Flexible course design allows for faculty to continue teaching courses regardless of their location or the location of their students. By combining the use of synchronous methods (in-person sessions or online video-conferencing) and asynchronous methods (chats and discussion boards, pre-recorded content, curated content), classes can continue to be effective, engaging, and impactful no matter the medium.
The Academic Technology and Instructional Design team at Peabody (AT&ID) created this guide by curating articles, research, and resources; creating resources where gaps were found; and organizing the tips and best practices based on one of the most popular instructional design processes – ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation). If you are conversant in the ADDIE process, you may notice that the tips in this guide don’t always fit perfectly – some liberties were taken in the interest of practical applications and usefulness.
First, a few general tips:
Start with your learner goals, content, and sound pedagogy, then identify the tools and technologies to support those goals, rather than the other way around.
You will find supporting articles, videos, and deeper background associated with many of the tips. The guide is designed to be useful for those who want to take one or two tips just to get started, as well as for those who want to explore further. There are so many exciting opportunities presented by our “new normal.” Just try a few of the approaches, iterate on them, and add more when you are ready. The AT&ID team is here every step of the way, so let us know if you have any questions.
The analysis phase clarifies the instructional problems and objectives, and identifies the learning environment and learner’s existing knowledge and skills.
One of the foundations of course design is the Backward Design Approach. By starting with the desired learning outcomes, you can ensure that all of the content, assessments, and discussion are relevant and in service of your teaching goals.
If content is organized well, with consistent due dates and workflows from week to week, students will be more able to focus on learning rather than the logistics. Online learners have to be more self-motivated; minimizing confusion and setting clear expectations helps.
Students should have no doubts of what the learning outcomes are, how the assessments will measure their learning, and how they will be graded. Make sure your students know how you’ll contact them and when and how they can reach you. You likely already keep a schedule for office hours; you should also structure time for your presence in the online community and times that you will grade and return their submissions.
The design phase deals with learning objectives, assessment instruments, exercises, content, subject matter analysis, lesson planning, and media selection.
Every student should feel like they belong in your course. Is the diversity of your students represented in your content and discussions? Something as simple as making sure that imagery represents students of all races and backgrounds can leave a profound first impression.
Keep your content in small chunks. This applies to learning modules, videos, and assessments. The longer any one item is, the less likely it is consumed and the less is retained from it. Research has shown that student attention span lessens in the online environment.
Consider moving some of your lecture content to asynchronous, and using live classrooms for discussion and to build community. Asynchronous learning is more learner-centered, while it can also leave students feeling more isolated. Balance is key.
Don’t put everything on yourself. Find and use content that is available. Incorporate guest speakers – online courses make it much easier to have guest speakers from all over the world. Create only the content that is unique and original. This whole web page is a prime example of creation and curation!
Speaking of curation, librarians support tasks related to research, reference, and collection development in online education. Uniquely qualified to teach information and digital literacy and source evaluation, the librarian can improve academic performance in online research and enhance the online learning experience. The librarian also provides options for dynamic content, open educational resources, and avoiding copyright issues. Research courses may feature an online library guide of custom resources for your class and research projects.
In the development phase, instructional designers and developers create and assemble content assets described in the design phase.
Pique your students’ curiosity. Tell a story in each video or arc a narrative throughout your course. Stories help us find and share meaning. You already do this in your classroom!
We all have our favorite tools for document collaboration, communication, and conferencing. Institutions like JHU have gone through comprehensive, inclusive processes to select the best ones for their environments. Further, no systems are perfect, but because these are provided at the enterprise level, your students will never have to remember more than one login or user interface. The best approach is to squeeze all the value and innovation you can out of the tools available.
As will be addressed further down this page, if faculty all normalize on the enterprise tools, the students only have to learn those tools. One of the keys to online learning is to reduce technological friction as much and as soon as possible, so the students can focus on learning.
There are many tools and methods out there to create original content on any budget. Be creative and have fun – your students will notice!
The implementation phase includes the actual delivery of the course, from content to assessment.
Coordinate with colleagues and learning professionals and use the same systems to decrease the cognitive load on students of using different system for everything. You may have favorite tools you like to use, but if every faculty member does that, imagine the student experience! Use supported tools, so students don’t have to figure out new ones for each class or log in to a variety of different tools.
It is also important to remember that students go home to a variety of circumstances and environments. Understanding that and being flexible is not only kind, but also equitable.
Perhaps allow students to choose between written papers and video submissions. Or perhaps students could build infographics or produce a podcast that provide different ways of working with and processing the content. In addition to providing multiple ways for learners to demonstrate mastery, it will cut down on the number of papers you have to grade.
Students need formative opportunities to practice with new concepts and skills. Be sure to include a feedback loop that lets students know how they are doing before big graded items are submitted.
The evaluation phase consists of two aspects: formative and summative assessment. In the former, students are surveyed and assessed early and often to make sure they, and the course, are on track. In the latter, feedback from throughout and following the course is incorporated into an iterative process. Often, after the evaluate phase one would loop back to the beginning of the ADDIE process and repeat it.
Don’t wait until the end of the semester to gather student feedback. Work with your students a few weeks into the course to see how things are going, what the pain points are, and what could be better.
Don’t get discouraged! Teaching online is hard, especially when it is new to you. Try to remember that if you’re frustrated, you’re learning (just like your students!). Failures don’t always mean your approaches won’t work; they often mean you need to evaluate, iterate, and try again.
Outside of these specific tips, any existing and new courses and resources are out there for you to explore. These are just a few of the complete resources that you might find useful.
Now is the time to move from emergency response to thoughtful innovation. This list of tips can be overwhelming. We can’t say it enough – just try a few of the approaches, iterate on them, and add more when you are ready. The AT&ID team is here every step of the way, so let us know if you have any questions.