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Best Practice: Help Students Succeed

These are the top three reasons students named when they did not succeed in their online courses, according to a study of community college online students from 2001 to 2010 (Fetzner, 2013):

  1. I got behind and it was too hard to catch up.
  2. I had personal problems (health, job, child care).
  3. I couldn't handle studying plus work or family responsibilities.

What can you do to mitigate these issues? Provide an effective framework and guide them to use it to their advantage. You can use the following tips and refer students to How to Succeed Online.

File:en-us/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/040_In_Your_Course/040_Online_Teaching_Strategies/Best_Practice_Help_Students_Succeed/lightbulb_orange.png   Keep Students on Track

It's important for students to be extremely organized even though "coming to class" has built-in flexibility for online courses. The following tips can help you provide students with the framework for prioritizing their responsibilities.

File:en-us/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/040_In_Your_Course/040_Online_Teaching_Strategies/Best_Practice_Help_Students_Succeed/man_books_thumbsup.pngOffer a sneak peek. If a “preview week” is offered before your online course begins, be sure the syllabus and schedule are available for students to review. If they cannot log in prior to class starting, consider emailing students these resources.

Use the built-in tools. Include due dates for graded course items such as tests, assignments, and graded discussions. They are automatically added to the Calendar which all students see. Users can import their course calendar into external calendars such as Google Calendar. Encourage students to use My Blackboard daily. They can see due date reminders and other notifications in Updates, course interactions in Posts, and their latest scores in My Grades.

Set expectations for logging in regularly. Tell students to log in a minimum number of times per week. Encourage them to review all course activities and assignments that are due that week and to ask questions early on so that they can still complete the work on time.

Anticipate technical difficulties. Instruct students to store the school's helpdesk phone number and website URL on their phones and in written form. This ensures that they can receive technical assistance even if their computer is not working. Encourage students to have an alternate method for getting online work done, such as using a computer lab or a friend's laptop. For instructions on Blackboard tools, is always available.

If a student falls behind... and cannot keep up with the course despite putting forth a best effort, advise the student to contact you as soon as possible to discuss options.

File:en-us/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/040_In_Your_Course/040_Online_Teaching_Strategies/Best_Practice_Help_Students_Succeed/lightbulb_orange.png   Plan for the Unplanned

All students experience personal problems at some point. Include advice in your syllabus, such as these examples, about what to do when unusual circumstances arise.

Communicate. When students are dealing with emergencies of a personal nature, they should contact you as soon as possible to let you know the situation.

Get help. Colleges support a variety of student services, such as counseling, academic advising, and disability services. Post links to these resources and encourage your students to go there for assistance.

Create a cushion. Encourage students to plan ahead and leave a cushion of time each week so that they can complete the weekly coursework even if personal emergencies arise.

Time management is key. Point out the built-in tools mentioned in the previous section to students. These features help students manage their time and prioritize tasks effectively so that they do not leave academic work to the last minute.

File:en-us/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/040_In_Your_Course/040_Online_Teaching_Strategies/Best_Practice_Help_Students_Succeed/lightbulb_orange.png   Work Your Coursework Into Your Life

Be an advisor to students and help them achieve balance between school, work, and life.

Goal setting. Help students develop long-term and short-term academic goals, with time frames, for completing their college work. Encourage them to be realistic in planning the time it will take to meet their goals while handling other responsibilities. Warn them against signing up for more courses than they can reasonably handle.

Integrate personal and course calendars. Encourage students to develop a prioritized to-do list and a master calendar. This will help them see the “big picture” of all of their academic due dates integrated with their family and work responsibilities.

Users can import Blackboard course calendars into external calendar applications.


Fetzner, M. (2013). What Do Unsuccessful Online Students Want Us To Know? JALN 17(1), 13-27.


Marie Fetzner, Ed. D. | Monroe Community College | Rochester, NY