Checking off Checklists


Oliver Dreon, Ph.D.

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Young Woman Using Checklists for Online Learning - Student SuccessA few months ago, I posted about how my online students have been requesting that I add checklists to allow them to self-monitor their progress. It was on my list of things to do to improve my classes, and I’m happy to report that I was able to incorporate checklists in my online classes that started a few weeks ago. Before we get to how they’ve been used, let’s review.

Checklists help students to be more metacognitive and to self-regulate their learning. Well-defined checklists can make expectations clear for students and help them monitor their progress in completing the expectations. When completing complex assignments, checklists can help students better understand the individual tasks embedded within the complexity. This is especially helpful in my online classes. While I like to think I’ve organized my classes pretty linearly, there are a lot of moving parts each week. Checklists can reduce this chaos for students and help them focus on the specific aspects they need to complete.

Besides the direct connections to learning, checklists are also one of the ways to incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in your classes. One of the principles of UDL is “providing multiple means of action and expression.” This broad principle can be more easily understood when the supporting guidelines are considered. Checklists fall under the guidelines for executive functioning and would help students “develop and act on plans to make the most out of learning” (CAST, 2018). Digging deeper into UDL, checklists help students set appropriate goals, strategically plan their work, manage course information and resources, and monitor their own progress. While checklists may seem like a simple strategy, they can have a huge impact on student learning.

As we enter the third week of my two online classes, I wanted to take a look to see whether students were using the checklists and whether there were any correlations with students’ academic performance. For each module overview, I included a checklist which I listed as a “self-assessment” and explained that students could us it to monitor their progress. I also explained that using the checklists was completely optional, but I stressed that students should use them to “stay on track” with course expectations.

Across the 35 students currently enrolled in my two online classes, 28 have consistently used the checklists for the first three modules. Only two students have chosen not to use the checklists at all. Looking at the performance of the students in the classes, the seven students who are either not using the checklists or using them inconsistently are on average performing 6-7% below the average in their classes. Definitely some interesting findings.

Before any reader gets too excited about the amazing powers of checklists, I think some restraint may be warranted. First off, this isn’t anywhere close to a well-designed research study. I basically looked into the statistics and saw that some students were using the checklists and others were not. The ones who were using them were doing well for the most part. The ones who were not using them weren’t doing as well. Just an anecdotal observation.

Expanding the lens, however, may allow for other observations. Overall, the students who were using the checklists were also the ones who logged in more often, read more of the posts from their peers, and accessed course content more regularly. While I was hoping the checklists would be a way to support struggling students, it looks as if the highly motivated, Type A students were the ones who were actually using them. At least so far. I’ll revisit the data after the courses have ended and report back.

This post was made possible through a collaboration with The 8 Blog—a blog that Oliver Dreon, Ph.D, developed as the Director of the Center for Academic Excellence and Associate Professor, Educational Foundations at Millersville University. (Posted in Teaching & Learning)


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