IMPORTANT TIPS FOR DEVELOPING A QUALITY ONLINE COURSE
Quality online courses provide scaffolding for multiple learning styles and promote higher level thinking. Quality online courses emphasize individual and social learning, incorporate diverse media formats, reflect both richness and simplicity in organization and presentation, model instructor expectations for student work, and place a high level of worth in student-instructor and student-student interaction.
This webpage offers NCTC faculty useful pedagogical, technical, and process-related information relevant to quality online course development. It is a start-point for thinking about specific tasks and ingredients needed to create a quality online course. This information is derived from many years of online and hybrid course development experience, as well as broad-based scholarly and professional research. See the Resources section below for additional information.
Cognitive, behavioral, and social learning should all be acknowledged when developing an online course. Encourage student reflection by way of independent and group-oriented writing activities. Enable social interaction through synchronous and asynchronous activities, like real-time interviews with external content matter experts and discussion postings about case study questions. Avoid information overload by presenting learning content via concise modules that build upon one another. Follow the 7 (+/- 2) chunks of information rule. It is important to remember that online learning is by its very nature active, that is, it requires the learner take responsibility for his or her learning. Therefore, assign experiential learning activities, such as field observations and journals for metacognitive reflection.
Student-instructor interaction is a major factor influencing student satisfaction with online courses. If consistent, meaningful, and timely instructor feedback is not present, students tend to rate the learning experience low. Therefore, rapport building is an important component to meaningful student-instructor discourse. Frequent real-time dialogue, early in the semester, is more likely to generate meaningful rapport and ultimately student satisfaction with the course. Use such dialogue to identify and cultivate real-life context. Determine where student interests intersect with the course content, then use those interests in activities that promote higher level thinking.
Ease-of-use is vital to a quality online course. Organize content around a simple navigation structure. The furthest any content should be is no more than three (3) mouse clicks from the homepage. Make sure that design elements, like fonts and font colors, are consistent, do not distract, or pose a potential accessibility issue. The focal point for
each page should be the information conveyed, and NOT supporting
materials like inspirational images or other items that redirect attention. Moreover, inconsistent font types, whether on the same page or across an entire course, look unprofessional and suggest to students that attention to detail is low priority. Model the correct behavior, like respectful online dialogue, and expected outcomes, such as quality of work submitted, at every level of the course. Select deliberate and straightforward icons, and assign clear content titles, like Module 1: Quiz 2. Make sure due dates are clearly listed, and if possible, in multiple locations. Repetition can save both the student and instructor frustration in the long run.
Technology can be a wonderful tool to support meaningful learning; however, it can also, when applied incorrectly or excessively, impede or confuse student learning. When developing a course, ask yourself, "Are simpler tools available that would satisfy student technology expectations?" It is important to remember that if students do not perceive a particular technology to be useful it may very well impede learning. Ultimately, deploy the appropriate tool for the activity; do not design an activity after selecting the tool.
Power Point presentations are a common delivery method for online instructors; however, without a speaker they are often too vague for meaningful learning. Use various multimedia tools, like the narration feature in Microsoft Office 2010, to provide that needed layer of personalization. Creating Flash-based interactions that incorporate Power Point presentations, or adding pop quizzes to streaming video clips are all possible. Contact the eLearning Department for more information on developing interactive learning content.
Course Development Process
New NCTC online faculty must complete a training series to be certified to teach online. Course development cannot begin until the certification process is successfully complete. Please contact the eLearning Department for more details on the certification process.
The course development process spans 12 to 18 months. Target completion of the initial course version for the end of the first six to nine months, allowing the second half of the process to focus on review and revision. Simply migrating content online that is used to support face-to-face instruction, like Power Point presentations and reading assignments, DOES NOT ALONE make a quality online course. Additionally, a midpoint progress evaluation is performed during the development process. If a course is not to the appropriate development stage, it is canceled or put on hold for a future semester. Any course not developed and meeting final approval by the first day of early registration for the appropriate semester is dropped from the schedule.
All new online courses must successfully complete the peer review process before launch. The peer review process is necessary to ensure that NCTC students are offered only high quality online courses. The peer review process usually spans 2-3 months. Meet regularly with your assigned instructional designer leading up to peer review. He or she is responsible for supporting you throughout the course development process, including pedagogical, technical, and logistical assistance. eLearning staff recognize that faculty perceptions of the development experience influence subsequent participation and advocacy for online learning at NCTC.
Do not procrastinate on a course development project, as the course may be canceled or put on hold if appropriate progress is not evident. Procrastination also leads to peer review backlog, placing additional burden on other faculty and staff. It may leave development work to complete after semester startup as well, thus drawing instructor attention away from student learning. Visible errors also model student expectations of quality. For example, a student asks his or her online instructor, "Why did you take points off my paper for misspelling words when there are misspelled words in our Syllabus?"
See the Faculty Resources page for more information related to online course development.
Deubel, P. (2003). Learning from reflections - Issues in building quality online courses.Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 6(3). Retrieved February 14, 2011, from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall63/deubel63.htm
Jones, J. G., Warren, S. J., & Robertson, M. J. (2009). Increasing student discourse to support rapport building in web and blended courses using a 3D Online Learning Environment. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 20(3), 269-294.
Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63(2), 343–355.
Nielsen, J. (na). Writing for the Web. Retrieved June 16, 2011, from http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/
Shaprio, A. (2011). Focus on instructional design: What elements to include in a quality online course [Webinar]. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from http://www.itcnetwork.org/
Swineburne University of Technology. (na). Swineburne multimedia design tutorials: Basic design principles. Retrieved February 14, 2011, from http://www.swinburne.edu.au/design/tutorials/design/design/
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2011). Professional development modules. Retrieved February 15, 2011, from http://www.txprofdev.org/