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Organization and consistency are two of the most important aspects of the learning experience in an online course to enable students to routinely access course materials and anticipate where to find new course materials as they become available.
To facilitate organization, every online course at UMass Boston starts with the same course template designed by our instructional designers. Using the template will give you a solid foundation for building your course.
Managing expectations is a critical part of online teaching. Even though online courses are available 24/7, allowing learners to choose when they do course work, the instructor is the one who controls the pace of the course. This helps students plan their course work ahead of time and anticipate how the course will progress. The instructor also needs to make clear when they will participate in the course.
The norm for online courses is to run by week, from Monday morning to Sunday evening. However, whenever possible, the content for the upcoming week should be available to students the Friday before. Learners often require more than a few days reading and deconstructing the content before beginning assignments, especially if the students also are employed full time. Assignments become available for students to begin work on Monday morning (or Sunday evening). Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday is a great block of time for students to find the content, read, watch or listen and start posting in discussions. Thursday and Friday are for orientation to tools, quizzes, practicing or starting group work. The weekends are where the heavy work of assignments and projects are accomplished.
Throughout the week a stream of dialog should be taking place, so that the students and instructor are present in the course.
It’s important to set time and a pace for your instructor tasks as well during the week. Maybe Mondays are for announcements, Tuesdays for prepping the next week’s content, Wednesdays for office hours and Thursdays for grading and feedback. Maintaining a regular schedule during the week helps with easier management of student work and keeps you from falling behind.
Consider each major assessment and assignment that you plan to implement in the course: what are the prerequisite skills necessary for students to have in order to be successful? If you can reasonably assume that some students will not have mastered any one of those skills, then you will want to scaffold those skills into your course.
Repetition helps reinforce learning and associate previous knowledge to new concepts. In face-to-face courses, instructors often repeat key information without much thought. In an online course, repetition must be deliberate and systematic. Sending announcements at the beginning of every week is a good way to summarize course activities and learning milestones, and announcements can also be a reminder of upcoming deadlines. Repetition also helps to establish instructor presence.
In the context of online education, scaffolding refers to supporting learning from novice to expertise and providing ample time for students to orient themselves with technology that they are expected to use in the course before being assessed using those tools. Come up with formative assignments or learning experiences that can be purposefully implemented throughout the course to prepare learners for success on major assignments and assessments.