I completed the tutorial provided for the first online course that I enrolled in, but it took a couple of weeks of logging in and completing work to feel comfortable. I remember my heart rate increasing as I searched for the right button to click to post a discussion response or upload my assignments. I went through that entire course not knowing how to get the professor’s feedback, so I was making the same mistake on MLA citations. Recalling that experience makes me sensitive to ensuring students understand course navigation.
In fact, research shows that course design is a contributing factor to student success in an online setting (Song, Singleton, Hill and Koh, 2004). This includes providing clear goals and expectations, explicit directions, examples, deadlines and a vehicle to ask questions and obtain responses. Setting up a course to be intuitive and inviting will help students ride the online learning curve and be ready to learn what you are teaching!
Many districts are acquiring curriculum so most of the course set up is provided and all courses follow the same format. Teachers just need to customize. If this is the case for you, appreciate this benefit and take some time to show your voice and passion for your subject and students in your course.
If your district is not providing an online curriculum, hopefully, you will have a guideline for which program to use (Canvas, Google Classroom, etc.) and an outline so all courses in your district or school are set up the same way. With this consistency, middle and high schoolers will know how to work in each of their classes, siblings can help each other, and parents can follow the same steps to check the progress for their kids.
Once you show students the set up, they should be able to replicate steps easily to find lessons and assignments, but providing a job aid can ensure they have a tool to help if they don’t remember.
The following should be included in each course:
Class Management Plan
We’ll be talking about this next, so for now, just keep in mind that it should be posted in your course information section.
Course Navigation Job Aid
Recordings are one of the biggest benefits of virtual learning and we’ll talk later about them. If you are going to be providing recordings of your live sessions or preparing recordings, catalog them in one place and post it in your course. Provide the date, time, unit/lesson #, topic, and recording link. For math and English Language Arts teachers, bonus points if you include the standard. Down the road when you are checking student mastery by standards and state testing preparedness, you can readily access the appropriate link for remediation. The easiest way to keep your recordings log updated is with a link to a google doc so you can easily update as the school year progresses, but here’s a template in Excel as a starting point for you.
Announcements should be front and center on your course homepage and updated at least weekly. This is one of the most important places to have a personal touch, so we’ll talk more about announcements. But, at a minimum, your announcements should include the lessons and assignments by day for the week with due dates; live session schedule for the week; reminder of large assignments, projects or tests that are on the horizon; and your contact info, office hours and availability for the week. Again, I’ll be providing more, but here’s a starting point template.
This is the meat of the course and should be set up by subject, topic or unit. Assignments should be easy to find; handouts and additional resources should be downloadable. Examples can be particularly helpful.
A separate dropbox should be available for each assignment. It should be labeled by the name of the assignment and due date. Points possible should also be evident.
Gradebook / Feedback
Some school districts use their Student Information System for the gradebook so this may not be included in your course. If that is the case, develop a way to provide feedback to students via email, file transfer or conference.
Take some time to look at your course through a student or parent eyes. If one can readily see what needs to be done, by when and how, you are on the right track!
In closing, I invite you to watch this inspiring TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson as he talks about the need to help each student find their path.