Planning Your Online Course: Where to Start from?

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It has been really nice to see so many colleagues sharing their experience with their recent transition into online learning, and I have enjoyed reading much of what others have been posted. We never learn enough!

Here are nine steps or key areas which I think anyone planning an online session should consider:

  1. Start by clearly articulating the goals for your online session (i.e. will you be presenting new content, get student to practice specific skills, check their understanding on previous concepts taught, etc.) ; this will help you determine the format of your session whether your session should be fully asynchronous or be real-time or would be a blend of both.
  2.  Once you are clear about your lesson goals, explore what technologies and tools are available within your institution to help you achieve goals and ultimately your course goals and outcomes. You may be tempted by many free software application and tools but it is always best to first consider using the tools within your institution’s learning management system (LMS) before jumping into using open source tools. Remember by having each faculty use a range of open source tools your students will have to learn different tools in different courses! Creating a stable learning environment that is consistent is always welcomed by students. Your institutions may also have specific policies on installing software and applications into its servers! You will probably need support from you IT Team which you may not get using open sources software and there may also be issues around data confidentiality that you will need to consider. So yes there are many great things out there but you need to be careful with selecting your technology.
  3. Consider the best way to organize and present your content online (i.e. recorded videos, power point slides, digitized components, PDFs, external links, etc.)- Make sure your content is appealing to student, well organized and easily accessible – Do not overwhelm students with content from so many different sources, something many instructors do online unfortunately. Content should clearly link to course learning outcomes. Chunk materials and avoid long videos, pages of texts or tens of external links.
  4. Think about how students will be able to apply the concepts taught and practice their skills – the sort of things which you will typically in class when you design in-class activities- think of which technologies are available within or outside your Learning Management System to help you provide a practical component to your course? If you have access to a virtual classroom many will allow you to create breakout rooms where you can
  5. Consider how you will provide feedback to students on their progress (not just assessment but on activities you may engage them with!) . A key ingredient to successful online learning is providing students with ongoing constructive feedback on how well/ not – so well they are progressing in their course. Think of text versus audio or video feedback, individual versus group feedback. Virtual office hours are really a great thing to consider. Post your office hours on your course wall or in your course announcement section.
  6. Decide about how you will assess student learning; you may want at initial stage to focus your assessment on multiple formative ‘low- stake’ assessments. You can use online discussions, online quizzes, blogs and wikis which are available through most LMS functionalities. Remember however that your students may not be familiar with all these tools so make sure you are realistic when making technology choices. Let them test these tools as part of learning activities before considering them for assessment. Proctored online exams are another option to consider.
  7. Communicate expectations to your student for each lesson, don’t assume they know what you are expecting from them. Be clear on what students will need to do to succeed in their online course, what responsibilities they have, what netiquette they must follow and how they can get additional help and advice when needed. In other words, model good communication. Using weekly plans that are linked to your course syllabus could be a good thing to consider!
  8. Teach with empathy, put yourself in the shoes of your students. Try to understand their feelings; this may be as new to them as it is to you so they may also be apprehensive. Make your online course welcoming even. It doesn’t have to be perfect right from the start. Be supportive to your students.
  9. My last piece of advise is to be open to student feedback and be willing to adjust your plans, remember you may plan things that go perfectly well and others that do not work so well. The experience of online learning and teaching may be new to both your students and yourself so be open to receiving input from students about what is working and what is not working so well. Ask them where they struggle and where they find things easy. Use your polling system to get quick input.

I hope this is all useful and look forward to hearing and sharing further insights on other topics related to teaching online!

Migrating to Online Classes: Tips & Guidelines