Building Your Online Classroom Shell: Final Steps

If you’ve been following this series of posts about building an online course by design, you’ve framed your course, selected your materials, chosen your assignments, written your syllabus, established the frame of your online course, added your lessons, and added your activities. This post helps you add the final touches.

Osman Hamdi Bey - The Tortoise Trainer - Google Art Project.jpg

Has it felt hard and slow? Above, The Tortoise Trainer (1906) by Osman Hamdi Bey shows a man in a traditional Ottoman religious garb. He holds a flute; at his feet are five turtles who do not seem to be responding to his efforts to train them. Public Domain.

The painting depicts an elderly man in traditional Ottoman religious costume which predates the introduction of the fez and the spread of Western style dress with the Tanzimat reforms in the mid 19th century. He holds a traditional ney flute with which he is attempting to “train” the tortoises at his feet.

Naming your course: In most LMS, you can change the name of your course from the default. I recommend PREFIX NUMBER: NAME, SEMESTER. So, for example, BIO 101: Introduction to Biology, Summer I.

A course icon: Some LMS permit you to create an icon or image to help your students identify your course. It might appear in the banner on your homepage or on the list of icons they choose from when they open their dashboard. Always choose something relevant to the course and that adheres to fair use standards.

Your homepage: This is the first thing students see in your course. It is also open to them during any preview days your university might offer, so it needs to contain all key information: course name, number, semester, and CRN; your name and contact information and office hours information; the catalog description of the course and learning objectives; the list of requirement material; your university’s fair use statement (which is standard) and disability services statement (which should also be standard). Also include

  • a 1-paragraph enthusiastic description of the course
  • a link to a short (1 minute) video introducing yourself
  • a link to a short (1 minute) video introducing your TAs, if any
  • a link to a short (2 minute) overview of the course

Announcements: You can schedule announcements to be posted later in the semester. It will take no more than 30 painful minutes to write them all now. Write one for every due date (which is another reason to limit the number of due dates), and schedule them to post 2 or 3 days before the due date. DO NOT include a reminder of the due date; this will make reusing them in future semesters more difficult. DO NOT include a list of the work that is coming due; if you cancel a future assignment, you will likely forget to change the announcement. Instead, write, every time: “Don’t forget that you have work due for Intro to Bio soon. Check Bb or your syllabus for details. And remember the late work policy for this class: XXXXX.” You can vary it somewhat if you like by adding encouraging words (“I can’t wait to see what you turn in this week!” or “I’m really proud of the work you’ve done so far” or “As we head into finals week, know that I’m rooting for you!”), but don’t include details about specific assignments.

Schedule: Your LMS likely includes a schedule that automatically fills in information when you add due dates to assignments. Students RELY on this schedule; when they login to their dashboard, it creates a to-do list for them that includes information for all their classes, so they’re not required to consult with each syllabus individually to see what is due soon. Most LMS have the schedule enabled by default, but make sure it is there.

Class Tools: Many LMS allow you to add the tools that you are using to your class here. Limit these to the ones you are actually using. For me, this  includes a function so that students can email each other and their individual grades. I recommend that you DO NOT put your discussion board here but instead embed it within each Unit Activities Folder.

University Resources: Your university likely has a slew of resources that will be relevant to your class, including links to the online writing center, online tutoring center, disability services, writing style guides, a virtual library tour, and more. Add what you think your students will need, and consider links to social and mental health resources, like the counseling center and the campus food bank, if these are operational.

Other links: Your university may also require you to link to other items on your homepage. Those that are required are probably already pre-loaded.

For everything not required and that you are not using, disabled them so they are not visible to students.

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