online student with laptop April 4

Principles that Help Make Online Courses Successful

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Beverley McGuire has taught online courses for 10 years, and she’s been a student in them for five. From those experiences, she’s learned a few things about making online courses effective. She’s also conversant with current research and collaborates with colleagues. From that knowledge and those experiences, she identifies five key design and delivery principles for online courses. She teaches religious study courses, but her principles are broadly applicable.

Humanizing the course website
It’s a simple but powerful principle. When students first open the course website, they are meeting the course and its instructor. What’s their first impression if the website is not easy to navigate? How much text confronts them during this first encounter? “By humanizing their course website, instructors enable student to get a sense of their passion, personality, or persona, which can create a sense of teaching presence” (p. 31). McGuire continues, “Although I initially gave little thought to the appearance of my course website, viewing it as a repository for syllabi, lectures, and assignments, I now approach it as a kind of virtual persona” (p. 32).

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online teaching and learning March 20

Supporting Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning

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How can institutions support excellence in online education? The question is one of paramount importance to all institutions with online course offerings, but it may be a particular challenge to residential, research universities, which are not necessarily designed with online education in mind. But Julie Schell, EdD, Director of OnRamps and Strategic Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin, is meeting that challenge. She is passionate about the way that course design can be used to foster excellence in online teaching and learning.

First, she explains that it is important that institutions not “use technology to take old methods and [scale them up].” For example, she notes that many online courses such as MOOCs may take pedagogical methods that work in the face-to-face classroom and uses technology to scale it up to reach a (sometimes much) larger audience. “That’s not supported by research,” Schell says.

Instead, she urges departments, faculty, and instructional designers to “think about who is the user and what…they need.”

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professor on laptop in library December 20, 2016

Online Course Activities to Increase Student Engagement

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I have learned that a few simple instructor activities greatly increase student engagement in an online course. Here are some of the most effective activities you can use in your courses.

Connect icebreaker discussions to content
The use of icebreakers has become widespread in online learning. But what kinds of icebreakers are best to use? My observations suggest that great icebreakers are those that pique students’ interest in the content while also helping them learn more about each other as whole people. For example, an icebreaker in a course about forensic biology might ask students to share an experience in their lives that made them think forensic biology is an intriguing field of study (their own experience, a film they’ve seen, or stories they’ve read).

The key is that the students begin to get to know each other through shared stories, but these stories are connected to the course content in ways that are personally meaningful to students. This allows the icebreaker discussion to flow into the content discussions that follow rather than create a space for “social chat” that is disconnected from the goals of the learning. Some students will immediately find peers they feel personally connected to through this story sharing. For students who are highly motivated by their relationships with peers, this gets the semester off to a great start.

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information overload computer key December 6, 2016

Top Online Course Design Mistakes

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Although online education has been around for nearly 20 years, I still see a number of common mistakes among online course developers. Here are the top course design mistakes in online education and how to avoid them in your courses.

Too much content
When I hire someone to design an online course, I invariably get too much content. Developers will assign over 150 pages of dense, academic reading per week, along with websites and other resources. Covering all of this content would take far more time than can be expected of students, leading them to pick and choose what they think is important, not what the course developer thinks is important.

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female student at computer December 1, 2016

Expand Classroom Walls through International Course Collaborations

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With globalization impacting almost every field, internationalization of the curriculum has become a goal shared by many colleges and universities. Many institutions look to study abroad programs to increase students’ awareness of and sensitivity to international issues and their understanding of different cultures and points of view. However, only a small percentage of students participate in study abroad programs, and many groups are underrepresented. A Globally Networked Learning Experience (GNLE) connects students in different countries using tools you already have and with which you are familiar, like your learning platform, blogs, and video meeting tools, with the goal of developing cross-cultural competencies and enabling all students to have a meaningful international learning experience. A GNLE can be as simple as a short-term shared discussion (minimum of two to three weeks) or as complex as a term-long, co-taught course. Here we provide the basic steps for planning and designing a GNLE.

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online student May 6, 2016

Ensuring Student Success in Online Courses

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Students like online classes due to their flexibility and convenience. But not all students do well in these courses; the statistics indicate that online classes have a much higher dropout rate compared to traditional face-to-face classes. The attrition rates in online courses tend to be 10 to 20 percent higher than in face-to-face classes. While there are some personal factors that could influence a student’s decision to drop out, many of the factors are related to institutional and course level support—and these barriers can be addressed with thoughtful planning and implementation. Institutional level factors like technical support, academic support, advising, and availability of resources can support student success in online courses. At the course level, there are many simple strategies and techniques that instructors can use to support students’ success in their online classes.


From F2F to Online: Getting It Right August 28, 2015

From F2F to Online: Getting It Right

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Successfully transferring a face-to-face course to the online learning environment requires careful preparations that take into account differences between these two modalities.

“If you simply take your face-to-face class and put it online and teach it electronically, you will fail miserably,” says Paul S. Caron, director of education at Lewiston-Auburn College, whose first experience teaching online taught him some valuable lessons about how to provide students with an effective, supportive, and motivating learning experience.


Student at laptop July 13, 2015

Rethinking Direct Instruction in Online Learning

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Direct Instruction has a bad reputation. It is often associated in higher education with long lectures and passive learners. “Passivity isn’t wrong because it’s boring; it’s wrong because it doesn’t work” (Daniel and Bizer, 2005, p. 103). Direct Instruction is an instructional model that consists of three main components: modeling, guided practice with formative feedback, and independent practice. When utilized correctly, the Direct Instruction model is anything but boring, and students should never be passive recipients of learning. Beyond the scope of a traditional classroom, there are ways to incorporate Direct Instruction in an online format. The I Do, We Do, You Do structure of Direct Instruction can be utilized to present new material, guide students through the learning process using constructive feedback, and allow space for students to feel part of a larger community of learners as they work in collaboration with peers to demonstrate their understanding. This takes intentionality and effort on behalf of the professor, but this is a worthwhile endeavor as we strive to educate our online learners.