As the number of online courses and degree programs in higher education continues to increase, more faculty are being asked to design and develop online courses. Sometimes this course design and development process is done somewhat reflexively, in a short time period, and with limited planning and preparation. This is not ideal as it can lead to a more stressful course development process for instructors and negatively impact the quality of online offerings. This article will explore seven things that instructors should consider prior to developing an online course.
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Online Course Design and Preparation
Online students need to feel an instructor presence in their classes. Thorough explanations and effective communication help fulfill this need and can transform a mediocre online course into a great one—and it all starts with the syllabus.
Online learning presents new challenges beyond those of a traditional classroom because students must become more responsible for their learning. Many learners are unfamiliar with the online learning environment, which may include unfamiliar technology, isolation from instructors and university staff, and a lack of face-to-face interaction other learners. As online instructors, we must give additional attention to strategies that will keep our learners engaged, create a successful learning environment, and provide a rewarding learning experience where learners feel supported, valued, and connected.
A student’s initial introduction into higher education can be exciting and frustrating, especially when the student is enrolled in their first online class. This year I taught a newly created first-year experience course at a vocational based higher education institution.
Large group training workshops to facilitate online course design can be a mechanistic experience and a nightmare to schedule given perpetually busy faculty with overloaded calendars. Equally ineffective static, “self-serve” online materials only go so far and can leave faculty disengaged or confused (Riegle 1987; Howland and Wedmen 2004). Personal support services modeled on the hotel concierge are used successfully in health care and private industry and, to a lesser extent, in higher education (Michelau and Lane 2010). They hold promise as an approach for supporting online course development.
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.
The online classroom can sometimes feel like a lonely place due to a lack of presence of the instructor and other students. This lack of presence can negatively affect learning and lead to student attrition. Fortunately, some relatively simple measures can significantly add the essential human element to online courses.
Participating in team projects offers students the chance to develop interpersonal communication skills (Figueira & Leal, 2013), build relationships with classmates, and increase the level of collective competencies as each group member brings something different to the group. However, in the online environment where the majority of the work occurs asynchronously, students may resist having to work with others (Smith et al., 2011) on graded assignments. Students often say that they do not like group work because they expect that they will have to contribute more than their teammates or that they will have difficulty scheduling times to meet with other group members. They also may be uneasy about being assigned an individual grade based on the work of the team.
After teaching fully online courses for the past five years, I offer seven best practices for teamwork in online courses:
There’s a growing body of evidence that indicates the educational benefits of game-based learning. Although some courses are likely to be more conducive to a game-based approach, it’s helpful to consider how game elements might enhance the learning experience.
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.