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Decrease Student Anxiety: Communicate Technical Skills Required for Success

Submitted by on July 31, 2013 – 11:10 am3 Comments

Working with technology can be challenging. If you’ve ever tried to learn a new tool or develop an online skill, you probably understand the frustration that often accompanies these kinds of tasks. Added pressure—such as a deadline or high-stakes situation—can further increase anxiety and cause an intense distaste for the situation, tool, or skill involved.

male leaning forward with hands holding up head

Each time they enter an online course, students potentially face the same challenges. The act of learning itself can be a stressful process, so any steps you can take to lessen student anxiety helps create faster engagement with your course. An easy way to help suppress students’ uncertainty is to provide an overview of the technical skills they need to be successful in your course.

Quality Matters (QM) Standard 1.6: Minimum technical skills expected of the student are clearly stated.


Letting students know what types of tools they need for the course is quite different than explaining to them the types of skills they need to be proficient. Avoid the common mistake of addressing technical tools only; students need to understand both requirements.

How to Determine the Technical Skills Students Need

To determine the technical skills needed, think of what you expect students to do on a regular basis throughout the course. Give special consideration to the assignments and activities that they will complete. Consider the examples of technical skills that QM provides:

  • Using the learning management system
  • Using email with attachments
  • Creating and submitting files in commonly used word processing program formats
  • Copying and pasting
  • Downloading and installing software
  • Using spreadsheet programs
  • Using presentation and graphics programs

Sample: Combining Technical Skills and Tools Information

Technical skills and tools required for this course: An Internet connection is necessary to participate in discussions and assignments, access readings, transfer course work, and receive feedback from your instructional associate and/or professor. For web-based courses, students should have a basic working knowledge of computers and Internet use as well as access to a computer with a broadband (DSL, cable, satellite) Internet connection. Other requirements for each course are listed in the university catalog. At a minimum, you must have Microsoft Office 2003, XP, 2007 or OpenOffice. Microsoft Office is the standard office productivity software used by faculty, students, and staff. Microsoft Word is the standard word processing software, Microsoft Excel is the standard spreadsheet software, and Microsoft PowerPoint is the standard presentation software. You will also be required to copy + paste and attach and upload documents for assignment submissions.

Your Turn!

Do you have any ideas for how to effectively communicate necessary technical skills? What about other ideas for alleviating student anxiety in an online course? We would love to hear from you in the comments section! [social-bio]


  • Michelle Pacansky-Brock says:

    Hi Heidi,

    In my online class, I refer to “internet access” as “transportation to class.” 🙂 It adds a little humor but also ensures students understand that an internet connection truly is just as vital as a car, bus, or other method of getting to campus when enrolled in a F2F class.

    In addition to the basic tech requirements you’ve cited here, my online students are also required to use VoiceThread, which is a web 2.0 tool and is external to our LMS. I require them to leave voice or video comments in several of our discussions throughout the term. To ensure my students are all clear about this expectation (1) and they have access to the necessary tools (2), I have them complete a survey I created in a Google Form by the end of week one. In the survey, they self-identify how they will leave their spoken comments: 1) microphone 2) webcam 3) mobile device (iPhone or iPad) or 4) telephone. For the students who choose option 4, I reach out and set up their accounts with phone commenting minutes, which allows them to comment using any type of telephone (even a landline).

    This process ensures all of my students are crystal clear about this technological expectation by the end of week one AND that they are equipped with success.

    Then it’s up to me to be sure everyone works together to foster a safe, trustworthy community in which interactions are valued and supported.


  • Heidi Ash says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I love your comment! Yes – for our distance students, the internet is definitely their “transportation” to class! I also think this is a great way to relate to students how important it is to have dependable internet access.

    Thanks so much for sharing your process in getting your students set up with VoiceThread. The step-by-step process you outline provides students with a thoughtful way to begin interacting with the tool, and it exposes them to different choices that need to be made early in the course. It also gives you, the instructor, an opportunity to provide more support to any students who may need a little additional help getting started.

    This was very helpful information, and I think others will be able to pattern a way to share their technical skills information based on your method. Thank you so much for commenting! 🙂

  • Alejandro says:

    Hello!!! 🙂
    I enjoyed reading your article and is very interesting. I want to congratulate you on the excellent content you have on your site …
    Quite simple but very well explained …
    Sorry for bad english…
    Have a nice day and continue with the excellent work. 🙂