The start of the new school year is a great time to freshen up your online courses and to take steps to ensure that they are as effective and accessible as possible. One great way to do that is by diving head first into the very heart of your course: the content.
Even if you have great information in your course, chances are that there are some elements that could use a little tweaking to more effectively engage students. In some cases that might mean simply updating information but you may also want to try out new technology make things more clear for students. After all, the more well-defined and student-friendly your course materials are, the more successful your students will be and the easier your job will be throughout the semester.
Here are some suggestions to help you better showcase your course materials to make them easier to use and ultimately more effective at meeting your goals both for students and for yourself.
Vary your content.
Your students are unique individuals and as such they will have differing preferences. Some students may love watching videos. Others may engage better through discussions. Still others may prefer to get their information through reading. For this reason, not to mention the varying accessibility issues you may face in an online course, it’s a good idea to mix up the types of content that you’re offering students. Consider adding some videos, podcasts, presentations, or more interactive content to your course when it makes sense. This will keep things interesting and make it easier for all students to access the course content without limitations.
Embrace existing content.
Want to mix up your content but don’t have time to do it on your own? Don’t sweat it. Faculty sometimes feel like they need to build every thing in a course on their own, but the reality is that there are often already really great resources out there. Take on the role of curator rather than creator in your course, adding a range of media, articles, and activities from other sites. That way you get the benefit of the variety of content our there without having to shoulder the burden of making it on your own.
Design for the web.
It’s easy to forget that what works in an in-person course may not be the best approach when teaching online. The web is a fundamentally visual and interactive place and when you’re not there to give a lecture in person, the content of those lectures alone may not be enough to get students engaged and interested in the course. As such, your course should be designed around the nature of the online environment. Take some time to learn about the best practices for online course design and see how you can change your course to feel more at home on the web.
Invest in community.
While online courses are taken at a distance, they should be fundamentally communal endeavors so it’s critical that instructors work to develop a strong sense of community from the get-go. Work to focus on community development for the few few weeks of your course, helping students become active participants, building trust, and facilitating discussions. It’s an investment that can pay off throughout the rest of the course, as students feel more capable and comfortable taking part.
Make sure things are clear and consistent.
While some might bristle at the idea of a cookie cutter course, research tells us that when students know what to expect in how online courses are laid out and designed they perform significantly better academically. The less time and brain power students have to dedicate to deciphering how a course is structured, the more they can put towards actually engaging with and understanding the course material. You can help in this process. Go through your course and work at creating consistency throughout. For example, each can begin with a video, have reading material, a set number of discussion questions, and end with a quiz. Whatever works for you, so long as you don’t change mid-semester.
Keep it simple.
More isn’t always better when it comes to online learning. Too much information can feel overwhelming and can distract from the goals and objectives you want students to meet by the end of the course. Take some time to go through your course and remove any unnecessary information (quality over quantity), carefully curate any content, minimize scrolling and create a flow that makes it simple for students to go from one content area or activity to another.
Creating a better, more effective course won’t happen overnight. In fact, you’ll probably have to make a few tweaks every time you teach the course. But that’s not a bad thing! It ensures your courses stay updated and that students are always getting the best possible experience each and every semester.