Online Learning Pedagogy

Do Students Even Read our Announcements?

"I skip right over those!" 

"They're a waste of time!"

"What announcements?"

I often hear that students don't care about the announcements that many of us take the time to craft and post in our online courses. Many of these perspectives, however, have come from campus students taking online courses who have a very distinct educational experience from our online student populations. First, campus students have a face to face experience even if they are taking a few online courses along the way. Second, their campus-course professors who choose to use I-Learn organize their content in I-Learn very differently from how we organize our online courses.

BYU-Idaho's online learning program puts a lot of stock in the announcements widget, meaning we tell instructors to put a lot of effort into those announcements because it is one of the ways we can communicate presence in our courses. Whether students actually engage or consume those announcements is one of great debate amongst teachers. One year ago, I posted a discussion called "Do Students Watch Our Instructor-Made Videos?" The discussion that ensued among instructors was wonderful! And I am happy to report that my videos have gotten better.

But what about announcements in general?

Does the benefit of posting announcements outweigh the cost of making them?

The only data I have to determine if students read our announcements are the videos I often embed in those announcements. For context, I try create an intro video each week and I keep those videos to three minutes or less. I try to cover important content for the week and infuse my personality into those videos to foster "social presence" theory. Because I post my videos in YouTube I can get view rate analytics on those videos. My experience has been that around 2/3 of my students watch the videos for at least 2 of the 3 minutes. Not great, but at least I know something about the extend to which they consume my content. 

What are your thoughts about announcements? I will likely submit an evaluation project request to our on-campus course improvement evaluation team to help us determine "announcement impact" on students, but I am interested in your take.

What return have we experienced from our investment in announcements?

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  • This is an issue that has come up for me recently. A student emailed me in part, "The announcement section of the course is not only rarely looked at by me and by fellow students but it is often completely skipped over when accessing assignments." I've found that the most successful students are those that read the announcements. I point out through the icebreaker, the introductory email, and my Overview information the importance of reviewing the announcement each week and setting up their notifications appropriately so they receive a notification when there is a new announcement. I look forward to reading other instructors ideas on how to better encourage the students to engage with the announcements. I wonder if there was an announcement link at the top of the screen next to "Content" or "Discussions" if it would help the students remember that they are there. I've had a number of students tell me part way through the course that they can't remember how to find the announcements.

    • Not that it completely matters John, but I would be interested to know if the email you mention in your comment happened to come from a campus student taking your online course. I am beginning to think campus students share the mentality you cite above more than online students do. This idea stems from the fact that campus faculty rarely use the announcement feature in I-Learn because they can give announcements in class and, therefore, campus students are not accustomed to relying on those announcements when they happen to take online courses. Thoughts?

      • The particular student who sent me the email lives in Arizona so, at least in this case, it is not just on-campus students who have this mentality. In my experience a lot of off-campus students say to me at some point in the semester "Oh, I forget about the announcements!" Ideally they should be getting a notification email when a new announcement is posted, but I've been told that they receive so many notification emails from all of their classes that either they turn the notifications off, start ignoring those emails, or just don't read their email. Someone mentioned giving a few points for reading the announcements. Maybe if the announcements were in every week's content, and they received some points for at least opening up the announcement, then maybe they would be more likely to read them.

        • Good to know John. Not the first theory of mine that has been flawed! :-P

  • Has anyone added a one-point (or half-point or whatever) assignment to their course, giving students credit for reading the announcements? Did you hide a code word in the Announcements? Was there a link to follow? What did the assignment look like?

    I have permission from my course council to do this. I would love to see what others have done.

    • I too, would love to see some examples. Right now I assume this is something embedded in a video or something where you say... "Extra credit for those who have watched this video and emailed me XYorZ." for example. 

      Waiting on baited breath to see some examples. :-)

      • Jerrod, it looks like we're to the "invent the wheel" stage. I'm going to experiment Winter semester and see how it goes.

        • Agreed. I think the first half of this linked article may give us a few ideas about announcements even though the article is about syllabi: 

          • Thanks for the link. I like the Easter egg idea, but I don't want to handle 45 emails. I would like the hint to be answered in a one question, one point, auto-graded quiz each week.

  • Thank you for stating, "BYU-Idaho's online learning program puts a lot of stock in the announcements widget, meaning we tell instructors to put a lot of effort into those announcements because it is one of the ways we can communicate presence in our courses." I put a lot of effort into a weekly announcement to provide guidance to my students for that week's activities. I have started including videos. I have 3 announcements per semester that ask students to respond via email to me answering a question I post in the announcement. About 1/2 my students send me an email. I know that is not a credible report but it lets me know who reads the announcements and who doesn't. I learned from another professor a couple of semesters ago to offer an extra point (to be used on an assignment that did not earn 100%) for responses to my announcements. I have use that tactic twice a semester and still only have about 1/2 of my students respond. However, I hear students talking to other students and they are telling each other about the announcements. In the weekly Q&A discussion posts I have read where students tell other students that their professor answered that question in an announcement. I also use announcements to post examples of A level work. So I think as I make the announcements of value to the student (not to me), then more students will read the announcements.

    Sister Hunter

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