FoTT Conf 2009: Fundamentals in Designing and Teaching an Online Course

I’m in St. Louis for the Focus on Teaching & Technology (FoTT) conference, put on by the Center for Teaching and Learning at UMSL. Between today (Oct 15) and tomorrow (Oct 16), I hope to blog about several of the sessions I plan on attending.

My first session today will be on “Fundamentals in Designing and Teaching an Online Course”, presented by Mary Abkemeier of Fontbonne University.

UPDATE: Irina very graciously acknowledged Educational Technology for providing support for her uses of technology. We are very pleased to be working with Irina. We want her to be successful!


Fontbonne University pays instructors to design online courses
(approximately a 5-month process) and then you are paid to teach the
course you designed. “This is not anything you just wing.” It takes a
significant amount of time and effort to properly design and teach a
course (perhaps 10 hours a week for 6 weeks). Instructors effectively
take a course on how to create an online course, then deliver and use
their own product (i.e. an online course).

Each course is
peer-reviewed by three colleagues (not related to the content of the
course, with oversight from a subject-matter expert) according to the
Quality Matters rubrics from University of Maryland. Peer reviewers
only look at the design of the course, not the content.

Three major sections:

  • Prepare
  • Design
  • Teach

“Textbook” for the course is Essential Elements: Prepare, Design, and Teach your Online Course.

Taking
an online course yourself as an instructor helps you understand how the
students will interact with an online course. You should be excited
when participating in the online course design course. Believe in the
outcome–be confident that students will learn as effectively online as
in a more traditional course venue. As with any course, keep up with
the homework. Set aside time to work on the course. Learn how to
express yourself in text (work on those writing communication skills!).

List
your course objectives! Don’t just list the content, but include the
desired outcomes for the course–what students take away when they are
done. Each lesson should also have its own set of objectives. The
outline/syllabus for the course should list the general outline for the
course, the activities included in the course (wikis, blogs, discussion
boards, assignments), and any assessments that will be used to measure
student performance and comprehension of the course material.

Creating
an online course takes more time to develop initially, but gets much
easier over time. A timeline for the course can be used to help measure
student objectives and milestones.

Choose your basic time unit
(weeks, days, modules, etc.). Be consistent when using
terminology–don’t use both units and weeks, choose one and go with it.

The pace for the course may be different. An online course may
have asynchronous activities due to the way students interact with the
course. Some tools can allow students to pace themselves. Adaptive
Release in Blackboard, for instance, allows instructors to release
content based on what activities students have completed. Communication
tools such as Wimba and Skype can allow distance students to interact
with each other in a synchronous meeting.

While preparing
materials for the course, base the material on current standards and
best practices. Have your peers in your department review the course
and offer suggestions for improvement.

Technology sometimes
fail, so you need to develop some technology support skills on your own
to help your students. You can’t always rely on IT or EdTech to always
be there. Reassure students when technology fails that it is not the
end of the world. Give students good directions on how to navigate,
complete assignments, and what to do next. Introduce students to the
online course environment and walk them through it (a “getting started”
section in Blackboard might be one way to do this).

When
designing the course, create document templates for assignments. Use
artwork when appropriate. Allow you own personality to shine through in
your content. If you want to include animations, make sure they are
appropriate to the content.

State the community expectations at
the start of the course. Communication between all members of the
course is extremely important, so work to build a good online
relationship between you and your students.

Not all resources
need to be online. Include information on how to find non-online
resources, though (e.g. link to the local Library).

A learning
cycle helps reinforce expectations for the course. For example, post
the assignment, create a weekly overview, include a single activity,
etc. Include a rubric for how assignments will be graded. Online sites
(e.g. RubiStar) can help you design and build your rubrics.

Plan
activities that require student interaction (discussion boards, blogs,
wikis, Wimba, etc.). Advertise due dates to manage student expectations.

Acknowledge individual student submissions. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy feedback message, a simple “I got it” is enough.

Include group activities to mix up the content a bit. Include clear directions for the group.

Online
courses need to make accommodations according to the web accessibility
guidelines to account for students who need a little extra help in
accessing the content.

Finally, teach the course. Send out
information in advance (syllabus, textbook information). If technology
will be a major component of your course, make sure students meet the
technology requirements (e.g. Wimba Live Classroom has certain
requirements to work properly). Also let students know where they can
get technology support if they need it.

Facilitate discussions
in a way that promotes active student participation such as mandatory
posting requirements. Moderate the student interactions, don’t force
the students in a particular direction unless they get seriously
off-point or display a problem in understanding fundamental concepts.

Assure
students that you are reading their posts, even if you don’t comment.
You might try posting a reaction that summarizes several student
postings at once. Give positive feedback to help guide students to more
effective posts/arguments.

When assessing students, provide
frequent and predictable feedback. Quote your students, when
applicable. Make student evaluations accessible to the student so they
can track their own progress in the course. Note that at Missouri
S&T, grades posted in Blackboard are NOT the official grades (those
are in Joe’ss), but students still need some measuring stick they can
use to gauge their own performance.

Most importantly, HAVE
FUN!!!! An online course is very different from traditional methods.
However, it does offer an opportunity for a student to actually open up
in a class from the relative anonymity of “behind the keyboard”.