An orientation activity is typically a short, low-stakes activity that requires students to begin interacting with one another and with the tools they will need to know how to use to participate in the course. It is a great way for an online course to provide immediate interaction. This gets students doing things in the course and learning how to navigate within the LMS. It can also allow the faculty to determine which students are "no-shows" and drop them (this piece of advice should be included in the welcome message and the syllabus).
By the Book
Here are the applicable regulations: Distance Education Guidelines for California Community Colleges spells out the state's Title 5 regulations on course quality standards (55202) and instructor contact (55204) in distance ed. Within these, it specifies a basic regulation the specifics of which are set at the local level. Mt. SAC's AP 4105 on Distance Learning sets this standard. It states that "Students will register and enroll in distance learning courses in the same manner as traditional courses, but attendance will be determined through contact with professors in the first week of the term. Professors determine the method and timing of the first contact with students to verify enrollment rosters in each course. Students may be dropped from distance learning courses for lack of active participation equal to 20% of the course duration. Active participation may include e-mailing the professor, writing in discussion forums, submitting assignments, taking quizzes and/or exams, or other interactive class activities. Logging into the learning management system does not constitute active participation."
Orientation Activity Ideas
Add a folder/topic clearly titled ORIENTATION - Start Here to the course. As a first activity, it is imperative that you provide clear information about when the task is due and include instructions that are prepared as if the student has never been in an LMS or online course setting before. Students who do not complete the activity will be dropped. This criteria should be clearly stated here, in the syllabus, and in the welcome message. Including the anticipated time or range of time expected to complete the activity can be helpful. Some simple orientation activities:
- Introduce yourself in the forum and provide 1 (2? 3?) reasons you are enrolled in the course. Reply to at least two of your classmate's posts.
- Read the syllabus and take a short quiz on the syllabus.
- Email the professor and state your intention to remain in the class
- Complete a survey that the professor has set up.
- Complete a low-stakes pretest assignment that relates to what will be learned in the course.
- Use OEI student readiness modules and offer a quiz, survey, forum or other item to which students must respond after watching
- Use another short video (the professor's welcome video, a short video that offers a light introduction to content that will be in the course) and have students respond to a survey, quiz, or forum after watching.
- Provide a basic orientation to the LMS in video or written form, and quiz students on basic LMS operations they will need to know to complete work
Orientation activities can be subject related, and require a real task to be completed (such as reading the syllabus), they can be community building exercises (intros with classmates in a forum), or they can be fun-loving (silly quiz questions about the professor's welcome video). It is mainly that they complete this short, low-demand task that shows there is a student planning to stay in the course. Whatever orientation activity or activities that you use, make sure
- that the requirement to complete the activity is clear
- instructions are complete
- the deadline is stated
If a student has not completed the orientation activity by the date you set, then you will drop him/her and add the next student in line. These orientation activities are normally due VERY quickly (maybe by Wednesday of the first week of class), so that it will not be too late to add additional students to your roster.
Orientation Activity Example
Here is a screenshot providing an example of a real orientation activity used in a Mt. SAC course. As you will see, this professor includes several of the videos from the OEI Readiness site and requires student to view each video. Professors may track the activity or ask students to complete an activity that relies on knowledge from the videos. This professor asks students to reference 3 new things that they learned from viewing the videos in the Introduction forum. These 3 activities are what I refer to as my "orientation activities" and require students to complete ALL of these in the first 3 days of the course start. This is how I determine my "no-shows" for drops.