Eight Ways to Clean Up Your Courses

By Christine Voelker, K-12 Program Director for Quality Matters

making-online-course-AdobeStock_91384848.pngTabitha Jones is a phenomenal U.S. History teacher, one of the best in the area. Makes perfect sense that she’s been tapped to create the first online course in U.S. History for her district. Tabitha has never designed an online class, but she’s excited for the opportunities this presents and eager to bring online learning to her students.

At Quality Matters, we hear stories like this all the time. District leadership asks a teacher to develop an online course AND have it ready before the start of the next school year. Panic quickly sets in.

Teachers like Tabitha who are new to online learning don’t need to feel alone. Additionally, seasoned online teachers who are just wrapping up their courses for the year have the perfect opportunity to do some course quality clean up and other adjustments while they’re still fresh. Tools, guidelines and support are just a website away!

Ask yourself:

  1. What worked really well this year?
  2. Where did students struggle?
  3. Are there opportunities to clean up courses and ensure students’ success next year?

Since 2003, QM has helped hundreds of people design and improve their online courses through a series of professional development offerings using design standards from our K-12 Secondary Rubric. You can learn about making a smooth transition to online learning and designing quality courses in workshops like:

The Rubric provides a common language to discuss online learning with others in our community. Well-designed online and blended courses ensure that students know how to “get started” by offering explicit instructions, providing learner support and ensuring the courses are accessible. In addition, courses that have assessments, instructional materials, interactions and technology aligned to measurable learning objectives help increase student engagement and promote learning.

Here are 8 quick tips to think about when designing or improving your online course:

1. Set goals for the course

Make sure expectations are clear and ground rules for behavior and learning are easy to find. Introduce yourself to the class and outline your expectations. Make sure students know how to respond to one another in class forums or discussions and the best way to ask questions (e-mail, course software, etc.).

2. Provide clear, detailed instructions

Provide instructions in clear, simple language, before the course begins. This will start you and your students off on the right foot and help the students become engaged in the material.

3. Make sure your learning objectives are front and center

Students should know what they’ll be able to do when the course is complete at the BEGINNING of the course. They should know WHY materials and activities are included in the course. Activities should help them master/meet course learning objectives. Outcomes should be relevant, measurable and on grade level.

4. Create or update assessments that measure course learning objectives

Assessments should help you and your students know and measure learning. Technology can help create a flexible plan to measure student progress and accommodate different learning styles. Virtual presentations, digital collages and video are just some of the ways to leverage technology in student assessment.

5. Engage the students with active learning

Leverage set skills goals such as working in groups, developing quantitative skills or improve writing skills. Design the course to create community.

6. Use technology for good

Technology offers the opportunity to create new methods of instruction. Make sure the latest and greatest application helps your students to engage with the materials actively so they can master the learning objectives.

7. Create a relationship with the students

A real, meaningful teacher-student relationship is possible in the online setting. Online courses should be filled with vibrant conversation (in-class discussion forums or private social networking groups), hands-on projects (perhaps captured on video) and student collaboration. Participation should be required so no student falls through the cracks.

8. Design the course for all your students

There are lots of tools out there to help design alternative ways to access course information for students with auditory and visual accommodations. Research the types of assistive technology out there. Making your courses easy to easy to read helps all students. Quality Matters has a professional development workshop focused on accessibility you can take. The goal should be that learning online is attainable for everyone.

It’s not too late to start thinking about how to design or improve your courses for next year. Implementing these tips can make it easier for individuals, districts and organizations to create their own courses. The beauty and challenge of an online course is the entire course must be designed and built before the beginning of the year. You’ll have to outline and detail your goals and course plan at the beginning of the process. Quality Matters can be with you every step of the way. Get started with us now!