Since March of 2020, as you might imagine, I’ve met with many instructors who taught online for the first time. Many of them wanted to know where to begin. What are the fundamentals? How do we begin to deliver an effective course? My advice wasn’t about Zoom, course lecture videos, fancy tools, or anything tech related. Good course design starts with providing structure to the students. And assessing the quality of that structure is evaluated by one factor: its consistency.
Sometimes, the biggest challenge for a student is not related to the course material itself, but can include:
how to find the material they need to learn and complete
understanding their responsibilities, such as what topics need to be reviewed on a given day and when assignments are due
how to navigate the course’s website
where to receive communication from the instructor
Inconsistent design can lead to more focus on getting reoriented day-to-day, week-to-week, as the course moves along instead of remaining focused on learning and performing. This is often a student’s most critical complaint of a course, especially for an online course.
So how does this relate to a course’s design? Consistency in course design can be related to:
the way an online course looks and functions. Example: how a course website is organized and how to navigate through it
how course materials (notes, slide decks, videos, etc.) are distributed and where they can be found. This is important regardless of the class being delivered on-campus or online
how responsibilities and course updates are communicated, and how that communication is to be received. Example: verbally spoken updates at the beginning of a lecture or written updates sent via email at the beginning of each week
how assignments are submitted. Example: always through a course website dropbox in the assignments area, or always hand to the instructor in person; never via email or left with a TA
A course does not have to be the most efficiently organized or have the best-looking website as long as it looks, functions, and maintains the same experience for the duration the students are completing the course. As the saying goes, “consistency is key”. The sooner the students learn how to navigate the course and understand your course procedure, online or on-ground, the sooner they focus on learning and performing.
There are many different styles your course can be designed, so long as your style stays the same, especially as it pertains to:
how student responsibilities are communicated and displayed
how course material is distributed, presented, and where to find it
how to complete and submit assessments
Students distracted and frustrated with adjusting to the inevitable changes of an inconsistent design are less focused on learning the material. They become more focused on “surviving” the class than performing well. Consistency in course design creates symmetry and harmony. The student is left with more energy and focus to apply directly towards doing well in the course and retaining what they have learned beyond the end of the semester.
In addition to the benefits students receive, faculty and staff also benefit from consistent course design:
well-designed/consistent courses are easy to edit and maintain
faculty become familiar with their courses; can more easily assist students with course procedure and navigation
areas of needed improvement are easy to identify
These same benefits to students and faculty are applicable when consistency is also applied to lecture delivery and assignment design. Semester to semester, the course gets better and is eventually perfected.
Academic integrity is a hot topic for many professors. How can you ensure that your students are submitting honest work? While there is no way to completely eradicate cheating, there are ways you can mitigate it. First, it is important to understand why students cheat. The reasons vary widely but some of the most prominent ones are a desire to get a good grade, fear of failing, poor time management, or a lack of interest in the assignment itself. Here are some ways you can combat cheating in your courses:
Design your course in a way that supports students and minimizes the need to cheat. You can do this by letting your students know of your expectations upfront, giving them plenty of time and information to complete assignments, supporting them with any questions they may have, and not setting the stakes too high for any one assignment. Make sure to continuously update your course content as well, rotate assignments and make them more personal. Updating your assignments to suit the current social contexts makes the course more relatable to the student.
Make sure you are present and communicating clearly with your students. Ensure they feel comfortable communicating with you by establishing a sense of community in your class. This will allow them to reach out to you freely about any concerns they may have over assignments. Remember that they may be encountering stressors in their personal lives so it's important to support them as much as possible. Remind them of assignment dates, encourage them to start early, and tell them why (Keeter, n.d.).
Utilize technology. There is an assessment security section in Blackboard that allows you to enable tools such as Respondus (proctor) and SafeAssign (plagiarism). These tools will help minimize cheating.
Include an academic integrity section in your syllabus to ensure that you and your students are one the same page and that there’s no confusion on what type of behavior is considered to be cheating in the course.
Monitor course material sharing sites or “study sites” such as Course Hero for your materials, exams, and assignments. Issue a take down notice if you find them. Changing your materials periodically will help to reduce this problem.
Compare a student’s “voice” on their writing assignment with the emails they send you. If you notice any discrepancies, make sure to monitor the assignment more closely (John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, n.d.).
Utilize the Blackboard exam settings to your advantage. You can edit the test options of your exam settings to impose a timer, make it so the student has to complete the exam in one sitting, randomize questions, and more.
All of these options can help combat cheating in your courses.
It’s incredible to see how visual design can affect the efficiency of learning within a course and motivate students to login regularly to complete their learning activities. Here are 8 tips for incorporating great visual design into your courses.
Taking Joel Schwartzberg's original article on virtual meetings, the HBR editors have swapped meetings for classrooms and attendees for students because the same problems exist. These tips are a must read!
A popular summit with faculty around the globe who teach hybrid and online. ASU's Remote Summit is held annually in June. Registration and attendance is free. Highly recommended if you teach online or hybrid.
Better Teaching Series
In this session, we will discuss creating an effective learning environment designed to challenge and engage your students.
Led by Instructional Designer, Cate Dowman this virtual event is part of the Distance Learning Institute’s ongoing series, EdTech Café. This series occurs every third Wednesday & Thursday of the month to assist the University of Miami faculty in creating successful, engaging courses.