START HERE: Building an Online-by-Design Course

This is the first post in a series about building an online course quickly, not just transitioning a F2F class to remote teaching.

If you are gearing up for a third trimester of teaching, preparing for an intensive May term, or looking ahead to summer (when classes probably won’t be gathering F2F) or fall (when we still might not be back to campus), this series is for you.

The first few posts will lay down some basic principles and help you decide the framework for the course. After that, we’ll look at different components of an online course (lectures, discussion boards, quizzes, exams, etc.) one at a time. The first few posts are key for everyone designing an online course quickly, so read them in order. After that, read what’s helpful to you–and if I’m not covering what is helpful to you, let me know! I don’t have experience teaching labs or studios online, but I will try to find guest bloggers who can help with this.

While I teach college, many of the tips here will be useful for K-12 teachers too.

My goal is that most posts will include brief comments about the pedagogy/andragogy of the approach and practical tips.

Designing a 3.0 credit online class for undergraduates takes me about 100 hours–plus a time for an outsider to review it to see if it’s meeting the standards my university sets. Typically, I am not designing more than one class at a time on top of my teaching load, and I begin work on it at least one semester before it is scheduled to be taught. That’s with familiarity with the tech and an awesome instructional designer and support team.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of that kind of time or support right now. For that reason, most of the posts I share will have two pathways for progress: the sufficient route and the excellent route.

The sufficient route meets all your obligations to your stakeholders: students, taxpayers, your discipline, your university, etc. If you choose the sufficient path, your students will get the chance to learn all they were required to learn in this class.

If you choose the excellent route, you will me all the obligations you have to stakeholders and more.

Either route you chose, I’ll be advocating for a student-centered approach that works for as many students as possible. This goes beyond ADA compliance to include keeping classes affordable, technology simple, and work flexible so that students with unpredictable schedules and major life changes (which we’re all about to have!) can still participate fully.

Above, runners gather at the starting line of the 1904 Olympic marathon. Teachers are about to enter a marathon for which we did not train. But don’t let that thought exhaust you–you can still make sure your students have the opportunity to learn.  Unknown authorMissouri History Museum URL: Gallery:

I expect that many people building a course for the first time and in a big hurry and without great training or ample resources will sometimes choose to do a sufficient job and sometimes choose to do an excellent one. You might decide to build stellar lectures but only sufficient discussion boards. Maybe you’ll skip lectures entirely and instead lead wonderful workshops. You might also choose to build some entirely sufficient courses and some excellent ones.

To decide where you are going to do a sufficient job and where you are going to do a great job, think about these questions:

  • How many classes will I be teaching total?
  • How many students will I be teaching in each of those classes? Total?
  • Will I have a TA to help with grading?
  • Am I teaching students who are new to college and may need a lot of help beyond what I might expect from more experienced students?
  • Do I have colleagues teaching the same course who I could effectively share the work load with?
  • What other obligations will I be juggling while I design this? How much of my day should be devoted to those other things and how much should be devoted to course design?

The next post in this series will help you build your schedule in your online course. I encourage you to focus on one course at a time so that you can build one the whole way from start to finish, then decide what you liked about the process and what you would change. Additionally, if you build one at a time, if you yourself fall ill, you might be able to leave a class fully ready-to-go rather than a few classes in various states of being built.

Before you read the next post, gather the following:

  • the description for the course from the course catalog
  • your program/major/department objectives (if they exist) and the way your course fits into them
  • any other department- or university-level mandates for the course. For example, if it is a GE, it might have different obligations than an elective
  • for K-12 teachers, your pacing guide or other materials that are to inform how you teach
  • any mandatory assessments and their rubrics that you might be required to do (This is most common if you teach a course that many other people at your university teach, like a GE.)
  • your university’s rubric for evaluating online courses (Email your instructional designer for a copy.); if your university doesn’t have one, this one might fit your needs

Digital copies of these are best, so you can cut and paste into your own documents.

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5 thoughts on “START HERE: Building an Online-by-Design Course

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  1. Thank you! This is a lifesaver for those of us facing a Spring quarter of possible online classes!

  2. Thank you, Rebecca, this is exactly what I need. I teach adults creative writing but the principles will be the same as if I were teaching at university level.

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