Is High School Preparing Students for College?

 By Jeff C. Palmer 

The struggles of youth without college degrees constitute a labor-market crisis as they move from one dead-end job to another, unable to develop skills, status, and earnings. Employers complain that these employees lack basic skills, which must be provided on the job. Growing shortages of skilled workers suggest that educational reform must address improving the abilities and opportunities of high-school graduates. This article shows that schools have misunderstood work-entry problems by focusing on college entry and that students have misunderstood incentives for achievement. Moreover, many other nations communicate incentives effectively, and American schools could improve incentives and job entry.

Schools View Students' Problems Too Narrowly

High schools have responded to the poor labor market primarily by encouraging college-for-all policies, leading the majority of seniors to plan college degrees, even those who perform poorly. However, their expectations will be largely disappointed, since only 37.6% of those planning a degree receive one in the 10 years following graduation; and of those graduates with high-school Cs or lower planning bachelor's degrees, only 16.1% attain the degree after 10 years. Despite good intentions, high-school counselors underinform students about the effort required to graduate college, encouraging unrealistic expectations without exploring well-paid careers in trades that would be more realistic options for many.

Furthermore, school policies focus too narrowly on academic achievement, overlooking soft skills like motivation, dependability, attention to quality, and social interaction, which many employers value above academic skills. Even such a basic skill as effort remains unexercised, since students believe that academic effort bears little relation to their futures. Moreover, behaviors like absenteeism, insubordination, and incomplete work are tolerated in high schools, while employers value the opposite behaviors in young workers.

Students Need Clearer Incentives

Educational policies also fail to give students a clear understanding of incentives for mastery of both academic and soft skills. Teachers are exhorted to increase students' motivation, but the rewards for such efforts remain obscure. Institutions need mechanisms for communicating the value of students' actions for college and career goals. Instead, schools often indicate that school behavior is irrelevant to immediate goals, since colleges' open-admissions policies allow even weak students to enroll. Further, employers ignore high-school performance records in hiring, partly because they do not consider them trustworthy or cannot obtain them. Instead of using high-school performance in hiring decisions, they limit graduates to entry-level work until they prove themselves. As a result, students cannot tell if or how their goals are attainable.

Incentives in Other Nations

Many other nations provide clearer incentives for achievement that Americans could use as policy models. Foreign educational systems clearly link school performance and career outcomes. In Germany, for example, work-bound students strive for apprenticeships that lead to respected occupations, knowing that secondary-school grades affect selection for those opportunities. Afterwards, apprentice certification gives German youth a sense of accomplishment rare for U.S. youth. Unlike our unemployed graduates, unemployed German apprentices feel unlucky, not incompetent. Similarly, in Japan, high-school grades are linked to entry into respected occupations for the work-bound. If their achievement is too low for their goals, Japanese students know it in advance and can increase effort or lower expectations.

Improving Labor-Market Entry Policies

Schools in the United States already have a system linking academic achievement to goals on the foreign model, but it only extends to the minority of students aspiring to selective colleges. Test results inform high-achieving students well before graduation of the likelihood of admission and of the need for increased effort. Low-achieving students, who typically aspire only to less selective institutions, lack such incentives, which apprenticeships or more rigorous college admissions standards could provide. The perceived gap between high-school performance and job success could also be bridged by educating students about research showing that better high-school grades and soft skills predict better earnings. For example, a rise of one letter grade (from C to B) is associated with a 12% earnings gain 9 years after high school.

Further, high schools could link job-finding aid to achievement and inform students about research that indicates that job entry through a school contact increases nine-year earnings potential by 17%. Counselors and other educators should stop keeping students in the dark about the consequences of their performance, even if they withhold information only to be kind to students or to placate parents.

Improving College And Employer Contacts

Improved student contacts with colleges and employers can clarify incentives for achievement. Two reforms have been promising, despite difficulties aligning these high-school experiences with later demands. First, tech-prep programs articulate junior and senior year curriculum with community-college technology programs, teaching students about college and occupational demands and making for a seamless college transition. Tech-prep success indicates that a student is prepared for college, and failure motivates efforts to improve and to adjust goals. Unfortunately, existing tech-prep programs often have below-standard requirements, leaving students ignorant of college-level demands and relegated to remedial classes in college. Further reform should focus on integrating those demands into the preparatory curriculum.

Second, youth apprenticeship and cooperative learning programs give some students the work experiences they need to improve their chances for success in the labor market. Apprenticeships coordinate school and workplace learning under close supervision. However, they are so expensive that few U.S. employers are willing to pay for them. In co-ops, sometimes seen as inexpensive apprenticeships, students are released from some classes to work in positions that ideally provide more training than average youth jobs. In practice, however, too many co-ops are average youth jobs with little training and few postgraduation opportunities. While apprenticeships increase a student's earning potential, co-ops often do not, unless students are able to secure jobs at the same company that provides their co-op experience. These potentially useful programs could be improved through expansion, increased quality, better training, and improved communication of a given student's job readiness.

Improving Signals Of Student Value

Unlike Germany's and Japan's, our high schools do not clearly convey graduates' readiness for college or employment. Several policies could begin to solve that problem. First, colleges involved in tech-prep could adopt standardized tests of college readiness. Well before graduation, these tests could indicate academic quality clearly to students themselves, allowing time for backup plans. Second, high schools could provide employers with better signals of soft skills. Indeed, by reflecting attendance, discipline, and motivation, grades already do this to some extent, and further signals of student qualities could be developed. Some high schools have already created employability ratings tailored to employers' needs, and these schools have reported increased student motivation. Further research on the effects of such ratings is needed. Third, high schools could build more trustworthy employer relationships, for instance through vocational teachers, so that the best qualified students could more easily be hired. Employers indicate that such relationships aid hiring and give them dependable information. However, connections between schools and employers are still rare; only 8% of seniors get jobs through school contacts, despite the clear advantages. Hiring through contacts may limit the applicant pool, but large applicant pools do not help employers if they cannot assess applicants' quality. Hiring selectively is preferable to hiring randomly. Teachers can build relationships through trade experience, careful applicant screening, and candor.

Employers and teachers should establish reciprocity so that both parties value the relationship for meeting mutual needs and not for extrinsic benefits, such as teachers pleasing administrators by placing weak students or businesses improving public relations by extensive co-op hiring. When extrinsic benefits are central, teacher-employer relationships have little reason to develop. In such cases, sacrifices for reciprocity's sake, like better student screening despite administrators' demands and more intensive yet less visible apprenticeships, could establish the trust needed to foster the relationship.


Regrettably, current policies work against improved school-employer contacts, since vocational programs and their well-connected teachers are being curtailed in favor of college-for-all policies. To reverse this trend, vocational education should expand in high schools and community colleges. Teachers with good trade contacts should be retained and rewarded for making good placements in industry. Teachers and counselors should also be encouraged to give employers candid information about students and to be forthright with students about their abilities and opportunities. These policies could encourage employers to see high schools as valuable sources of hiring information. Other steps could include acquainting counselors with noncollege options and evaluating students' college and career abilities more accurately and consistently. The underlying conditions for such policies are present; the key is making the institutional actors aware of the importance of improving students' opportunities for job-entry success.

Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.

Six Essential Strategies to Keep Students Engaged in Class 

 By Dr. Bruce A. Johnson 

Are your students highly engaged in class, motivated, and performing to the best of their abilities? In a perfect classroom environment, every student would be engaged in the course, interested in the subjects, and performing to the very best of their capabilities. That's what every educator hopes for when they start teaching a class.

The reality for most classes is that while some students may be highly engaged and self-motivated, other students will base their involvement upon what is experienced in the classroom and whether or not their expectations are being met. While addressing student engagement can be challenging for traditional classroom educators, it can be even more difficult for online educators who cannot see their students or meet with them for a scheduled class time.

At the start of a new online class educators typically find that students are involved in the class with mixed feelings of excitement, apprehension, and uncertainty. From the perspective of a student, remaining motivated and engaged in the class requires substantial effort. While many students are self-directed in nature, and have an ability to sustain their involvement, there are often others who lack self-motivation and begin to disengage over time. As many educators realize, by the time a student disengages from class it is often too late to get them back on track.

A challenge for instructors is that online class facilitation can take a significant amount of time. With a busy schedule it is natural to focus on contractual obligations and classroom management, and not notice a student who is slowly disengaging from the class until they are completely absent or have withdrawn. It becomes important then to take a proactive approach with online students and establish an instructional approach for helping them to stay focused and engaged in the class.

Defining the Concept of Student Engagement

When educators define the nature of student engagement it is usually done from a tangible (what is seen) perspective and this can be a subjective assessment. For example, if a student is posting participation online messages most every day of the week you might say they are highly engaged. The question is how active does a student have to be to meet these criteria? If they are posting messages on five days is that the same level of engagement as a student who is posting on six days? As a general guideline it can be assessed by how invested students appear to be in their class. This includes their involvement in discussions, asking questions, submitting assignments on time, and how responsive they are to other students and their instructor. If a student is going to be considered highly engaged in class, an instructor needs to observe several visual cues.

Why Does Student Engagement Matter?

Engagement matters because it indicates that students are involved in the class. When students are fully engaged, a distance education class begins to feel like a community. If students are not actively involved in their class, especially an online class, they can easily disengage, lose interest, and eventually withdraw. If the instructor doesn't intervene, these students may drop the course and a continual pattern like this may also lead to disengagement from their degree program. Visual cues are important then because they are indicators of how involved students are in the process of learning. These cues include qualities such as their level of effort, along with their responsiveness to feedback, communication, and coaching.

Discover How to Measure Student Engagement

When visual cues are interpreted it is often done in a subjective manner, looking at more than a student's tangible work product or written papers. The purpose of measuring engagement in the class is to raise an educator's conscious awareness of students and keep track of their involvement. It is easy to become so busy managing class operations and discussions that students who are not present end up being overlooked when they are not actively present. For those instructors who are detail minded they can create a spreadsheet and track the progress of their students. Some learning management systems provide analytics that allow an instructor to check on the progress of students in the course. The purpose of doing this is to pay attention to your students and how they are progressing.

To assist educators with the process of prompting students' engagement in class I have developed a model called ENGAGE.

Examine class conditions as it can be conducive to or discourage active involvement. For example, do you post announcements that include a preview or wrap-up of the subjects or concepts for the week? Do you provide additional resources? Do you provide several methods of contact so that students can easily reach you? All of these strategies can help to create conditions that are conducive to learning.

Notice students' involvement and pay attention to their activities. If you wait until you provide feedback to determine who is active and who isn't, that may be too late to intervene. If there are features built into the learning management system which allow you to track students and their access to the course, this can help you identify students who are disengaging. You can also check who has completed the learning activities by the due date and develop a list of students who are past due.

Gauge the expected level of activity for an average student to establish a standard. As an instructor you develop a feel for the online class over time. You have a general idea of how much activity in the online class is indicative of an actively engaged student. Take that knowledge to help you develop a basic model and checklist that you can use, either mentally or in written form, to help monitor how your students are progressing.

Assess students and look for visual cues as you monitor their progress. As you monitor the progress of your students, and you consider how active they are based upon your expectations of their involvement, also consider how well they are performing. For example, a student can check in with the class on occasion by posting a brief discussion response and still not be substantively involved. A student who seems to be just getting by is someone who requires your time and attention.

Gain students' attention through some form of communication such as an email or a phone call if it appears they are not present or if they are disengaging from the class. It is important with an online class that you are proactively contacting your students any time you notice that they are struggling, not performing well, or they are not posting substantive contributions to the class discussions.

If you have developed a positive working relationship with your students, they may likely respond when you contact them by email. If you haven't been able to establish that connection, a phone call could be a helpful approach to reach out and establish your willingness to assist them. One of the primary challenges for making phone calls is finding a time that both the instructor and their students are available, especially if they are in different time zones.

Engage in the class as students will follow your lead. As a faculty director, I have observed many online classes with students who were not actively engaged and it was a reflection of the level of engagement of their instructors. Students often develop a perception that their instructor doesn't seem to care about the class if they do not appear to be actively present. However, even if an instructor is highly visible and engaged it doesn't guarantee that students will also respond with that same level of involvement. What an active presence does is to encourage them to be engaged and involved.

Always Be Engaged in Your Class

For instructors, being highly engaged in an online class requires proactive effort and involvement. It is possible to catch struggling students before they are disengaged; however, it can be challenging because keeping track of students does take time. If you are allocating only enough time to complete the required facilitation tasks, you may find that isn't adequate for taking time to contact students and conduct outreach.

One of the first steps you can take is to develop a standard of acceptable engagement for an average student. By developing this standard, you can observe patterns and reach out to your students as needed. Overall, it is necessary to establish a plan for conscious awareness of your students if you want to keep them involved. Student engagement in an online class is related to their involvement in the learning process, their retention in a degree program, and it is a contributing factor to their overall success.

As an instructor, you have a direct impact on how your students perform. Take the lead, show them how to be highly engaged, and demonstrate that you care when they are starting to disengage. It may take more of your time, but teaching and nurturing the development of your students will require time and effort on your part. While you may not see the immediate outcome of your efforts, if a student remains engaged in the course, you will have had a direct impact on their lifelong learning experience and this is likely why you became an educator to begin with - to make a positive contribution towards the academic growth and development of your students.

Dr. Johnson specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, online teaching, career management, and career development. Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA.

Dr. J's mission is to teach, write, and inspire others. He writes blog posts, articles, and books to inform, inspire, and empower readers. To learn more about resources that are available for educators, along with career and professional development, please visit:

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Help Students Grow With These 3 Supportive Teaching Strategies

 By Dr. Bruce A. Johnson 

As an instructor, are you aware of how your students are performing at all times? Do you maintain a proactive or reactive approach to instruction? Do you have supportive teaching strategies which are meant to help students grow?

It is possible you have developed a routine for your instructional tasks and address students when they ask questions or submit assignments. However, there is an aspect of teaching which requires a continued commitment and that is the manner in which you interact with and support your students.

Every educator is aware of the challenges involved in trying to create a dynamic and engaging learning environment, one that is supportive of the learning process and the developmental needs of students. Adjuncts face a greater challenge, especially those who are teaching online classes, as they do not have an opportunity to meet with students face-to-face on a regular basis. The time required to prepare instructional materials, along with completing other tasks such as feedback, is significant and it can be easy to lose sight of the perspective of your students when there are many instructional tasks that need to be completed.

One perspective of my students I am always concerned with is how they are adapting to the classroom environment and responding to the required learning tasks. As an educator I want to be supportive of their development, especially when it involves changing behaviors or habits. Students rely upon habits and patterns of working in a particular manner to meet the requirements of each class, and the idea of having to perform differently in some form can create a mental roadblock or barrier to their progress. Students may also not recognize a need to make changes in how they work or perform until it has been brought to their attention through feedback or interactions in class, and they may or may not be willing to accept it - unless I have established a productive working relationship with them.

While every instructor has many aspects of classroom management to consider, and focusing on students individually at all times may not be a priority, there are instructional practices that can be implemented that will help students grow and create a supportive approach to instruction.

Teach Students How to Adapt

Maintaining a supportive approach is needed as learning requires adapting. Instructors expect students to perform in a uniform manner, which means they must learn to follow the academic guidelines, adhere to school policies, and complete what is expected of them within the time frames established. As instructors know, not all students are fully prepared to work in a productive manner or have all of the academic skills necessary to perform their best. That means these students will have to learn to adapt and make changes as needed.

There will be students, especially new students, who need to adapt in some manner to these expectations and requirements, which means making changes to how they think, behave, or respond. The transition made from one class to the next requires adapting to a new instructor, new expectations, new students, and possibly new procedures. Students also experience change as part of learning as they may need to adapt what they believe and even what they know about course subjects or topics. Students are more likely to adapt if they feel supported by their instructors.

Students as Self-Directed Adult Learners

The principle of adult education that explains how adults learn is known as andragogy, and it holds that adults are independent and self-directed in their ability to be involved in the learning process. However, that doesn't always mean they know what to do or what is best for them. For example, if I were to ask a group of students to tell me what they need to work on or their most critical developmental needs, they may or may not be able to accurately articulate what is needed unless they were to refer back to feedback I've provided.

The next consideration is whether or not that self-directed nature helps or inhibits their ability to adapt and change when needed. What often occurs is that it can create initial resistance if they believe they know best about their ability to learn or they disagree with feedback received from their instructor. The attitude that a self-directed adult student holds is directly influenced by the relationship they have established with their instructors, which can be productive or adversarial.

Help Students Grow with These 3 Supportive Teaching Strategies

An instructor's approach has a definite impact on how students respond when they interact with him or her. For example, if the tone of feedback or communication is stern or threatening, students may feel intimidated and not respond well. As another example, if students start a new class and find their instructor has different expectations of them, it can create resistance, especially if they have been working in the same manner in past classes and received positive outcomes. As a result, students may have emotional or reactive responses, express their feelings tactfully or otherwise, or they may quietly withdraw and disengage from their class, if they are not supported by their instructors. Below are strategies an instructor can implement to nurture a supportive approach to instruction.

#1. Develop Meaningful and Supportive Feedback

The learning process is also a behavioral process which occurs through a series of progressive steps. The first step is to comprehend and understand what they are going to do, why they are going to complete the required tasks, and determine if they have the resources and skills needed to complete what is required.

When feedback is received and developmental areas have been noted, students have to make a decision whether they will accept or reject it. An instructor will be more effective if they can relate these developmental needs to the potential for positive outcomes and improved performance.

Consider this perspective of learning, especially for a new student: The first attempt a student makes to complete a required task is usually the most important step in the process. If they experience positive outcomes, such as encouragement or improved results, they will likely try it again. However, if they make an attempt and experience a negative outcome, such as criticism or a lack of an acknowledgement from their instructor, they may stop, give up, quit, or disengage from class.

#2. Prepare the Way for Students to Adapt

If you are going to propose that students try to do something new or different, help prepare them before they begin. This includes offering resources or creating an action plan with them so they know the steps to take. This creates a roadmap that sets them up for success. You can establish checkpoints along the way as a means of providing follow-up and checking in with them on their progress, so they feel supported.

If the suggested changes were noted in their feedback, offer to have a follow-up conversation with them to clarify the purpose and intent of your feedback. You will also find it helpful to be available to answer any questions they may have as that extra effort helps to build a connection. This is especially important with online classes as that they cannot "see" you in a virtual environment. Most of all, never give up on students, even when they want to quit. Some students need a nudge or put in extra effort to get past mental barriers or a lack of self-confidence.

#3. Take a Strengths-Based Approach

I've found one of the most effective and engaging methods of working with students is taking an approach that is focused on their strengths rather than their deficits. For example, I've used the sandwich approach to feedback. It begins by noting something positive, then addresses developmental issues, and concludes with another positive aspect, even if the only positive aspect of their performance is acknowledging the effort they have made.

The more you encourage the effort that students have made, the better that effort is likely to become in the long run. You can share details that outline how you have assessed their performance and if there are many issues to address, try selecting the most important or critical issue first so they do not become overwhelmed. You want them to view the process of learning as something that is done through incremental steps. And if you believe that students don't read and implement feedback provided, be sure to make yours meaningful and ask follow up questions as a means of creating a dialogue with them.

Help Students Change What They Believe

The duration of most college classes provides instructors with a limited amount of time to get to know their students and work with them. Most instructors may not develop a true sense of the potential of their students until they have had time to interact with them and review their performance. It is unlikely that an instructor will know about prior feedback students have received, or if their performance has improved or declined from their prior classes. I've learned to focus on how students are performing now and never assume they don't know better, they aren't trying, or they haven't been making any improvements. I always believe all students have a capacity to learn and my approach to instruction determines how well they will respond and perform.

To create a supportive instructional approach, focus on the specifics of what students need to improve upon in a manner that encourages their progress. This will demonstrate to your students that you have their best interests in mind. If you expect students to adapt to your personal preferences and they do not see the benefits of trying what you've suggested, you may find yourself at odds with them.

Every student has a potential to try something new and make changes; however, it often becomes a matter of whether or not they see the benefits of implementing your suggestions or trying to meet your expectations. Your relationship with them, along with your disposition about their development, will go a long way towards helping them adapt and discover that ongoing development is a natural part of the learning process. When you nurture a supportive approach to your instruction, you will also nurture a positive mindset in your students.

Dr. Johnson has worked in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005. He specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, online teaching, career management, and career development. Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA.

Dr. J's mission is to teach, write, and inspire others as an academic educator, leader, author, writer, and mentor. He writes blog posts, articles, and books to inform, inspire, and empower readers. To learn more about resources that are available for educators, along with career and professional development, please visit:

5 Methods of Energizing and Motivating Your Students 

 By Dr. Bruce A. Johnson

Are your students performing their very best in your class and completing all learning activities on time? Do they always want to be involved in class discussions, eager to be part of the conversations, while demonstrating what they have learned from the assigned reading? Or do you have a typical mix of students, with some who excel, and other who struggle to stay motivated and involved in the class?

For a traditional class, student motivation can be observed. In contrast, online instructors must watch for a different set of cues and develop conditions within a learning management system which are conducive to learning. There is a belief among some educators it is not possible to help students that you cannot see, especially with a quality such as motivation which cannot be visually assessed in a virtual environment. But a student's level of motivation will influence all aspects of their involvement, from their engagement in the class to their participation in discussions and completion of learning activities such as written assignments.

With the many demands made of an online instructor it is possible classroom management can become the primary focus and it consists of tasks such as participation, feedback, acquiring class materials, and developing class lectures or posts. It can then become fairly easy to miss a student who is gradually disengaging from class until it is too late. This includes spotting a student who is lacking a sense of self-motivation or does not know how to sustain it when they are feeling discouraged, frustrated, or challenged.

While students are expected to be self-directed by nature as adults, it doesn't mean they are equipped to meet the many demands expected of them as a student. This is the reason why an instructor must be prepared to identify their needs and have motivational strategies ready to assist them.

Motivational Indicators

It is possible for an instructor to gauge the level of involvement of their students in a class by the number of times they have posted responses in the discussion threads and the perceived amount of effort that is put into their written assignments. But that doesn't necessarily mean it is possible to accurately gauge how motivated the students are when an attempt of some kind is being made to complete their work.

The reason why is that motivation is an internalized state and challenges are acknowledged through statements such as "I'm not certain I can do this" or "this is too hard" or "this isn't what I expected I would have to do" - anything that will result in a student deciding to give up, quit, or eventually withdraw from the class or their degree program. An instructor will know that this is happening if they have developed open communication with their students and as a result they are willing to share their frustrations and concerns.

Students Who Are Struggling

When students are struggling in their class it can be easy to first assume that they are not trying hard enough, they aren't utilizing the feedback provided, they haven't read the assigned materials, or any other number of possible reasons - without being able to pinpoint exactly what they are experiencing. At the beginning of class most students have the highest level of enthusiasm and a sense of hope about a new start, even if there is some anxiety or apprehension mixed in.

It is when a student attempts to participate in class that determines how long their excitement is sustained and there are many factors that can have a negative impact, including a lack of academic skills, feedback they do not accept or understand, a subject that is too difficult to comprehend or does not seem relevant to their lives, or receiving a grade they do not believe they should have earned. This causes an eventual decline in performance and one that may not be intentional or even consciously recognized until an instructor addresses it.

5 Methods of Energizing and Motivating Your Students

Instructors may not always know with certainty why students are struggling but at the heart of most issues is a willingness to keep trying and work on continued self-development, even when it requires them to acquire new knowledge or skills. What instructors can do is to develop a set of proactive instructional strategies that are encouraging in nature and supportive of students' attempts and progress.

The following five methods have been implemented in my own teaching practice and what I have helped to coach online faculty with through my work with faculty development.

#1. Build Productive Relationships. While this should go without saying for any class, whether it is a traditional or online class, relationships with students always matters. It can have a direct impact on their ability to feel comfortable asking for assistance when needed and that can alert the instructor to potential problems. But developing this type of relationship in a virtual environment isn't easy and a class that lasts only a few weeks can make it even more difficult.

How a relationship begins is with the attitude an instructor holds and it continues with an ongoing intent to be helpful and approachable. Students must know that their instructors care about them.

#2. Carefully Manage Your Communication. All forms of communication that instructors have with their students matter and must be cultivated with care that the intent of message is clearly made and the tone is not likely to be perceived in a negative manner.

When responding to a student, whether by email or a post in the classroom, it should not be done hastily or when an emotional reaction is felt. The reason why this is so important is that a negative interaction can be de-motivating to a student and a series of these types of interactions can cause a student to disengage from the class.

#3. Be Present, Available, and Accessible. If students are to stay engaged in the class and perform to the very best of their abilities they need to know that their instructor is readily available to assist them whenever they need help. This doesn't mean an instructor has to be on call at all times or answer questions as soon as they are posted; however, there needs to be an established pattern that students can rely upon.

I've found it helpful to have multiple methods of contact that includes email, instant messaging, weekly office hours, sharing my phone number for times when students need immediate assistance, and posting a questions thread in the classroom. This allows me to develop connections with students and it can be very motivating for them to know I am accessible.

#4. Help Make Certain that Students are Adequately Prepared. I've found that academic under-preparedness can be extremely detrimental to the mindset that new students hold as they attempt to navigate the course and the requirements they are expected to complete. Even as established students make progress through their degree program they may still struggle with areas of development that can create a mental barrier and ultimately lead to a sense of defeat if they do not receive assistance.

What I've done is to share resources that address students' specific developmental needs in the feedback provided and if I find sources that may benefit the entire class, I'll share it in a separate classroom post. I've found that the more students feel equipped to complete their tasks, the more confident they will be as they make an attempt to do so.

#5. Develop and Use Proactive Outreach Strategies. It is imperative that an instructor always be aware of the classroom conditions and more importantly that they are aware of students who are not actively involved and present in class. It may be helpful to establish a mental baseline for expected performance and over time an experienced instructor develops an instinct for student engagement.

A discussion thread is one way to gauge if students are disengaging from the class. When I discover a student who isn't posting messages or they are continuing to struggle with their written assignments, I'll make outreach attempts. First I'll send an email and try to engage them and if that isn't successful I'll make a phone call so that the student doesn't completely disengage from class. I've learned that a personalized approach will go a long ways towards helping students sustain their self-motivation.

Sources of Motivation

Most research about motivation points to the sources of motivation, both internal and external. This means that students may be motivated by a sense of accomplishment (internalized) or a grade (externalized). With a limited amount of time available to get to know students for a typical online class, instructors may never know exactly what the source of motivation is for every student or be able to develop techniques to meet their individual needs, especially when classroom management and instructional duties require a significant investment of time.

What instructors can do is to address self-motivation as a driving factor for student success and use the methods provided above to help students feel self-confident, rather than become easily discouraged and willing to give up. When instructors bridge the distance gap and connect with their students, they will notice the results in the effort they make and the performance level they maintain throughout the class. When students believe someone cares about their progress, and is willing to support them as they make an attempt to complete the class requirements, an increase in self-motivation is likely to likely to occur. You have an opportunity to be that someone for your students and what it takes is showing an interest in your students and being aware of their involvement in class. Your interest in students not only can energize their involvement in class, it can transform and energize your involvement as well.

Dr. Johnson specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, online teaching, career management, and career development. Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA.

Dr. J's mission is to teach, write, and inspire others. He writes blog posts, articles, and books to inform, inspire, and empower readers. To learn more about resources that are available for educators, along with career and professional development, please visit:


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