You’ve moved your course online, but is it impactful?
With colleges and universities closing in response to the COVID-19 virus, many are turning to online instruction, and instructors who have never taught online coursework or used a Learning Management System, for instance, will be forced to adapt quickly. Best practices may be secondary to getting a course built, and LMS instruction may be limited. As such, we offer the following guidance for developing an impactful online course. These considerations are informed by established literature, best practices and our own experiences.
Learn your LMS
Devote time to learning the LMS and related technology. It may be tempting to rely on a distance education team to facilitate the migration of a course online. However, you will likely need to edit content as your course progresses, and with staffing constraints, a distance education team may not be able to respond quickly.
LinkedIn Learning and YouTube are excellent sources for tutorials on a variety of LMS platforms that can supplement your training.
Learn the content types and their intended use. For example, before adding content, consider what the purpose of the content is. If it will need to be updated, it may be added as an HTML document. If it will be printed by the student, it should be posted as a PDF. If the document prompts the students to do a task, it should be added as an assignment, creating space for submission. Learning these distinctions early on will save time and eliminate frustration later.
Think of students as employees whom you are trying to motivate. Giving assignments without providing a purpose will not inspire critical thinking and may result in missed correlations between study and practice.
Organize your content
Organization is key. Use labels that are easily searchable and avoid “cute” or nondescriptive titles. Also, provide a full document to students for assigned readings. If you do not have the rights to the document, provide a (tested) link for ease of access. Finally, provide module checklists detailing objectives and assignments.
Higher education institution leaders may find they do not have enough support staff to facilitate online tutoring for all online students. Promote the use of online resources and apps to help your students study, write and understand specific topics.
Faculty-student communication is, perhaps, the most important aspect of developing a successful online course. This begins with setting expectations for and boosting connections with students:
- Develop rubrics or use model essays and projects to help students understand how they can express ideas in a manner congruent with course expectations.
- Timely feedback lets the student know when their work is not meeting expectations, allowing for correction of course before multiple assignments are complete.
- Assignments should detail what needs to be done, how, and how work should be presented. (For more information, view the guidelines for transparent assignments published by Tilt Higher Ed.)
- Think of students as employees whom you are trying to motivate. Giving assignments without providing a purpose will not inspire critical thinking and may result in missed correlations between study and practice.
- Provide guidelines for communication among students. Discussion requirements that are too structured (e.g., “Post one response by Wednesday, a second by Friday and a third by Sunday”) provide no flexibility for a student who may be juggling multiple responsibilities along with school. However, allowing too much flexibility may lead to students making minimal posts an hour before the module closes, producing little discussion.
- Instructors should also contribute to discussion posts. Without instructor feedback, students may exhibit decreased interest in participation.
- Instructors should answer email in a timely manner, and detail preferences for communication.
- View communication through the student lens. Is it clear? Thoughtful? Interesting? Are assignments varied, or is the course comprised of identical modules, requiring reading of material, regurgitation of content within a discussion post, and response to others? Are students challenged to further investigate subjects with links to related videos, additional reading, online tutorials or educational games?
These suggestions are a starting point for taking your online course from mundane to masterful. Putting in the time to make your online course engaging and robust will lead to improved student participation and, ultimately, greater student success.
Kristie Kiser and Renee Hayes are doctoral candidates at the University of North Georgia (UNG) in the fully online Higher Education Leadership & Practice (HELP) doctor of education program. Kiser also serves as the student success coordinator and an online instructor for UNG, and Hayes serves as director of the Academic Enhancement Center for Georgia Gwinnett College. Michael Lanford is an assistant professor of higher education at UNG and an instructor for the HELP program.
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