The Value of Worksheets for Asynchronous Online Courses

When I began teaching 15 years ago, I came to the profession with the belief that worksheets were an elementary school-level example of lazy teaching. I’m not sure where that idea originated, but it was a strongly held notion—and it was shared by other faculty as well. Since then, I have found that worksheets are often key to high-quality student work, and I use them in all of my classes. I utilize them most often in my online courses, but there are times when they are invaluable in person as well. The following article focuses on the value of worksheets in asynchronous online courses, because I have found them essential for this type of format.

When to implement worksheets

When I am adding new material to a class or creating a new class, I tend to start simple and add worksheets when it becomes clear they will be beneficial. For example, for one rather long yet essential reading, I assigned a short prompt: “Please read chapter 10 and write a paragraph of at least 200 words about how the material in the chapter relates to your studies and goals, and what you can learn from it.” For my online classes in particular, the paragraphs students wrote indicated that most of them had either read only part of the chapter or, in some cases, did not read at all. This was a particular problem since we did not have the ability to discuss and engage with the material in person. I later added, “Please be sure to reference multiple concepts discussed in the chapter,” but that made little difference. The top five percent of students in those classes performed well on the assignment but the rest did not. This was a failure—not of the students but of the assignment—and I was determined to fix it.

In preparing for fall 2021, I began making major changes. One obvious solution was to break up the reading into two parts. I also expanded the “purpose” section of the assignment to make it clear why I ask students to do the reading, and what value they will gain by reading it. But the most important change was creating a pair of worksheets (one for each part of the reading) that required students to reflect on essential concepts in the reading and then apply them to short scenarios I created and to their own studies. Although I didn’t have proof until after I read the completed responses to the two worksheets, I was certain the results would be a dramatic improvement—and they were.

Originally posted at Faculty Focus