Organizing Your Online Course – Guest Post by Stephen Holland

The Face-to-Face, Blended and Online Teaching and Learning webinar series may be over, but our guests posts on the topic are still going strong. Today we welcome back Stephen Holland to share his tips on how to organize an online course. If you enjoy this post, please share it with others. We’ve added new social media sharing buttons on the left-hand side of our blog to help making sharing even easier!

“Start here” …

When designing course content, we must remember to help students find their way.  That is, we need to help them to logically move through our lessons. Often, it is something very simple we can do to help the student.

Those two simple words – “Start Here” – are now included on every lecture link in any course I design to help organize online students through their learning efforts. I use SoftChalk as a design tool and feature those words not only on the link to the lecture but also on the first page of the lecture menu. I started using “Start Here” after completing a Quality Matters course a few summers ago. That was one of the many organizational tips the Quality Matters course suggested.

The advice of using “Start Here” also seems so simple and so logical. Having said this, I do not think I will always keep student eyes from wandering or their fingers from clicking in every direction, but using “Start Here” at the beginning of the lecture sure gives them a clue as to where to begin.

I have also begun to place other organizational cues for students in other places with the courses I design. Most recently in my Composition I class I added the words “How to Improve Your Next Essay Score” on my rubric sheets. For so many years only the word “Rubric” flew across the top of the page, which was highlighted with scores from 1 to 4, depending upon the student’s degree of proficiency for an evaluated area of the essay. That word “Rubric” means more to me than it does to the student. For them, I want to see improvement, so now I more clearly shape the message toward that end. I also added a note about studying the rubric for strengths and challenges, and I summarize the challenges into a list of bullet points. My overall challenge to students is to focus on only a few items at a time and to earn a few more points for the next essay.

In addition, within the rubric, I have added hyperlinks that provide the student with explanations of terms. For example, the thesis section on a rubric has a hyperlink out to a website that provides an explanation for writing an acceptable thesis. It is another little thing that can be done to help students right at the moment of learning. In my course, I also make use of Smarthinking’s online tutors to support student writing through the rough draft phase. Here clicking on the hyperlink thesis will take the  reader of this blog to an explanation of the concept, as an example.

Also, at the start of each lecture, I list all activities that need to be accomplished in the unit, thus giving the students one place for organizing themselves. Otherwise, I find many students scanning rather than reading a lecture. I also guide the eye with sub-heads over sections that are chunked around one topic so that the scanners can at least gain the gist of the lecture’s content. However, I do state my expectations as to what needs to be accomplished and estimate how much time is needed in the unit. I hold students accountable through quizzes and again on the rubric assessment when the ideas I introduced to them in the lectures do not show up within the essays.

Another nice tool within SoftChalk’s gallery is one that allows me to send students forward or backward within the lecture. That is, there is a way to link the students to an area previously discussed within the lecture. This helps the student if he or she finds a need for a review, after reading deeper into the lecture. I also think it useful, as well, to then link the student back to where he or she was previously. It is just another “little thing” to do to organize student learning.

To end the lecture, I offer a summary, a review activity (of which SoftChalk has several types from which to choose), and a friendly wish for success. As I now close this blog, I am reminded of the need for a way to signal to the blog reader that the conclusion has been reached. With that being said, when I was a newspaper sports writer I was trained to end all of my articles for the typesetter with the number 30. Newspaper type was set in lead when I started as a reporter. The use of number 30 goes back to the Civil War when reporters ended telegraph communications with the number to signal they were done sending. So, we have seen the need to organize the reader for decades. We just sometimes forget to do so.

– 30 –

Steve Holland teaches English and Education classes online through the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC). In 2012, the ICCOC honored him as Teacher of the Year. He recently retired after 25 years of teaching with Eastern Iowa Community College, but he continues to teach and serve as an education consultant. He holds a B.A. in journalism, an M.A. in English, an Ed.S. in Education, and an Ph.D. in Education, all through The University of Iowa. He has also served as a judge for SoftChalk’s annual Lesson Challenge.f Iowa. He has also served as a judge for SoftChalk’s annual Lesson Challenge.

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