Design a State-of-the-Art (Online) Course

Decorative: Website construction - construction tools such as a heavy truck, scaffolding, a crane, etc. are positioned around the monitor of a desktop, building pieces of a web page into the screen's picture


A. "The Future (Revisited) of Online Education" (post; dead link but the information below remains useful) outlines 14 useful strategies to address common problems with online courses which, too often, "offer a pale imitation of a genuine education, consisting of little more than video clips, digitized PowerPoint slides, and discussion boards."

  • "These are correspondence courses for the digital age."
  • NOTE: Many of these strategies can also be used in D2L/mycourselink to supplement on-campus classes.

B. The Suggested Strategies

1. "Course Design: Conceive of the class as a journey."

  • "[I]identify one’s learning objectives and align one’s activities and assessments with those goals."
  • "But ... [provide] something more: A narrative arc, a starting point, a sense of direction, and a destination."
  • "[T]hink of the course as a series of stops, tasks, challenges, experiences, engagements, encounters, and contests."
  • "[A]opt a student-centered design focus, asking, for example, why students take the class, what the students want out of the course, the students’ needs and interests, the pinch points they are likely to experience, how they are likely to move through the course, how to keep the students motivated and engaged, and what constitutes success."

2. "Instructional Design: Give the course a problem and inquiry focus."

  • "Rather than ... as a body of content that needs to be transmitted or as a series of skills that need to be taught, instead organize the course around questions, challenges, and debates."
  • Make classes "about formulating and testing hypotheses, making and refining arguments, building on prior knowledge, and correcting misconceptions.
  • "[I]n a humanities class ... encourag[e] students to recognize that [their subject] isn’t simply a body of facts, but rather a series of arguments ... [with] questions [that] might ask involve perspective (How did actors perceive events or their options?) and interpretation (How should a piece of evidence be understood?) ... [or they] can also be causal (What caused something to happen), corrective (How accurate is a particular historical myth or generalization?), explanatory (Why did something happen?), or evaluative (What were the consequences?)."
  • "[I]n STEM and quantitative social science courses ... integrate opportunities for students to investigate particular problems, make observations, test various hypotheses and methods, and identify and evaluate possible solutions."

3. Synchronous + Asynchronous: Consider including "synchronous elements."

  • "A wholly online asynchronous class eliminates many of the elements that are essential to a robust learning experience: Opportunities for collaboration, interchange, improvisation, and serendipity."
  • "Hangouts, virtual office hours, and live interactions offer possibilities for bringing lives, first person interaction into the course."

4. "Instructor Presence: Instructor presence in online courses is essential."

  • "Instructor presence in online courses can make a big difference in student motivation, engagement, and satisfaction."
  • "A welcome letter, brief video clips, periodic commentaries, prompts, and asides, regular announcements and feedback, connections to current events or items in the news, and outreach to struggling students – these are but a few of the ways to ensure that you are visible to your students."

5. "Collaboration, Argument, and Conversation: Move beyond discussion boards and chat rooms."

  • "Discussion boards rarely promote the kind of engaged interaction that is what we expect in an animated classroom discussion."
  • "To replicate that kind of intensity, incorporate debates, brainstorming sessions, and role playing into your online class."

6.  "Active Learning: Active learning is as important online as in face-to-face classrooms."

  • "Simulations, interactives, and problem-solving tasks are important to ensure that students meaningfully engage with the course material."

7.  "Embedded Assessments: Distribute assessments throughout the course."

  • "Embedded assessments ensure that students regularly engage with the material."
  • These can be "diagnostic ... [t]o help an instructor understand pain points and confusions ... [or] formative ...helping to hone students’ skills and help them accurately monitor their command of course content and concepts."

8.  "Gamification: Consider gamifying your course."

  • "What works in video games also can work in the classroom."
  • "Points and levels and competitions offer effective ways to help motivate students, and prevent them from thinking that a single bad score on a test or essay dooms them to low grade."

9. "Multimedia: Appeal to students’ senses."

  • Use "digital environments to support the visual, the audio, and the interactive ... [to] reinforce learning and augment written or spoken explanations."
  • "Multimedia sources – ads, film and music clips, fashion, gravestones, hair styles, and propaganda posters -- can themselves be subject to analysis."

10.  "Communication: Invite communication."

  • "Integrate multiple communication channels into the class."
  • "Make it easy for students to communicate with classmates and the instructor."

11. "Student Leadership Opportunities: Give students opportunities to lead the class."

  • "Transform students into co-instructors."
  • "Create opportunities for students to introduce class sessions, lead discussions, make presentations, or devise essay questions."

12.  "Peer Commentary: Share the burden of providing student feedback."

  • "Classmates need to learn how to offer constructive feedback."
  • "Work with them to create rubrics which they might use to comment constructively on their classmates’ written work."

13. "Polls and Surveys: Students can provide valuable data for collaborative analysis."

  • "[S]urve[y] your students at the start of a class. What are their anticipated majors? Their career goals? Their motivation for taking the class?"
  • "[C]ollec[t] information on their background and attitudes, if this is relevant to the course."
  • "[A]uthentic, real-world data ... can bring abstract debates to life."

14. "Collective Feedback: Share your comments with all students."

  • "[I]n online classes ... many comments are shared one-on-one," but "[c]onsider ways to make comments widely available."
  • "Discuss problems that occurred in multiple essays or problem-solving exercises." 
  • "Offer general advice that all students might find helpful."
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