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Getting Started with Online Course Design

Building a course for online delivery may present many challenges. Not only are you learning new technology, but you are also trying to maintain the effectiveness of your instruction, deal with time constraints, and create new activities that fit the online world. Many of your face-to-face activities won’t directly translate to the online environment, no matter how effective they may be in the classroom. In this blog post, I am going to cover ideas for designing an overall online course structure, whilst adding engagement and promoting collaboration in your online courses.

Designing a New Structure

The structure of your online course will look different than it did in the face-to-face classroom. Whether you are moving to a completely online course, or if you are moving into a hybrid one, much consideration must be placed on the overall structure of your course. Keep the following in mind when designing the structure for your online course:

  • Choose a course format to fit your needs. This will determine how the overall weeks/topics are organized into sections and how students will interact with the content.
  • Determine the structure for each topic. It is best to identify an overall design strategy to use within topics, in order to set expectations for students, and to keep navigation consistent. For example, you may want to start each topic/week with a Page resource that identifies the learning objectives and required readings for that week. In addition, you may list any required resources and materials. The important takeaway here is that you need to have a common design for your topics. It is best to identify this before building your course. Take a step back to review your content, and then determine this before beginning the course building process.
  • Update your course syllabus. With the syllabus, detail the structure of the course, set expectations for communication methods, outline expected interaction in activities, and any other ground rules that are important for students to know.
  • Organize your gradebook. In Moodle, you can use categories to group items either by type, time, or topic. Make sure you select the appropriate aggregation methods.

Adding Engagement

The challenge of adding engagement is not restricted to only the face-to-face environment; it exists in the online classroom as well. Here are some ways to keep your students engaged:

  • Add relevant videos to the class. This can assist in reaching out to different types of learners and it is a great way to mix up your delivery method. Try uploading and/ embedding videos into your courses using the HTML Editor.
  • Include Open Educational Resources (OER) in your course. Rather than recreating your content for an online course, explore the plethora of content in OER materials that is already ready to go. In Joule, you can add OER content from Blackboard xpLor. All Moodlerooms sites have a free license to basic xpLor. If it is enabled on your site, you’ll see “Add from xpLor” as an option when adding an activity.
  • Create scenario-based interactions. In Moodle, you can accomplish this by using the Lesson activity. This module is excellent because it allows you to using conditional branching to create multiple learning paths. It also allows for remediation. To learn more about this feature, read the blog post, “Using the Moodle Lesson Activity for Differentiated Learning Experiences.”
  • Use a variety of activities to keep students engaged. While quizzes are a quick way to assess students, you don’t want to only use this form of evaluation. Allow your students to apply the information they are learning by incorporating activities that require higher-level thinking – something more than just answering multiple choice questions. For example, in Moodle the Workshop activity allows students to create assignments and then you can assign peer reviewers. You can also use the Q&A Forum to require students to respond to a question before seeing the responses of their peers. Then, you can require them to reply to a given number of peers. You can also have your students assist in grading, by changing the permissions of the Forum such that students can rate each other’s posts.
  • Find out what your students want. You can poll your students in Moodle using the Choice activity. This is a great way to have students pick an activity. For example, give students the option of three acceptable activities, and then let them vote. The activity with the most votes will be the one the class will work on.

Promoting Collaboration

You can migrate to the online classroom while maintaining collaboration. You’ll need to evaluate each tool in your LMS and determine which ones will work best with your current content. In Moodle considering the following ideas:

  • If you previously had group discussions or debates, you may want to consider moving the activity into a Moodle Forum or an Advanced Forum.
  • If you watched a video as a prompt for a discussion, perhaps you can flip your hybrid classroom by having students watch the video at home, followed by in-class discussion the following day. Alternatively, set up a Wiki for the class to create notes collaboratively.
  • For brainstorming activities, consider the Chat activity as a synchronous event.
  • If students need to work on a group project and write a paper to turn in, set up an Assignment activity using the group submission feature.
  • If your Moodle is setup with a synchronous tool (e.g., Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect), then schedule a live meeting for discussions or Question and Answer sessions.

I hope these ideas help you as you migrate your classes to the online environment.  To learn more about online course design, enroll in our Getting Started with Online Course Design online course. In addition, the activities mentioned in this post are covered in our three part Moodle and Joule Course Building Series of online courses.

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca DeSantis, Senior Instructional Designer

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