One Tech's Tips For Course Development
July 11, 2013

One Tech’s Tips For Course Development

As the summer passes one day at a time, I can’t help but start to think about class preparation. One of the complications in class prep is that I have traditional classes that only meet on campus, blended (aka hybrid) classes that meet in a classroom and through an online course management system (we use Cruiser), and online classes that only meet via Cruiser. I have not really started to do much with my classes other than think about them, but I received an email link from Academic Administration to an article with tips about course development for online courses, so I thought I would share some these with redOrbit readers. Who knows? Maybe they will help in other parts of life beyond just education.

Tip #1: Take advantage of the opportunity to work with an instructional designer

Instructional designers are those on campus who have trained in designing classes, specifically in integrating technology for all classes whether traditional, blended or hybrid, or online. These individuals have access to the programs, tools, forums, and books about different course design options. Plus, they often have the degrees to back their knowledge. Collaborating with the instructional designer can really help to open communication between faculty and students.

Tip #2: Collaborate with another instructor

Sometimes we get too close to our work to see where it is strong and where it needs improvement. Having another instructor whom we trust take a look at our courses can provide the outside eyes and perspective we need to create the best course possible. I have gotten some of my greatest ideas talking with colleagues about course development. Simply by discussing the ideas in my head I was able to hone in on weaknesses while still keeping the good stuff.

Tip #3: Make sure you are addressing the learning objectives

As Academic Administration says, “Always have the course objectives in front of you and match each objective to elements of the course as you design the course. ‘If you can’t justify or explain how [an element] meets the course’s learning objectives, it needs to go,’ Thorne [an instructional designer and online instructor at the Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville] says.”

Tip #4: Match the content to the appropriate format

To best engage students, consider the variety of assignments, workload, and course content. Don’t assign so much in one week that you set your students up for failure, but also make sure that you have variety such as self-graded assignments, journal entries, and even optional assignments. Online courses need to be as exciting as physical classroom courses and even more so because of the venue. Also, consider minimizing the number of online lectures. Make it more interactive and student driven. Sometimes a PowerPoint is good, but make it 5-7 minutes and not 30 minutes. Students lose interest just like the rest of the world.

Tip #5: Provide a variety of ways to communicate with students

Some students will want to communicate solely via email while others will want to call, stop by your office, or even chat if your course management system has such an option. Allowing students to communicate in a variety of ways will help them to feel more comfortable with you. In a traditional classroom, we allow students to email or call or stop by the office, so doesn’t it make sense to provide the online student with such options. I also allow my online students to Skype or G-Chat if they prefer.

Tip #6: Maintain consistent course design

If each lesson changes, how can students know what to expect? I pattern every unit in the same way in my classes so that my students aren’t caught off guard by something weird. Consistency helps them to organize and succeed.

Tip #7: Revise your course every semester

This seems obvious. Otherwise, you will get bored with the material. Moreover, your students deserve a fresh you in class. Revising the course for mistakes or issues you encountered previously can strengthen the course and your teaching style. Staying with the same ol’ same ol’ helps no one.

It might be early in the summer to be thinking about this, but it never hurts to look at the advice of others, especially when it comes to technology in the classroom (physical or virtual). These tips helped me to focus on what I need to do to improve my classes. Perhaps they can also help students to understand what their professors do for the classroom, as well as help other instructors with their own course development.

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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