If this is your first time designing an online course, you may wish to connect with Jessica O’Reilly, the Hub’s Instructional Developer, to discuss your specific course requirements, create a concrete plan for course development, and connect with other support services offered within the Hub. You aren’t alone in this process unless you choose to be!
The following is a brief overview of the various elements to consider when designing a high-quality online course. This approach is anchored to the Quality Matters course design framework, a schema that promotes best practice in online course design.
About Online Courses
If you’ve never experienced online learning, neither as an educator nor as a learner, you may want to first pursue some learning opportunities:
Lynda.com isn’t just for students. Their Learning to Teach Online course is two-hour course that offers an introduction to high-quality online education. For anyone working in a post-secondary institution in Ontario, including Cambrian College, Lynda.com access is free. Contact the Hub team to learn how you can access this great resource.
Coursera’s Learning to Teach Online is a free massive open online course (MOOC) that introduces participants to educational technologies in blended and fully online environments. Learn in a community of global practitioners teaching in a variety of educational contexts.
Ontario Extend is a free online program from eCampus Ontario that introduces participants to the six essential characteristics of a 21st century educator in six discrete modules. The program is available at any time, to anyone, and the degree of participation is completely up to each participant. Read through the modules, tweet, blog, or do it all to collect the six Ontario Extend badges and one ultimate mega badge!
Quality Matters (QM) is recognized as a leader in quality assurance for online education. In addition to their QM Certification program, they offer paid online workshops that model effective online teaching, and orient you to the basic principles of online course design. QM is nationally-recognized and grounded in research. At the completion of your course, you will receive an official certificate of completion to include on your CV. Consider these as first steps: Designing Your Online Course and Teaching Online: An Introduction to Online Delivery.
Additional Learning Opportunities
Just like with Moodle training, you’ve got many options available to you when it comes to learning about effective online pedagogy. Talk to your Chair or Dean about additional training opportunities, or schedule a learning session with Jessica O’Reilly in the Hub.
Now that you are familiar with designing a course and are aware of additional learning opportunities (which are optional, yet recommended), the next steps outline the elements of a high-quality online course.
The development process from here on out is less linear, but all of the following elements should find their way into your completed online course.
Getting Your Students Started in the Course
You only get one chance to make a first impression, both in-class and online. When your students open your course for the very first time, they should easily locate the following:
- Course code and title: You can be creative and customize the topmost summary section of the course to include an image and/or a stylized title. This adds a nice design. Connect with the Hub’s Instructional Design team for help with this.
- Instructor information: Whether or not you are teaching this course, leave a section for the course instructor to introduce himself/herself, their contact information, response time to email/voicemail and preferred communication and meeting methods.
- Instructions for students: Including what to do first, where to find certain course elements, and other important information. This helps students become familiar with the course layout and elements.
- Course resources: Let students know if there are any required or recommended resources such as a textbook, subscriptions, software, hardware or other. For example, do you plan to use audio? Students should know that they’ll require headphones or speakers.
- Student and instructor introductions: It is also best practice to have students introduce themselves to the course instructor and to one another in the first week of the course. This builds social presence, and according to constructivist theorists, social presence is required in order for students to build a cognitive presence in the course, aka. students need to feel like they’re supported by a learning community to successfully learn online. Think about how you might start building that learning community early in the course. You could consider adding this as a topic in a discussion forum, connecting students via a video chat, or other virtual communication tool.
Navigation & Usability
Our students tend to respond well to weekly or topical course formats. They want a course that is easy to navigate, fairly predictable, consistent in its overall layout, and modular in its delivery (building a course out of smaller, discrete units or lessons).
Consider including the following elements:
- A title and brief description for each section / lesson / module in the course
- Clear learning outcomes for each section
- A “Getting Started” or “Introduction” section
- An “Assessments” section
You can also use Moodle blocks to add information to the left or right columns of your Moodle page. Blocks that students tend to appreciate include:
- Quick links to helpful websites, relevant academic policies, and high-level course information
- Institutional supports: Where should students go for help with course content? Technical issues? Tutoring? What are the etiquette expectations when communicating with the course instructor and other students? The Hub has already created many of these items, including links to relevant academic policies. Reach out to Jessica O’Reilly if you’re interested in having a look at some pre-built assets to plug into your course.
- Upcoming events such as webinars, guest speakers, etc.
- Course calendar with important dates and deadlines
- Accessibility information and policy
- Latest announcements section that is updated regularly with news and reminders
When building Moodle assessments and evaluations, consider including the following:
- Plan: An overall course evaluation plan at the top of the “Assessment” section
- Late assignments: information about how late assignments will be dealt with
- Connection to goals: a table, description or diagram that explains how each assessment activity connects to the course learning outcomes and objectives
- Success/Grading criteria: clear description of success criteria (detailed information on how the instructor will be grading each assignment/activity). Moodle has some fantastic tools to help support this, including the rubric and marking guide which are built into the “Assignment” activity. Students should know how their work will be graded prior to beginning their assignment.
Try to give students an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of a topic in a variety of ways. Should they need to use certain technology as a component of their evaluation, try to include links to websites, books, articles, etc. that explain how to use the technology.
When designing course activities consider the following:
- Discussions: Where possible, allow students to interact with the instructor and each other. This could take place in a forum within your Moodle page or via a third-party discussion app that you link out to.
- Make connections: Be clear about how the discrete activities work together to meet the learning objectives and outcomes.
- Support learning: Activities build a bridge between the content they learn about and the course evaluations. Learning can only take place when students activate prior knowledge and make connections between what they already know and new content. Course activities are a means for students to achieve this, and should ultimately help them succeed on their course evaluations. If students see relevance in the course activities, they’ll do them. If they view course activities as busy work and irrelevant to their success in the course, they’ll ignore them.
When curating or creating the content for your course, consider the following:
- Respect copyright. Our current interpretation of the Fair Dealings exception to the Copyright Act is that faculty may use up to 10% of a given text. If you want to incorporate copywritten materials into your course beyond the 10% rule, connect with Marnie Seal, Cambrian’s faculty Librarian. She can connect you to the resources currently available in the Cambrian College library, as well as to open educational resources that are free to use and revise. Where possible, try to keep the material costs down in your online course. The internet is a trove of information that is instantly accessible to everyone, from anywhere. Let’s capitalize on this.
- Be clear about the purpose of each discrete piece of content. From a student perspective, why should I read this article, watch this video or listen to this podcast? What’s in it for me? Why is it relevant to the course? What will I ultimately need to do with this information? Just as you’d preface a video prior to playing it in class, you should do the same online.
- Make it clear what is optional and what is mandatory. There’s a mountain of great stuff out there, but if you throw it all into your online course, students will quickly become overwhelmed. Be very clear about what students MUST do, and what is optional additional learning. This rule applies to course activities too.
Improving Your Course
Developing an online course is a process that continues once the course is live and students are actively learning in it.
If you have the opportunity to teach the course, consider letting students know that the course is new and that you’re open to feedback in order to continuously improve their learning experience. You may be surprised at the great ideas students are willing to offer, if you’re willing to hear them 🙂