At FITS, we have a number of strategies that we like to recommend to help keep students organized and on task:
- Use the “Completion Tracking” feature in the D2L Content tool so students can check off items as they complete them.
- Set due dates that will be pushed to the calendar tool and encourage students to subscribe to their calendar so that it syncs to whatever personal calendar they use.
- Use use the News tool to send updates and, again, encourage students to subscribe so they get updates via email.
But there’s a danger in all these strategies. If you don’t fully commit to them they can backfire spectacularly, and rather than help keep students on task, only create confusion about what they’re supposed to do.
I’ve seen instructors who just wanted to dip their toes into these strategies, perhaps only using calendar items for a few of the most important due dates. I’ve seen instructors in hybrid classes only using completion tracking for the assignments that are part of the online component of the class and not those that are discussed or assigned in the face-to-face component. I’ve seen instructors who would sometimes post a News item to give an update and other times send an email or even write a note in the module description for an upcoming course. And I’ve seen instructors leaving readings out of their module in Content (and out of the Completion Tracking checklist) because it was listed on the syllabus instead.
Inevitably, students miss things, and everyone gets upset. Students are angry that the expectations weren’t clear and instructors are angry that students weren’t thorough and didn’t find the information that seemed so plainly laid out to them.
The problem is when you start to utilize these tools, you’re making an implicit promise that students can rely on them—that these tools are giving students a complete and accurate representation of what they need to do and by when. If they discover that that isn’t the case, particularly with something high stakes like a missed assignment, your students will stop using them.
With the potential for students getting misinformation, and the high likelihood that students will stop using them after they’re found to be unreliable, these tools can be worse than useless—they can be actively detrimental to your course when they’re not used systematically.
Now, I am a strong advocate for each of these tools and strategies. I firmly believe that what all students really want in their course organization is a checklist of everything they need to do in the order they need to do it. And I believe you can help your students organize your course in the context of the rest of their lives by using a subscribable calendar. However, if you have another way of conveying your expectations and requirements that you know you’ll use more systematically than these tools, you might be better off disregarding them entirely rather than giving students incomplete information with them.