Five Lessons Online Faculty Can Use from the IRS

The 2016 Behavioral Insights Toolkit guides IRS employees to help promote compliance and improve taxpayer engagement by leveraging strong communication practices.

Online faculty have a similar task, asking students to comply with assignment instructions and to engage in the online classroom. Below are five relevant tips from the IRS.

  • Simplify messages, but provide access to detailed information: Assignment instructions should be direct and straightforward, with access to further information for those who seek it, according to the IRS.
  • Promote positive behavior with a signature box: The IRS has found that online signature boxes improve integrity and accountability in the taxpaying population. Online instructors can adopt an online signature box to use in matters of academic integrity. Additionally, a signature box following the phrase “I verify that I am submitting this assignment by the due date and time” might encourage timely submissions.
  • Separate tasks: The IRS suggests separating mathematical tasks from reading tasks. Similarly, in a well-designed online classroom, due dates and deliverables are available in a designated area for students to locate easily and where they will not be lost in a sea of online content.
  • Build a sense of progress towards a goal: The IRS found that it’s helpful to provide a progress report as taxpayers work toward completing a process. In the same way, a well-designed syllabus communicates to students the work that must be accomplished for success and helps them track their progress.
  • Use course data to encourage good practices: Students usually respond well to pertinent information on performance. For example, access data may indicate that students who access the online classroom more than five days before deadlines are more likely to perform well on assignments. Disclosing such findings to all students encourages behavior that leads to student success.

Internal Revenue Service. (2016). Behavioral insights toolkit. Online publication.
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