Well, I'm moving into the last week of my 6 week on-line class and since I have absolutely nothing besides face-to-face classes to compare it to, I think it's not gone horribly.
It's ended up being a writing intensive class (students have at least one assignment a day) and I've structured it using an idea that a good friend had (& is going to write about) — using Bloom's taxonomy. The early writing assignments were for the students to summarize the conclusions of the texts (I gave them excerpts that had conclusions fairly easily identifiable) and provide textual evidence to support their summaries.
After they did this for each of the texts we're covering, we moved in the next week to actually apply the conclusions to specific cases. And, now this last week, they've spent time identifying and summarizing in their own words the arguments in support of the conclusions they identified earlier.
Now, I think that what I've developed is a good learning experience if the students are diligent (I have a few who are and the work they are doing suggests that they are learning) but I think that a major downfall of this course is that it's only 6 weeks. This is a huge amount to do in only 6 weeks. The students who are doing well are, by their reports, dedicating at least 3 hours a day to the class. This makes sense. I usually teach this class as a 15 week class meeting 3 times a week. If we use the 3 hours outside of class for every hour in class, that's 175 hours spent on the class (45 hours in class and then 135 hours outside). In a 6 week class there's only 42 days to work with. That means over 4 hours a day would have to be spent on the class.
The on-line part doesn't seem to be a problem or, rather, I don't think it needs to be a problem. What I have noticed is that I'm much more aware of how the students are doing but this is because it's writing intensive, not because it's on-line (though it is writing intensive because it's on-line). I've become painfully aware of the fact that many students don't know how to read carefully or write. I think because students in a face-to-face class can count on someone giving them a pithy catch phrase they are less likely to even do the reading and so with less need to do the reading they, predictably, don't do it. But what's frustrating is that I've given these students a text which is basically all the things I try to communicate in lectures. It's very accessible (at least other students have told me this) and, again, according to other students, helpful. These students appear to not be reading it.
In terms of them not being able to write, the frequent response I get from my comment of "I'm not following what you're saying here" is "I think what I was trying to say is....." What's interesting is that students don't appear to see this response as evidence that it wasn't written well.
So, all in all, I think this is a good experience because it's gotten me to use a writing intensive approach and, through this, I've realized how helpful this is to better understanding their learning.