information for functioning in the online course in a separate module, so that week one contains only course content. After trying this idea in a blended course and a fully online course, I found a slight reduction in the number of emails expressing confusion about what needed to be done, only to be replaced by a slight increase in the number of emails asking questions that were addressed in the separate module. This suggested to me that those students didn’t enter the week zero module.

What ideas do you have for making sure that students view and understand the information provided to them to increase their success and minimize their frustration [… and mine :)]. I look forward to your response.