Pre-instructional activities to prepare students for online learning

Eliza Richardson
Penn State University
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: October 6, 2011 | Reviewed: January 17, 2015


Students get low-stakes practice doing many of the tasks they will have to complete later on the course such as navigating the course website, turning in an assignment to a dropbox, and posting to a discussion thread

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



I use this activity in an online master's level class designed for in-service high school science teachers.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have registered for the course and be able to follow links provided in an email to the course website where they will see this assignment.

How the activity is situated in the course

This type of activity is the very first thing students do in each of my online courses. If they find the tasks in this activity too difficult or confusing, it's better for them to find out right away that this may not be the course for them.


Content/concepts goals for this activity


Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity


Other skills goals for this activity

-Navigate the course website
-Retrieve a paper from library e-reserves
-Participate in a discussion forum
-Make a plot with graphing software
-Submit an assignment to a dropbox
-Take a quiz housed within PSU's course management system (ANGEL)

Description of the activity/assignment

In this activity, students retrieve two short papers from Penn State's library e-reserves, read them, and spend a week discussing them with their classmates and me. They reproduce three plots with graphing software of their choice and submit their plots to an electronic dropbox. They take a quiz housed within Penn State's course management system. As part of this quiz, they use an online drawing tool to sketch a diagram.

Teaching Tips

Adaptations that allow this activity to be successful in an online environment

This activity was created specifically for an online course. As more and more face-to-face courses incorporate technology for reserved reading and turning in assignments, this kind of activity could be useful an any course.

Elements of this activity that are most effective

This activity is extremely instructive for me to have an early gauge regarding the skill level of my students in terms of general online savviness as well as a bit about their quantitative skills and content knowledge.

Recommendations for other faculty adapting this activity to their own course:

Make sure you tailor an activity like this one to your own specific course management system. I also recommend making it completely low stakes. I grade only on participation. Log in frequently during this activity to offer help, advice, and encouragement because this is very important at the beginning of an online course when there is the most confusion. I usually make this activity last for the first whole week of courses in case some students register at the last minute.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I evaluate this activity based solely on participation, not correctness. However, I make sure to give students feedback because they will have to complete similar activities many times throughout the course and those later activities will be graded.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Pre-instructional activities to prepare students for online learning -- Discussion  

Join the Discussion

Log in to reply