Faculty focus special report online course design 13 strategies for teaching in a web based distance learning environment
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Faculty focus special report online course design 13 strategies for teaching in a web based distance learning environment Faculty focus special report online course design 13 strategies for teaching in a web based distance learning environment Document Transcript

  • Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment Brought to you by A MAGNA PUBLICATION
  • Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment After years of teaching face to face, many instructors are able to begin teaching a tradi- tional, classroom-based course without having the entire course laid out ahead of time. This approach doesn’t work very well in the online classroom where careful planning and course design is crucial to student success. Good online course design begins with a clear understanding of specific learning outcomes and ways to engage students, while creating activities that allow students to take some control of their learning. It also requires a little extra effort upfront to minimize two of the most common frustrations of online learning: 1. confusing course organization (how course elements are structured within the course) and 2. unclear navigation (what links or buttons are used to access these elements). When learners can’t find what they need or are confused about where to go and what to do, it is harder for them to learn. Being an online learner is challenging enough without these additional barriers. Plus, frustrated learners tend to either drop out or drive the in- structor crazy – neither of which are the outcomes we want. This Online Classroom special report is a collection of articles that address many of the key issues in online course design. Featured articles include: • Usability Issues that Impact Online Learning • Subdivided Courses Help Students Learn in Small Increments • 10 Tips to Extend the Shelf Life of Your Online Course • Adaptive Hypermedia for Individualized Learning • Empowering Students to Become Self-Directed, Engaged Learners • Web-based Video Lecture Courses Meet High Demand, Allow More Learner Control • A Guide to Creating Modular Courses Whether you’re an experienced online educator or designer looking for fresh ideas, or someone who’s just getting started with online classes, this special report gives you proven strategies that you can use right away. Rob Kelly Editor Online Classroom 2 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • Table of Contents 10 Tips to Extend the Shelf Life of Your Online Course ................................................................................................4 Subdivided Courses Help Students Learn in Small Increments ................................................................................5 Adaptive Hypermedia for Individualized Learning ....................................................................................................7 To Plan Good Instruction, Teach to the Test ..............................................................................................................8 Posting Handouts Online Introduced Instructor to Online Learning Possibilities ....................................................10 Empowering Students to Become Self-Directed, Engaged Learners ........................................................................11 Web-based Video Lecture Courses Meet High Demand, Allow More Learner Control ............................................12 Seminar—A Good First Venture into the Online Classroom ....................................................................................13 A Guide to Creating Modular Courses ....................................................................................................................14 How to Eliminate Sources of Frustration for the Online Learner ............................................................................16 Using Pre-admission Assessments to Help Online Students Succeed ......................................................................17 Usability Issues That Impact Online Learning ........................................................................................................19 The Importance of Intuitive Navigation in Online Course Design ............................................................................20 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com 3
  • Problem 3: A learning object 10 Tips to Extend the Shelf Life becomes obsolete. Learning objects can take a lot of of Your Online Course time to create. Before developing an original learning object, you should be relatively certain that it is reusable. For instance, an interactive exercise demonstrating the By Darren Crone Pythagorean Theorem is likely to be usable for years to come as the concept does not change, while an uilding your online course took stantly implement a new edition, a interactive world map with detailed B a tremendous amount of time and effort. You created a syllabus, selected a textbook, wrote custom textbook may be created. Several companies are offering this service, in which the instructor deter- information on all countries may become dated shortly after comple- tion. Also, there are a growing learning objectives, recorded lectures, mines the content by integrating number of repositories that offer low- developed learning objects, designed sections of existing textbooks, cost or free learning objects for course activities, and carefully articles, and even original material. educators. planned out your assignments. Once This custom textbook is then given a your course was complete, you unique ISBN and may be used as Problem 4: Your course couldn’t help but feel a sense of long as desired. Other advantages material is no longer pride. This magnum opus of binary include lower cost and the availabil- correct/relevant. code was built to stand the test of ity of an electronic version for By judiciously selecting the time and be offered ad infinitum/ad students. medium for getting the information nauseam … right? More than likely to your students, considerable trouble the answer is no. Without proper Problem 2: A course is built can be avoided. Instead of creating a planning and design, a large portion using a publisher’s content multimedia lecture that touches on of your course may have to be rede- and you change textbooks. every detail of a topic, try sticking to veloped for the next offering. If Many textbooks come complete the higher-level concepts. This way if planned and designed properly, with online course content. With a something minor changes, the entire however, an online course can be few clicks of a mouse, an empty shell lecture does not have to be redone. offered relatively intact from semester in Blackboard can be transformed The details that may be more prone to semester. As with traditional into a dynamic interactive learning to changing can be addressed in a courses, online courses will need a environment to accompany your more dynamic forum, such as on a change here and a tweak there, but book. Students can access videos, discussion board, via a Web confer- major reconstruction can be largely online lectures, practice quizzes, and ence, or in a chat session. avoided. This article will present 10 more. The only drawback is that common online course design pitfalls when you change books, you must Problem 5: The publisher (each experienced by yours truly) also stop using the content. A way to updates the textbook, and discuss solutions to assist in- bypass this is to avoid taking the easy changing the order of structional designers and instructors path; create your own course content. chapters. The course, which in building a lower-maintenance There are several low-cost and free was based on the order of the course. programs out there to help you ac- textbook, is now out of complish this. While it will be con- sequence. Problem 1: The publisher short- siderably more work up front creating During the design of the course, cycled your textbook. your own lectures, acquiring determine the order in which you There was once a time when you copyright permission for multimedia want the material to be presented. could count on a textbook edition to materials, and building your own There is no law against presenting remain current for at least several self-quizzes, the extra effort will pay Chapter 9 before Chapter 1. Instead years. Now, it is not unusual for dividends in the long run. of organizing a course by the “new” editions to come out every 24 chapters of a textbook, consider months. To avoid having to con- PAGE 5 4 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • FROM PAGE 4 structors and teaching assistants in this is a painful and laborious the course. Isolating information that process. To avoid having to recon- breaking it into modules based on is likely to change makes it much struct your course file by file, topics. This way if the publisher pulls easier to keep track of. For informa- consider developing your course as a the old switcheroo, all you need to do tion that will be included in multiple package file. To do this you should is change the reading assignments in courses, such as software require- create an HTML page linking all your syllabus (as opposed to reorgan- ments, consider creating a Web page course materials inside a folder. The izing your entire course). It should be and adding a link to it in each folder can then be zipped, uploaded, noted that if you are using a custom course’s syllabus. and unzipped into any LMS. textbook, this is a nonissue. Problem 8: You have broken Problem 10: Academic integrity Problem 6: Your textbook was hyperlinks. issues prompt the creation of updated, and page numbers/ There is a tremendous amount of new tests. figures referenced in course useful information on the Web, but Instead of creating a single test for materials do not match up with you are taking a risk when linking to all students to take, consider using a the textbook. any site outside your course. The large test bank. Test settings can be It is recommended that specific possibility exists that the information adjusted so each student receives a page numbers and figures not be ref- will be moved or deleted. Whenever different test with all questions and erenced in course materials that are possible, keep your course materials answers randomized. expected to be reused. Try creating (videos, case studies, self-assess- This article reviewed some your own examples, or if a specific ments, etc.) inside your course man- common issues that are encountered page/figure must be referenced, agement system. When you must link in online course development. consider doing this on the discussion to an external page, consider Developing an online course is a lot board. providing the link on the discussion of work. A little preplanning will help board. to ensure that you don’t have to start Problem 7: Your contact from scratch each time the course is information or course software Problem 9: Your academic offered. @ requirements are out of date. institution has upgraded/ There are some things that will changed its learning always change. Consider using your management system (LMS). syllabus to communicate your office When switching to a new LMS, hours and contact information for in- courses must be moved. Many times Subdivided Courses Help Students Learn in Small Increments By Rob Kelly any online learners do not Development at the University of “When teaching online, we are no M have large, uninterrupted blocks of time to dedicate to their coursework, which is why Arkansas for Medical Sciences, rec- ommends that instructors subdivide their courses into manageable longer dealing with students who are surrounded by other students who are thinking about the same thing at Robin Smith, senior WebCT certified segments so that students can the same time in a protected, one- trainer and Web-based learning coor- complete small learning activities in PAGE 6 dinator in the Office of Educational their spare moments. Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com 5
  • FROM PAGE 5 were still not finished!” Also, when designing a course, Suggestions for chunking: hour environment dedicated to a remember that it may take students • Find the natural break points subject. Now students are sur- more time to complete a chunk than in presentations and create rounded by all these interruptions the actual time of the presentation transition slides. that don’t have anything to do with because they may pause a presenta- • Create an active-learning [the course]. We all have lots of tion to take notes or replay a certain activity based on the concept things competing for our attention. If section. In one of her colleague’s introduced in the each chunk. we provide students with short courses, it takes student three times • Indicate the amount of time it segments that can be reinforced longer to complete a chunk than is will take for students to go quickly, then the students know they listed on the presentation, so it would through each chunk. can go online, grasp something from help students to let them know that • Record narration per individ- a 10- or 15-minute segment and move the time each of them will need to ual slide to enable students to on so that they can fit learning into complete the chunk may be signifi- skip or review individual their everyday lives,” Smith says. cantly more than the presentation slides. Smith recommends a model that time would indicate. features a passive-learning segment By recording the audio individually Benefits of chunking include: (perhaps a brief narrated PowerPoint for each slide, students are able to • Students log in more presentation) followed by a related review the presentations as often as frequently. active-learning exercise that rein- needed and even skip slides that • It helps establish a pattern to forces the concept, such as a self test, address concepts they are familiar the course. review questions, or short quiz. By with as their studying progresses. • Allows students to find the offering a small standalone chunk of “Sometimes when we record time to fit the learning into learning in this manner, students narration we suddenly become more their busy schedules. become accustomed to the pattern of formal and less natural about the ebb • The course is easier to update. alternating passive and active and flow of a normal lecture, this learning and are likely to log in more chunking helps return those natural frequently because they don’t need to to a brief presentation than having to breaks to the presentations. I think commit a substantial amount of time redo a longer one, Smith says. the easiest thing to do is have the in a single session. Students can When dividing courses into chunks presentation and then come back and process this concept while they are it’s important that students are create those transitions because going about other activities of their reminded about how each chunk sometimes it’s difficult for people to day and later come back for another relates to the overall course goals. envision the chunks,” Smith says. learning concept. And, Smith says, Smith accomplishes this by including In helping instructors identify these when students log in more fre- transition slides at the beginning and chunks as natural places to break, quently, they are also more like to end of each chunk that explain where Smith asks them to consider the tran- participate in threaded discussions, the previous chunk left off and what sitions they automatically insert into which helps build the learning the current chunk will cover. their face-to-face lectures, such as community. Not all students learn best in short when one asks students questions or Part of establishing the design sessions. For those who prefer to take explains a point and announces that pattern is informing students how in longer presentations, Smith recom- the class will now move on to the long it will take them to complete mends that instructors either provide next point. each chunk of the course, which can their presentations in two formats, The way in which an instructor be important for students with busy one consisting of small chunks and subdivides his or her lecture depends schedules. Noting the time of the one that includes the entire presenta- on the content. If it’s a history narration to the side of each presen- tion in one file. If creating two lecture, it can be subdivided chrono- tation is easy to do and very helpful formats is too much work, you can logically or by event. A lecture in an for the students. Smith says, “You remind students that they can view English course might be divided understand the importance of this if several presentations sequentially in according to parts of speech. you’ve ever been “held hostage” by a one session. @ In addition, when a presentation video presentation or a tutorial you needs to be updated, an instructor expected to be able to complete in 30 will be more likely to make changes minutes and 40-45 minutes later you 6 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • went through the entire cycle sequen- Adaptive Hypermedia for tially and an adaptive group did not. “We were constantly looking at what Individualized Learning these students were doing and how well they were doing and basically trying to give them more of what may help them do better and less of what will get in the way of learning,” By Rob Kelly says Michael Danchak, professor of computer science at RPI. “We found the exact same performance in both he online learning environ- • Experiment—has students take groups, but the adaptive group did it T ment offers great potential for individualized learning. One way to achieve this is through the information they have learned and manipulate it to better understand how the in a much shorter period of time. Cautiously we’re inferring that [indi- vidualization] is more efficient in that maybe we’re giving them what they adaptive hypermedia—using learner concept works. use patterns to adapt course presen- • Apply—has students apply the need to be successful in a shorter tation, navigation, and content to suit learning to new situations. period of time rather than looking at individual students’ needs and prefer- perhaps a lot of irrelevant or extrane- ences. Using this model to design courses ous things.” Researchers at Rensselaer gives students different ways to look The researchers tracked student use Polytechnic Institute have begun at the content. “I think a lot of times patterns themselves, which was a looking into ways to use adaptive hy- when instructors are faced with very time-consuming process. permedia to individualize courses. However, like many interactive They developed a course model, websites (e.g., Amazon.com), there is known as OctoPlus, which consists of the possibility of creating authoring the following eight instructional “We found the exact same tools that enable courses to respond events, each representing a different to an individual’s preferences and performance in both groups, performance. Making these tools in- instructional method and each linked teroperable among different systems to a separate Web page: but the adaptive group did it in • Connect—engages students’ is another issue. (Can these tools be prior knowledge of the content a much shorter period of time.” shared among instructors to cut and helps the instructor gauge down on work while maintaining the how much students know about Michael Danchak individual instructors’ imprints on the content. This can include a course design?) video or simulation. This would be more effective than • Reflect—has students externalize putting their courses online, there basing individualization on learning their thoughts on their experi- aren’t a lot of guides for them other style preferences, because learners ences through a discussion than just transferring their lectures are not always accurate in identifying board, e-mail, or response to a into a text-based format,” says Linda their learning style preferences and quizlike question. Polhemus, project manager. “[This because learning style preferences • Share—enables students to share model] really sets up a structure for can changes over time, Danchak says. their experiences with the whole an instructor to go through in Alessandro Assis, a graduate class, perhaps through a creating an experience that will get student who worked on this study, multiple-choice or short-answer [students] engaged in the learning points out that adapting modules to question. objective that is to be reached the students improved efficiency, and • Learn—presents the content. through the entire cycle.” that the next step will be to demon- • Practice—provides learners with In a series of experiments, the re- strate whether it can improve exercises that reinforce the activi- searchers created modules that used learning effectiveness. @ ties in the “learn” section. the OctoPlus design and allowed the • Personalize—asks students to navigation, presentation, and content reflect on what they have to be adapted. learned. In one experiment, a control group Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com 7
  • ate methods of assessment are To Plan Good Instruction, generally quite clear. See TABLE 1 on the next page to Teach to the Test how the appropriate assessment matches the learning objective? If you design assessments as an afterthought at the end of designing the instruction (a common but unfortunate mistake), By Patti Shank, PhD, CPT you are likely to design the wrong content and the course activities and the assessments are likely to be far less meaningful or appropriate. In uilding effective instruction Here is a list of typical instructional B involves multiple tasks, but planning is one of the most critical. For online courses, planning planning tasks, in order: 1.Identify learning objectives 2.Design assessments other words, designing the assess- ment (test) right after identifying the learning objectives 1) makes the needed assessment very obvious and is especially important because even 3.Design content and activities 2) provides clear cues about what under the best of circumstances, 4.Select media and delivery options content and activities are needed. online learners often struggle with un- 5.Develop the course materials derstanding what’s expected of them; 6.Implement the course at a distance, they can get unbeliev- 7.Evaluate and revise Design content and activities ably frustrated (or worse) and stop after designing assessments I’ve finally made my way to telling trying. That’s one of the best reasons If you have worked with instruc- you to design to the test. First identify for using a systematic approach to tional designers or read articles or the learning objectives and matching planning your instruction. One of the books on instructional design, you assessment (test). The learning objec- best planning strategies for good in- may be familiar with the ADDIE tives should clearly state what the struction is teaching to the test. You model, one of the most common learner should be able to do, and the likely have heard the words “teaching models for the systematic design of assessment (test) should measure if to the test” uttered contemptuously. instruction. ADDIE is an acronym for they can, in fact, do that. The content But it can be a very good thing Analysis, Design, Development, and activities should then be designed indeed. I’m going to take a bit of a Implementation, and Evaluation. specifically so that the learner can circuitous route in explaining why so Following a systematic process such pass the test, because that means they you can understand my logic. as ADDIE can help prevent some of have met the learning objectives. And I’m a big believer in writing good the typical problems that happen that’s the goal of effective instruction. learning objectives and good assess- when instruction isn’t well planned, Let’s look at TABLE 2 on the next ments. Objectives are the cornerstone including instruction that doesn’t page, once again at the three objec- for planning effective instruction, and seem to have a clear goal; quirky (not tives and matching assessments to see good assessments determine if the ob- in a good way) or deficient course what content and activities make jectives have been met. You might content, activities, and assessments; sense. consider these the “bookends” of and poor evaluations for the course As you can see, a well-written planning effective instruction. and instructor. objective and matching assessment Notice that identifying learning ob- provide pretty clear cues about what ADDIE who? jectives is first on the list of tasks. content and activities are needed. It Instructional designers (people who And designing assessments is next, makes the instruction not only more typically have specialized training in for good reason. effective, but also easier to design. using cognitive and other principles to Better instruction and less work. design effective instruction) call the Design assessments after Terrific! practice of systematically planning in- identifying learning objectives struction “instructional design.” There Designing assessments should are numerous philosophies of instruc- optimally occur right after identifying A few more words about tional design but all have certain learning objectives. That’s because as- activities Some people ask me whether things in common, including sessments should measure if the ob- content plus assessments is enough following a list of tasks that ensure jectives were met. If the learning better end results. objectives are well written, appropri- PAGE 9 8 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning
  • FROM PAGE 8 for a good online course—for example, PowerPoint slides and tests. Aside from the fact that this would be unengaging for learners, this approach is not instruction. Activities and feedback are needed for instruc- tion. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the purpose of instructional content is to support instructional ac- tivities. Activities allow learners to reflect on and apply the content and make it personally meaningful. When we don’t do this, we’re likely teaching at only a surface level, preparing learners to do nothing with the content other than forget about it once the test is over. Strong enough words? Your turn If activities are the opportunities for learners reflect on and apply the content so that it becomes meaning- ful to them, now would be a good time for you to do that with the content in this article! See if you can write two good learning objectives and then match assessments and content and activities. Try swapping your work with someone else (another faculty member or maybe even an instructional designer) to get feedback. Some people think it’s hard or even impossible to create meaningful online activities, but that’s not so. In fact, an asynchronous online learning environment provides opportunities for activities that would be hard to do in person. References Shank, P. (2006.) Developing Learning Assessments for Classroom, Online, and Blended Learning. Workshop Materials. Centennial, CO: Learning Peaks. Smith, P.L., & Ragan, T.J. (2005). Instructional Design, 3e. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. @ Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com 9
  • • Grades Posting Handouts Online • Textbook website— “It’s important to have a great textbook, but it’s also important that the textbook Introduced Instructor to Online has a great website,” Rambo says. • Quizzes and exams Learning Possibilities Unexpected benefit As Rambo taught her online course, she began offering the same online By Rob Kelly resources to her face-to-face students. “I didn’t require them to take tests online, but they had everything I had— PowerPoint, the textbook website, ike many instructors who venture they love being in charge of their L practice tests—and they could do into the online classroom, Brenda learning, doing it when they have time everything an online student could do, Rambo, assistant professor of to do it,” Rambo says. but they had to come to class,” Rambo psychology at Middle Tennessee State In addition to flexibility, the design says. University, began gradually by of Rambo’s courses provides students When they have access to the online enhancing her courses with Web with an active learning experience. materials, students tend to come to content. Her initial motivation was to Rambo uses WebCT, but her design class more prepared. “They would hold provide her students with online goes beyond the basic layout, which up their hands and say, ‘Doctor handouts, which would eliminate the makes the courses more user friendly Rambo, we don’t want to hear this hassle and expense of making photo- than they would be otherwise. She because we’ve already done all this. copies. From this simple beginning, divides each course into the following Let’s talk about life. Let’s talk about she has progressed to offering user- sections: life applications of the concepts in the friendly fully online and hybrid courses • Course content and related book.’ It changed everything I did that that have changed the way she teaches materials—This section includes semester because they came to class so and the way her students learn. the syllabus, calendar pop ups, prepared and wanted new informa- “I decided to build basic websites for reading schedule, meeting tion,” Rambo says. all my courses to stop the handouts schedule (for hybrid courses), chat Based on the success in her Web- and to provide the syllabus and group assignments, and case enhanced undergraduate course, reading schedules. The more I did that, studies. Rambo has incorporated online the more I was intrigued by how much • Communication tools—This learning into a graduate-level it benefited the students and how section includes links to e-mail, prepracticum course. That class meets much more of the learning process discussion boards, and chat rooms. every other week, and during the they could be in control of,” Rambo • Study tools—This section includes weeks the class does not meet, says. study sheets that help students students participate in threaded discus- The department had few online prepare for exams and other tools sions. courses available to undergraduates, so that Rambo has designed to help By moving discussions online, Rambo decided to create an online students study. Rambo has been able to concentrate on version of developmental psychology, a • Assignments—This section lists all developing students’ counseling skills. required course for psychology majors. the assignments with links to as- “Because we have had such intense The course proved to be very popular. signment requirements, instruc- personal discussions about all the What’s the reason for the popularity tions, rubrics, and any forms course contents online, when we go to of the course? “Most students work 25 needed to do the assignment. class I can demonstrate everything to 35 hours a week. Many work full- • Handouts and forms—This section from the book. Before, all I had time to time jobs and take full loads. A lot of includes all handouts and forms do was lecture on the content of the students also have families, so coming related to the course. book. I didn’t have time to demon- to class is a big inconvenience. They • Class notes—In this section, strate. Now I have time to do face-to- may be very motivated learners, but Rambo provides course content in face counseling for three- to they need to do it when they can do it. several formats, including lecture five-minute segments with every I have found that most of my students notes, PowerPoint presentations, student and debrief what happened.” who take my online courses say that and outlines. @ 10 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • gain confidence with themselves and Empowering Students to the pedagogy,” Hricko says. Become Self-Directed, In addition, students can add different perspectives to the course. “A lot of times the students see the Engaged Learners content from a perspective that an in- structor would not, and may offer new insights into the content that the instructor did not consider. I fervently By Rob Kelly believe that we can learn a great deal from many of our students. It’s important that we show value in their perspectives and by allowing them ourse design is crucial to can extend beyond embedded links. C student success. It should reflect the intended learning outcomes and provide enough Hricko recommends creating activi- ties that allow students to take some control of their learning. This could the opportunity to contribute to that body of knowledge, I believe that it demonstrates to students that we are genuinely interested in what they are guidance for students to easily include having students: thinking about,” Hricko says. navigate the course without being • add content to the course Despite the fact that many overly rigid so as to stifle the ex- website, students, particularly millennial, are ploratory aspects of learning, says • take turns creating course used to interacting via technology, Mary Hricko, library director and lectures, they are generally not very well associate professor of library and • submit Web links related to the prepared for online education that media services at Kent State course material and explain their puts the learner in control of much of University Geauga Campus and relevance, their learning. “I think it’s a bad as- Twinsburg Center. • add questions to a test bank, sumption that because students are Good course design begins with a • take pre- and post-module assess- millennial learners that they have an clear understanding of specific ments to determine whether they understanding of how to manipulate learning outcomes and ways to have mastered the learning in technology to learn. Social technolo- engage students. “Simply putting that module, gies are different than educational content on the Web is not instruc- • moderate online discussions, technologies. Sure, they can tion,” Hricko says. “I’ve seen instruc- • fill in the blank slides to an in- multitask, but when it comes to un- tors put their post their lecture and complete PowerPoint presenta- derstanding some of the ways in text on the course site for student to tion or lecture outline in which the expectations of learning read, but what they really need to do preparation for a lecture, and contributing we still have to is think about interactivity.” • monitor several blogs and use address those basic skills—research For example, rather than posting a material from those blogs to ethics, how to present information, linear lecture, an instructor might generate discussion, and and how to use technology appropri- consider including embedded links to • create their own blogs on a topic ately. We need to make certain that give students the opportunities to related to the course. students understand the different explore certain topics more deeply if tools in the online environment and they choose to. “There should be “If our goal is to generate thinkers what is expected [of] them in online some areas of the site that the and individuals who assimilate discussions and completing assign- students can [manipulate] for knowledge, then we have to involve ments,” Hricko says. improving their retention of the in- them in activities that give them the Course design can help students struction,” Hricko says. “Sometimes freedom to do that. Simply feeding embrace this new way of learning. students have to manipulate informa- them the information does not really Most institutions have online tion so they can learn it better. There facilitate their abilities to learn those resources, such as a technology help should be some facets of the site that skills. That’s not teaching. That’s not desk and an online library, to help allow them to do that.” empowering our students. When students. However, it is up to the Depending on the intended students are given the opportunity to learning outcomes, this interactivity participate in the instruction, they PAGE 12 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com 11
  • FROM PAGE 11 away some of the questions that you freshmen orientation. as the instructor might not want to Hricko also recommends that in- course designer to help make these always deal with. When students see structors provide students with orien- resources easy to access. “All [course] what’s available to them, they will tation packets for their courses—to sites should have access to the virtual make use of it.” explain the parameters of their library,” Hricko says. “Likewise, if In addition to designing courses courses and how to use the technol- students are required to turn in with links to these resources, Hricko ogy—and should give those packets papers online, [the course site] says that institutions should do a to academic advisors and librarians should have a link to the online better job of preparing students for as well so that they can better serve writing lab. When you’re [designing] the online classroom before they the students. @ your course, you should have these enroll in an online course by incorpo- resources linked to the course to take rating online learning workshops into Web-based Video Lecture Courses Meet High Demand, Allow More Learner Control By Rob Kelly n an effort to accommodate in- the WebOption program. “In fact, by camera and introduce themselves. “I I creasing student enrollment without having to expand its physical campus, the University of the middle of the course, two-thirds of the students were not coming to class.” see that as a way of symbolically having the [face-to-face] students stand in for the other students. They Ontario at Scarborough has begun say things. They have personalities. offering some of its high-enrollment, WebOption course design And the class appreciates it. That’s the lecture-based courses via Web- The University of Toronto at kind of interactivity I encourage delivered video lectures. Scarborough currently offers 13 high- because it works online as well as in a This approach, known as enrollment WebOption courses. All of 500-person theater,” Bassili says. WebOption, began in 2003, to accom- them use lectures that are videotaped Bassili uses PowerPoint and video modate the increased enrollments that and made available online as clips in his face-to-face lectures. resulted from the elimination of the streaming video within hours of the Students who view his lectures online fifth year of high school in the actual lectures. These videos are get the same experience, but this province of Ontario. available for one week to all students requires some post production. Most That summer, the psychology de- enrolled in the course, regardless of of Bassili’s lectures have two or three partment offered its usual three section. short video clips that he uploads to his sections of face-to-face introduction to “The streaming video you get online PowerPoint presentation. To give the psychology and an additional online is very much like what happens in a WebOption students the same experi- section that used Web-delivered video big lecture hall,” Bassili says. ence as the live lecture, Bassili inserts recordings of the face-to-face lectures. Student assistants videotape the these video clips in his online lectures. From the beginning, students had the face-to-face lectures. Other than He incorporates compressed video into option to attend class in person or ensuring that the microphones in the his PowerPoint presentations for the view the same recorded lectures classroom pick up any interaction live lectures, but he inserts uncom- online. “These students showed an between the instructor and the pressed video clips into his Web immediate appetite for online lectures students, teaching a WebOption course lectures so that the clips are not com- and vacated seats in huge propor- is no different than teaching a typical pressed twice (which would reduce tions,” says John Bassili, professor of course in a large lecture hall. Bassili the quality of the video). psychology and dean’s designate for asks that students look into the PAGE 13 12 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning
  • FROM PAGE 12 Bassili has conducted several rewind, and watch the lecture studies on the WebOption program. multiple times. Bassili’s lectures are videotaped The following are some of his • Harder courses are more popular using mini DV videotapes that are findings: online because of the advantage uploaded into Adobe Premier for • Of students, 80 percent are of being able to view the lectures basic editing (to insert titles at the “extremely happy” to have the multiple times. beginning and at the end, and to option of accessing the lectures • There is no significant difference insert video clips from other online. in learning outcomes between sources). • Neuroticism—fear of missing the face-to-face and Web-based Since students have the option of something—is the main reason formats. attending live lectures or viewing why students attend live lectures them online, the lines between the as opposed to viewing them The WebOption approach is various sections are blurred. These online. generally limited to multiple-section, are not distance students. They all • Those who view the lectures high-demand, lecture-based courses. come to on-campus office hours and online are more secure and don’t “Any time there are frustrated take exams on campus. These mind learning independently. students who are unable to get the courses also include an online forum • Students who view the lectures classes they want because they’re with all sections, and unless a online tend to be more open to full, in my opinion, there should be a student mentions it, nobody knows novelty. WebOption to accommodate whether he or she attends the live • Students who like to use students,” Bassili says. lectures or views them online. rehearsal as a learning strategy tend to prefer to view the lectures For more information, visit Student opinions/outcomes online, where they can pause, www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~joordens/ Seminar—A Good First Venture into the Online Classroom By Rob Kelly ike many instructors, Linda and seminar for early childhood Appearance L Romero, assistant professor of education at MassBay Community College, had some reser- education. In this course, students teach 12 hours per week and receive three supervisory visits during the Romero was deliberate in making her online course “real” without being too complicated. She created a look to vations about teaching online. Would semester. the course that matched the physical her students be able to use the online In the face-to-face version of the appearance of the education environ- learning tools? Would students seminar, students meet for a couple of ments her students work in. The first become engaged in each other’s hours each week for mini-lectures and thing they see when they enter the progress? Would a lack of face-to-face discussions; Romero designed the course site is a red schoolhouse with interaction hinder learning? online course to be conducted a flag waving and a bell ringing. Realizing the benefits that an online similarly. By the time they take the In addition to creating a familiar course offers students, particularly the seminar, “students have taken most of look, Romero designed her course so ability to fit the course into their busy their content courses already, so I that each week’s materials have a schedules, Romero decided to make don’t have to provide a huge amount consistent font and color. “This the leap, but only with a course that of content. It’s just helping them provides a visual link that brings offered some individual face-to-face bring it all together,” Romero says. contact with students—a practicum PAGE 14 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com 13
  • FROM PAGE 13 common experiences is easy. Doing it of spontaneity. On the other hand, in other types of courses is possible Romero finds that she is more disci- things…together. It takes a little extra with a little creativity. For example, a plined and less inclined to go off on time, but students notice it and they colleague of Romero’s was teaching a tangents when she is online than [know] where they are when they’re course to a group of diverse, geo- when in the face-to-face classroom. entering different parts of the graphically dispersed students. In the excitement of that engage- course,” Romero says. Romero suggested having them each ment in the classroom, you can get take a field trip to a similar place—in carried away. I’m more responsible Discussion this case a library. Each would go to about that when I’m online, Romero Contrary to the students’ fears, they a different library but all would be says. had more discussion in the online able to bring that similar experience Romero uses the design of the course than students in the face-to- back to the class and discuss the dif- course to set the tone as well. For face classroom did. Romero credits ferences and commonalities. example, initially, students often get this largely to the introductions in the “I think you can create something lost in the online space, and she tries threaded discussion, which artificial to achieve that common ex- to make sure that doesn’t happen by emphasize the students’ common perience, even if it’s not a common leaving messages for them in the experiences. practicum experience,” Romero says. places they might look, reminding In the threaded-discussion intro- them where to go. ductions, Romero asks students to Tone In some instances, Romero includes talk about their teaching goals, their One of the limitations of interacting an animated cheerleader in the site to practicum classrooms, and personal in threaded discussions is the indicate that students have found information (if they are willing). potential of misinterpreting inten- what they were looking for. “You “I think having shared experiences tions. If you say something sarcastic establish tone through those kinds of is really the key to successful online in a face-to-face class, students will messages that are actually part of the teaching. Anything you do, any as- likely understand your intention. design of the physical environment,” signment that gets people out doing Romero is careful to guard against Romero says. @ something…establishes that common posting things that might be misinter- connection,” Romero says. preted. The downside to this is a lack In her course, finding these A Guide to Creating Modular Courses By Rob Kelly ndrea Henne, dean of online • Expedited course creation— and you’ve decided how students A and distributed learning in the San Diego Community College District, recommends creating online Often, the task of creating an online course is daunting for the faculty member. Focusing on the are going to interact with the material and what they’re going to turn in and how you’re going courses composed of modules— components that go into a single to do pre-assessment and post-as- discrete, self-contained learning expe- module at a time simplifies the sessment, the course design riences—and uses a course process, enabling instructors to process is well on its way. All development method that specifies more thoughtfully design each you’re doing now is the creative what to include in each module. learning component. After an in- work of finding the resources, Creating online courses based on structor has created that first content, and activities that fit the modules can benefit the instructor module, he or she has estab- learning objectives,” Henne says. and students. Modular design offers lished a framework for creating In addition, by working on one the following benefits: subsequent modules. “Once you’re happy with the structure PAGE 15 14 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • FROM PAGE 14 want to box people in to a one- quiz questions) as the pre-assess- size-fits-all formula because you ment to measure student module at a time, instructors can want them to be creative and in- progress. more easily see how each activity novative,” Henne says. relates to the course syllabus and Henne encourages instructors to desired learning outcomes. The following are the components include assessments in each module • Simplified course updates— Henne recommends for each module: to be able to monitor student Modular design enables instruc- • Pre-assessment: Each module progress throughout the course and tors to target specific parts of the should include an activity that to provide students with regular course for improvement without determines students’ initial feedback. having to overhaul the entire knowledge of a topic before Many course management systems course. Because each module is a taking part in the learning activi- have a selective-release feature, standalone learning experience ties within the module. The which enables the instructor to based on specific learning objec- results of this activity can be control access to parts of a course tives, when a publisher updates compared to assessment results until a student has reached a certain or discontinues a textbook, it at the end of the module to level of competency. Achievement on doesn’t necessarily mean that the measure achievement of learning a module can be determined by entire course needs to be outcomes. comparing the pre- and post-assess- changed. With a modular course, • Learning objectives: These are ments or by the students submitting textbook changes might mean specific statements, including the a checklist of tasks completed. simply changing the page actions, performance criteria, and After years of teaching face to face, numbers of assigned readings or conditions of what students will many instructors are able to begin reordering the modules to match be able to do upon completing teaching an on ground course the new sequence of the textbook the module. without having the entire course laid chapters. In addition, modules • Assigned reading: Specify out ahead of time. This approach are portable. They can be easily chapters, pages, documents, doesn’t work well in the online removed for use in other courses slides, lecture notes and provide classroom. Henne recommends that or course management systems, guided reading suggestions or instructors have their online courses Henne says. points for students to look out for completely created several months • Consistency for users—By incor- in the reading. before students enroll in them, and porating the same types of com- • Assigned writing: Writing as- the template she recommends can ponents in each course module, signments can range from posts help them meet that target, allowing students quickly pick up on the to the discussion board to formal them the time to focus on other course’s rhythms and patterns papers. Each assignment should aspects of facilitating online classes. and have a better idea of what to have a clear explanation of ex- “Faculty have been really grateful expect than if the course were pectations and evaluation to see an overview of how to start, designed using a varying criteria. how they’re going to proceed, and structure. “Often online students • Exercises/activities: Each how they’re going to end the course. get a little bit lost, and they don’t module should have an interac- Although the template is not understand what they’re tive activity for the entire class or designed as a lock-step process, it expected to do. But if the course for groups, which encourages does provide a framework that follows a format that’s recogniza- critical thinking and practical ap- supports the faculty member during ble and comfortable, then the plication of the material covered online course design and develop- second week and subsequent in the learning module. ment. All this goes hand in hand weeks are consistent,” Henne • For further study: Take with faculty training on strategies for says. advantage of the rich resources teaching online. This template is the Henne uses a template or on the Internet and provided by foundation for effective online “modular matrix” that outlines publisher websites to enhance learning by guiding how you’re going the components for each learning learning and stimulate students’ to present your materials and how module. The template is not a curiosity to dig deeper into the students are going to interact and cookie-cutter approach to online subject matter. achieve the desired learning course design but rather a set of • Post-assessment: The end-of- outcomes,” Henne says. @ recommendations that instructors module assessment should be in might find useful. “You don’t the same format (e.g., essay or Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com 15
  • difficulty accessing or using the How to Eliminate Sources of course materials and lack of engage- ment or effort (for example, limited Frustration for the Online log-ins, few discussion postings, late or inadequately completed assign- ments). Complaints often help Learner uncover unnecessary frustrations. Lack of engagement or effort can be caused by myriad ‘outside’ issues (such as family or work problems) By Patti Shank, PhD, CPT but they can also indicate learners who have shut down from frustration. The first semester I was an online earning online can be frustrat- They typically don’t have the luxury L ing. Online tools and technolo- gies have a learning curve. It’s easy to feel lost and disconnected. of immediately going elsewhere, and unnecessary frustration is very hard to deal with while also trying to learn instructor, one learner waited three weeks into the semester to ask me how to find the course discussions I kept referring to. Huh? I could have Answers to questions are typically and fulfill course requirements. written this off as a bizarre occur- delayed. Because the online learning Along with usability problems, ex- rence but thankfully I didn’t because experience is, by its nature, traneous cognitive load and unneces- I received a similar email the week somewhat frustrating, we need to sary mental effort needed to deal before. With the learner on the take as much unnecessary frustration with the learning environment can phone, I followed what she was out of the experience as we can. cause unnecessary frustrations for looking at and realized that the link Why? Because this kind of frustration online learners. When the mental to course discussions might not be often leads to reduced satisfaction effort needed for dealing with unnec- obvious to new online learners and learning, and increased attrition. essary frustration rises, the amount because I referred to them as course These less-than-optimal outcomes left for learning tasks is reduced. discussions throughout the course aren’t in anyone’s best interest. For example, imagine reading content but the course management In this article, I will discuss online course content about stratified system referred to them as discussion common but unnecessary frustrations random sampling (a statistical forums. That was enough to trip up for online learners—and how they sampling method). The content some new online learners. I changed can be reduced or eliminated. contains links to other pages with the content so the term used was the graphical representations of the same. Typical sources of topics being covered. Needing to flip The first step to reducing unneces- unnecessary frustration back and forth between graphic and sary frustrations is to be open to the Steve Krug, in his excellent Web text explanations requires much more fact that they are likely to be there. usability primer, Don’t Make Me mental effort than if the graphics and The table below describes some Think, describes typical website frus- corresponding explanation are placed general ways to address and prevent trations and explains that it’s not together. them. “rocket surgery” to make them less Here’s the bottom line: If learners frustrating. Folks who sell online can’t easily find what they need, Clue: Complaints about difficulty (such as Amazon.com and what they need isn’t available (even accessing or using the course SmartBargains.com, my two favorite though you know where it is). If materials online shopping sites) clearly learners are frustrated and cannot Things to do: recognize the importance of usability easily use and learn from the course • Clearly explain how learners because usability directly impacts materials, the materials are ineffec- should get started and make this sales. Frustrated folks simply don’t tive or worse. information easy to use (a stick around long enough to buy. Too checklist is good) and easily hard to use? One or two clicks and Follow the clues noticed. they can land on another site that is How do we know if learners are • Make commonly used items (like easier to use. unnecessarily frustrated? There are But what about online learners? two typical clues: Complaints about PAGE 17 16 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • FROM PAGE 16 • Keep an ongoing list of changes the syllabus, determine what assign- that need to be made in the ments are due in the first week, post the syllabus and assignment di- future so these problems don’t a bio in the discussion forum) while rections and rubrics) very easy to reoccur. you watch but without your help. locate. Clue: Lack of engagement or effort Ask them to think out loud so you • Obtain a student account to see Things to do: know what they are thinking and what learners see (I always set • Design a low stress, fun initial why they are doing what they are one of these up for this purpose). activity to help learners learn the doing. See where they are confused • Develop and use a consistent tools and feel connected. (I like and how many steps it takes to get it course structure so once learners course scavenger hunts for this right. If you can keep yourself from learn how to use one online purpose.) helping them, you’ll learn a lot about course, they know how to use • Quickly contact individual what may be unnecessarily others, even though the content learners who don’t appear to be frustrating. may be different. engaged by phone (best) or When learners can’t find what they • If learners are reporting email. need or are confused about where to problems, ask them for specific • Check in with individual learners go and what to do, we are inadver- details (so you can troubleshoot). periodically to solicit feedback tently making it harder for them to • Connect learners to campus about what is going well/less learn. That’s a situation that needs to technical support, as needed. well and why. (Learners regularly be remedied if we want learners to be (Following-up with the learner is tell me how valuable this is.) successful. a good idea.) • Make changes to the materials to Your turn Resources address common concerns and Find someone who hasn’t seen Krug, S. (2006). Don't make me use announcements or broadcast your online course and ask them to think: A common sense approach to emails to make learners aware of do typical course tasks on your web usability, 2nd Edition. Berkeley, these changes. course website (for example, print CA: New Riders Press @ Using Pre-admission Assessments to Help Online Students Succeed By Patti Shank, PhD, CPT ost things in life have built- There are common but inevitable frustration leads to reduced satisfac- M in frustrations. For example, shopping at a grocery store during its busiest time and waiting in frustrations for online learners. The tools have a learning curve, and updated versions and new tools tion and learning; angry and frus- trated learners; and attrition. In this article, I’ll discuss practices line to check out feels like a waste of require additional efforts. Waiting for that help online learners, especially time. Grocery stores have imple- communication (responses to a those who are new to online mented self-service checkouts and question, work from another learner learning, to determine if they are special cashier-checkout lines for on a collaborative project, feedback good candidates for online courses in people with few items (who always on an assignment, etc.) is often frus- general and your online courses in seem to have far more than the trating. Because the online learning particular. allotted number of items) in order to experience is by its nature frustrating, reduce customer frustrations, but we should try to take as much unnec- some frustrations can only be essary frustration as possible out of PAGE 18 minimized, not eliminated. the experience, because too much Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com 17
  • FROM PAGE 17 tools such as The Illinois Online tation, and it’s a great example of Network’s Self-Evaluation for creative design that serves an Does the student have Prospective Online Students important need. adequate computer and (www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/tut computer skills? orials/pedagogy/selfEval.asp) and Clear expectations? You’ve probably had learners in Washington Community and Online courses are just as different your online courses who have asked Technical College’s Is Online from each other as classroom-based you basic computer questions like, Learning for Me? quiz courses, but some online learners “How do I open an attachment?” or (www.waol.org/getstarted/ make assumptions that can lead to complained that they couldn’t access IsOnline4Me.asp) can help prospec- unnecessary frustration. When multimedia files. And if you’re tive online learners consider whether learners know in advance how the anything like me, you wondered why they will be happy and successful course works, they can make someone without an updated online learners. informed decisions about enrolling. computer system and basic computer For example, one of my online skills would attempt to take an online courses involved numerous small de- course. When learners know in liverables each week and lots of Institutions that enroll new online advance how the course group work. It wasn’t a good fit for learners who have outdated learners who needed to travel for a computers, dial-up Internet connec- works, they can make living or be out of touch for a few tions, and subpar computer and weeks during the semester, because Internet skills should consider the informed decisions about the course process was fairly inflexi- consequences ahead of time or they ble. Contrast that with another online will be dealing with the conse- enrolling. course in the program that was quences, including frustrated and flexible and primarily self-paced. angry learners and greater-than- Some higher education institutions Some instructors don’t provide expected attrition, down the road. offer a “get me ready to be a success- adequate detail about course expecta- Some institutions provide ful online learner” course that is tions to prospective learners because minimum computer hardware, taken before other online courses (if they need a certain number of software, and connection require- needed…no need to frustrate those learners to enroll. This is a case of ments as well as assessments to help with adequate skills). This type of “pay me now or pay me later,” prospective online learners measure course typically has plenty of because learners who aren’t able to the adequacy of their computer and personal hand-holding and practice be successful quickly become Internet skills. For example, doing things that successful online problems (or worse). Consider Pennsylvania College of Technology learners need to be able to do, such adding a list of course realities and has a detailed listing of requisite as uploading and downloading files, expectations to course descriptions so computer and Internet skills using discussion forums, and evaluat- prospective learners can determine (http://penncollege.edu/advise/ ing the credibility of online resources. before enrolling if they are likely to CSC110/csc/selfassessment.htm). Another option for helping new be able to meet them. Some offer complex assessments to online learners is an online orienta- Frustrations for learners commonly analyze whether prospective learners tion. Regis University has a turn into frustrations for instructors have adequate skills. For example, humorous and helpful online orienta- and higher education institutions. ETS offers an Information and tion, which is one of the best I’ve Considering how to reduce unneces- Communication Technology Literacy seen. It includes lessons that help sary frustrations and help new online test that uses realistic computer and new online learners discover how to learners succeed, therefore, makes Internet tasks to measure critical get into their online courses; find and both sense and cents. Consider how thinking and technical skills. use the course syllabus and other you, your department, and your insti- course resources; use the course tution can use computer hardware, Is online learning a good fit? management system; complete and software, and access requirements; We also need to help prospective submit course assignments; and com- preadmission assessments; “how to online learners determine if online municate with the instructor and be a successful online learner” learning is a good fit for them so they other learners. My colleague Maureen lessons; and detailed course expecta- can self-select into or out of an online Hencmann, an instructional designer tions to help online learners succeed. course or program. Self-assessment with Regis, helped design this orien- @ 18 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • students so they know what’s Usability Issues That Impact needed, technically, to succeed. • Offer printable versions of pages Online Learning that are likely to be printed, either by providing separate print versions or PDFs or by making sure that existing pages print well. By Patti Shank, PhD, CPT • Design online courses so they function similarly to each other. Once learners understand how to espite the benefits of online frustration leads to anxiety and frus- use one course, they will be able D education, there are inevitable frustrations as well. The tools online learners need to use, such as tration, reduced ability to learn, and attrition. to use others more easily. • Make materials or pages that are commonly used or referred to readily available without having discussion forums or integrated Usability course management systems, have a What I’m talking about is technical to navigate through numerous learning curve. They don’t always and learning usability, the ease (or menus and hyperlinks. behave in intuitive ways. Waiting for lack of ease) with which learners Learning usability communication (responses to a interact with online instructional Learning usability is about mini- question, work from another learner materials (pages, forms, media, etc.) mizing unnecessary learning- on a collaborative project, feedback and people (the instructor, peers, related frustrations so learners on an assignment, etc.) can be help sources). Good usability for can learn and deal with the frus- terribly frustrating. online learning materials means the trations that cannot be elimi- This may seem counterintuitive, site, content, and media are easy to nated. Here are some common but some frustrations during learning find, use, and navigate. And good recommendations for improving are good. Learners are expected to usability for people means the inter- learning usability in online struggle with new or difficult content. action tools (such as email and dis- courses: That struggle is part and parcel of the cussion forums) are easy to use and • Manage expectations: Tell learning process. But there’s a fine facilitate getting input or help as learners when to expect a reply line between OK struggling and not- needed. to emails or questions so they OK struggling. My son is a junior in aren’t frustrated when you college and struggles with some of Technical usability haven’t answered in three the high-level math courses in his Good technical usability involves minutes. (I encourage you to degree plan. You’d expect these minimizing system-related frustra- seem omnipresent in the courses to be hard and struggling tions (for example, access, course beginning of courses with a large with the content to be the norm. So systems, materials, and media) so percentage of new online when are learning frustrations learners can use them for their learners.) harmful? When they negatively intended purpose without unneces- • Make help available: Look at impact the ability to learn. One of my sary hassles, delays, or extra steps. your course content and activities son’s math professors sent broadcast Here are some common recommen- realistically. Any places where emails to every student each week dations for improving technical students are likely to get stuck? warning them that it would be hard usability in online courses: Provide extra help options at to pass the course and that they • Use a simple and consistent navi- these times. should consider dropping out if they gation scheme (for example, tabs • Provide reality checks: Let weren’t up to the work. This turned labeled with the week number or prospective students know what into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the topic containing all the materials to expect so they can determine if anxiety made it impossible for most for that week or topic). they have the access, motivation, students to learn. • Optimize images and media for and time for the coursework. Because the online learning experi- quicker downloading. ence is, by its nature, frustrating, • Provide a list of required Whose job is this? anyone who can take unnecessary hardware, software, plug-ins, and Maybe you’re thinking this is too frustration out should do so, because bandwidth to prospective PAGE 20 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • 19
  • FROM PAGE 19 you make your courses easier to use. good the content, activities, assess- If your institution has technical com- ments, and people interactions are, if much to worry about. It’s hard munications or human factors engi- the learner can’t easily find and use enough designing content, activities, neering degree programs, there’s a them, they might as well not be and assessments; facilitating course good chance that faculty need there. activities; answering questions; and projects for their students. Free help! grading papers and tests. But since If learners can’t easily find what Resources the negative outcomes from poor they need and do what they want or Don't Make Me Think, 2nd Edition usability end up in the instructors’ need to do, what they need isn’t (New Riders Press, 2005) and students’ laps, it’s our problem, available. If learners cannot easily Alertbox—www.useit.com/alertbox whether we like it or not. use and learn from course materials, Usability.gov—www.usability.gov If you have access to instructional the instructor, and other students, @ designers, they should be able to help they can’t learn. So, no matter how The Importance of Intuitive Navigation in Online Course Design By Patti Shank, PhD, CPT he first time I taught online, Finding your way is NOT half Organizational schemes T many moons ago, I ran into some snags. One learner emailed me three weeks into the the fun A while back, I went into a Target store to buy an iron. I headed over to The best way to help users find what they need online is by doing a good job of organizing the content semester, asking where the course dis- the small appliances section. I saw into logical categories and using navi- cussion forum was. A week later, Crock-Pots, coffee makers, toasters, gational elements to point users in the another learner asked where to find electric skillets…but no irons. I began right direction. the syllabus. Weird? No—unfortunate, walking around the store—past the Let’s say you’re browsing your insti- but not uncommon. shoes, car parts, bath rugs, doggie tution’s human resources site to find a When learners can’t find what they igloos—and I found irons near the family leave form. Which button need or are confused about where to plumbing supplies. The store provided should you click on to find this form? go and what to do, we are making it clear “navigation” (overhead signs) Benefits? Policies and Procedures? harder for them to learn. Being an but they weren’t at all helpful because Family Support? The essential organi- online learner is hard enough without the store’s organizational scheme zational dilemma for all online additional barriers. Plus, frustrated (irons go with shower heads) didn’t content is how to organize and label it learners tend to either drop out or match mine (irons go with toasters so users can easily find what they drive the instructor crazy. Bad idea. and Crock-Pots). need. In this article, I’ll take a look at Online content is often tricky to Exact organizational schemes are frustrations caused by two common navigate as well. Effective navigation the easiest to navigate because the in- and interrelated Web design elements (such as links and buttons) formation is divided into clearly delin- problems: confusing course organiza- should clearly tell the user several eated categories. Some examples of tion (how course elements are struc- things: online content that uses an exact or- tured within the course) and unclear • Where am I? ganizational scheme include navigation (what links or buttons are • Where are the things I’m trying to telephone numbers for everyone in a used to access these elements). find? department (organized alphabeti- • How do I get there? PAGE 21 20 Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com
  • FROM PAGE 20 Here are some of the navigational elements most commonly used on Web pages. cally), past orders (organized chrono- logically), and local distributors (organized geographically). Most instructional content, however, is not organized as exactly because all the content doesn’t neatly fall into precise alphabetical, chronological, or geographical delineations. And this is where the going gets frustrating for learners trying to find what they need. There are numerous ways to organize an online course. Because most courses tend to progress in a chronological fashion, organizing them this way makes sense to learners. Below is an example of how an online instructor might organize a course chronologically, with elements that are accessed frequently through- out the course (Syllabus, Calendar) at the top level so they are easy to locate. (You might have guessed that my first online course was not organized this way….) There are pluses and minuses to all navigational elements. For instance, Home buttons are clearly meant to be clicked on in order to go somewhere, but button Syllabus titles need to be both short (to fit on the button) and clear enough to tell the Calendar user where they are going. Course Content Pull-down and pop-up menus take up less space than some other types of Week 1 navigation but are harder to use, especially for folks with some disabilities; plus, Reading they don’t show the range of options until they are clicked on. Media Text links are clear but they can be overused, especially when users think they Activities are expected to follow each one. are clear and concise but overused in online in- Resources structional content. They indicate content to be viewed in a lockstep fashion. Assessments Doing a good job of organizing the materials in each course and providing Week 2 navigational elements so learners can get to those materials easily is part Reading science, part art, and part common sense. How can you tell if your site is well Media organized, with clear navigational elements? Grab a few people who don’t know Activities how your course works and ask them to find the syllabus, the slides for Week 5, Resources the date for the midterm test, or other elements of your course as you watch Assessments silently, providing no help. Too many clicks or too much backtracking? That Discussion Forums indicates a need for reorganizing or making navigation clearer. Course cafe On a final note, consider organizing all your online courses similarly, so Course questions learners who have taken one of your courses will instantly know how to Week 1 discussion questions navigate others, with little additional frustration. Week 2 discussion questions Navigational elements Resources Usability—the Basics—http://wdvl.internet.com/Authoring/Design/Basics/ The purpose of website navigation is Why people can’t use eLearning to help users understand how the site www.infocentre.frontend.com/uploaded_files/eLearning_white_paper.pdf @ is organized, so they can click on the right link or button to find what they are looking for. Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Distance Learning Environment • www.FacultyFocus.com 21
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