How can faculty design their online courses?
Page 5: Content
So you’re converting a face-to-face course to an online one. You might be tempted to think you already have the content you’ll need. And why not? After all, that was enough for your face-to-face course, wasn’t it?
Not so fast. Online teaching requires you to curate content and instructional materials a bit differently to fit your course’s new virtual format. Never fear. Take a breath. We are going to walk you through everything you need to do.
First, your materials have to communicate enough information, explanation, and demonstration, in both written and visual forms, if students are to successfully reach the learning outcomes you’ve created for them.
This might seem daunting, but let’s take it step-by-step.
Identify the Content
Following the principles of backward design, once you have identified your course’s learning activities, you need to select its content. This includes not only textbooks and other reading matter but also resources you’ll deliver synchronously or asynchronously, like videos, interactive resources, or even IRIS Modules.
What should that content look like? What should it accomplish? Primarily, it must be the instrument through which students complete activities. It’s also the basis for the assessments you’ve chosen to substantiate your learning goals throughout the semester. As you think about what content to cover, consider the following:
- Narrow It. Let’s face it, you will often accrue more content than you can realistically cover in your online course. This is not unusual. In an in-person course, you would simply adjust this on-the-fly, adapting your lesson plan to the ebb-and-flow of the semester. However, in a virtual environment you might spend a good deal of time front-loading a presentation of this information, pre-recording video and audio clips or creating other resources. This is a “sunk cost,” time you spend doing one thing when you might be doing another, more meaningful or valuable, thing. Before you take on this task, sort through your content and identify that which is most important, as well that which is more peripheral to your learning outcomes. As an educator, it can sometimes be difficult to separate critical content from that which is interesting and engaging but not indispensable to your goals. However, by following this step, you will more easily keep the scope of the course manageable while ensuring that the knowledge students need is highlighted.
- Mind the Gap(s). Okay, so you’ve identified the most important content. Now take some time to seek out possible areas of ambiguity or potential confusion. Let’s think of these as the “grey areas” that you address more-or-less simply during in-person class sessions but which might be exacerbated and magnified in virtual ones. Consider what content in your lessons might necessitate further description, explanation, or clarification. Even something as simple as a FAQ or list of key vocabulary terms posted to your course’s LMS can help alleviate some of these issues. It’s front-loaded effort that will save you time later.
Identify Instructional Materials
In your face-to-face course, content includes text materials, videos, audios, and interactive resources. It is important that online courses incorporate a variety of resource types to maximize students’:
- Learning: Think about what materials and resources are best suited to present the content and help students achieve your course’s goals and learning objectives.
- Engagement: As would any of us, students will find some content interesting or engaging, other content less so. In the context of an in-person course, these issues can be minimized through lively discussion and debate, something that is more difficult when mitigated by a computer screen. Consider offering a larger-than-usual number of content selections so that your students have more to choose from and thus more that they might find appealing and edifying.
For each type of resource you use, you should consider issues such as whether it is accessible to students or if there are any copyright issues that apply. Click on each of the following for tips.
- When conducting an Internet image search, use the available tools to filter the images by usage rights. Select images that allow free use (e.g., “noncommercial reuse,” “free to share and use”).
- Choose pictures or graphics that are uncluttered and clear.
- Provide brief text descriptions of content presented within images (i.e., alt-text).
- Add explanatory audio to diagrams or graphs to increase accessibility or highlight key information.
Digging Deeper: Videos and PowerPoints
- Making Your Own Videos Indiana University/UC Davis
- Using PowerPoint Online: Guidelines and Best Practices (v.3.2) Indiana University
- To maintain student engagement, keep videos to no longer than six minutes.
- Help yourself stay on topic by using a script when creating a video.
- Caption your videos to increase accessibility for students with auditory disabilities.
- Narrate as much visual content as feasible when you create videos to increase accessibility for students with visual disabilities.
Digging Deeper: Text
- Understanding Document Accessibility Ryerson University, The Chang School
- Make Your Word Documents Accessible to People with Disabilities Microsoft
- Share Word or accessible PDF files (rather than scanned copies) to increase access for students who use assistive software.
- Use a readability checker to identify text that is at a higher level than your students’ reading abilities.
- Share information via audio. Some students prefer to listen to content and could do so while engaging in other activities like commuting or working out. Students with print disabilities may also prefer an audio presentation.
- Speaking of audio, before recording consider typing out a script. This will help you minimize “ums,” “uhs,” and awkward pauses while speaking. Likewise avoid unconscious tapping or other noises while recording.
- Make available transcripts of audio content to all students.
When you curate content, it is safer to err on the side of caution and assume that all resources on the Internet are copyright protected. You need to determine whether you can legally use existing online resources in your course. In certain cases, citing the source correctly or linking to the original source will be sufficient.
Digging Deeper: Copyright and Fair Use
- Even more than usual, given the circumstances, it is important to make certain that you have the appropriate rights and permissions to use outside resources, particularly (but not exclusively) digital ones.
- Works in the public domain (for example, those made available by the U.S. government by the Library of Congress or the National Archives) can typically be used freely so long as they are appropriately cited.
- Media and resources that are published under Creative Commons (CC) licenses have a spectrum of conditions to take into account before you use them. Some can be freely adapted and published, others are more restricted. It is very important that you read and understand the license before making use of or adapting any work for your courses in advance. Trust us, it will save you headaches later.
- So-called “fair-use” content is a more complicated—and contentious—matter. At IRIS, we recommend you avoid using or adapting content that is under commercial copyright. What you regard as “fair use” (a few seconds of a popular song, a clip from a film or documentary) might not necessarily be what the rights-holder considers “fair use.” Forewarned is forearmed. The last thing you want is to have to redevelop resources in the middle of a busy semester.
- If you are directing students to an original source (e.g., a YouTube video, a journal article) but not copying or restructuring that resource in any way, you do not need to seek permission to use it. However, you must make certain that the link you are sending your students to has been made available by a valid rights-holder. Sources like YouTube are positively overflowing with content that does not legally belong to the posting account. You do not want to direct your students to a resource that has been removed due to a “copyright strike.” That will just make more work for you when you can least afford it.
When choosing content for your online course, you should consider the following:
- Does the content address the learning outcomes?
- Have you eliminated everything that is unnecessary or trivial?
- Does the content align with your planned learning activities and assessments?
- What types of content is included?
- Are you leveraging multiple types of content?
- Is the resource legal to use?
- Is the content accessible for students with disabilities?
- If not, what sort of accommodation will you need to make?
Questions adapted from the Indiana University/University of California, Davis, course module series.
For Your Information
It’s often easier to use existing instructional materials than to create your own. For a list of video, image, audio, and course material repositories that you might find helpful when searching for content sources, view Exploring New Content Sources.
- Remember to curate content in a variety of formats (e.g., audio, video, text) that can be accessed in relatively short timeframes (e.g., 10–20 minutes).
- “Chunk” the delivery of the content in similarly short segments.
In this interview, Joe Bandy provides data on student attention and video length to help you plan your asynchronous lecture capture content delivery (time: 1:44).
Joe Bandy, PhD
Assistant Director, Center for Teaching
During her summer course, Adriane Seiffert divided her two-hour daily synchronous sessions into a series of short segments (e.g., 10-20 minutes) that involved both synchronous and asynchronous activities (something she refers to as near synchronous). Listen as Adriane Seiffert discusses how she developed this schedule, students’ reactions to these sessions, and potential changes that she’ll make to her fall course.
Adriane E. Seiffert, PhD
Senior Lecturer and Research
Assistant Professor of Psychology
PSY 1200: General Psychology
Course Schedule for July 13
Before class: Watch lecture video: Set 4 Module 10 Video 1: Behavioral Genetics (21 min)
|10:00 – 10:20||Zoom discussion of genetic influences|
|10:20 – 10:40||Watch lecture video: Set 4 Module 11 Video 1: Evolutionary Psychology (16 min)|
|10:40 – 10:50||Zoom discussion of Evolutionary Psychology|
|10:50 – 11:05||Watch lecture video: Set 4 Module 12 Video 1: Environmental Influences (11 min)|
|11:05 – 11:20||Zoom discussion and Survey: Describing Genetic and Environmental Influences|
|11:20 – 11:40||Watch lecture video: Set 4 Module 12 Video 2: Cultural Influences|
|11:40 – 11:50||Post on Discussion forum: Recognizing cultural influences|
|11:50 – 12 noon||Zoom wrap up — Reminder that Article Summary is due tomorrow|
After class: Watch “Developmental Psychology” Video for Set 5, before class tomorrow (10 min)
Example Course Development Plan: Content
Begin curating content for your online course.
- Starting with the course goal and learning objectives that you’ve identified, choose content to include in your course to support students’ learning. (Note: You might find it easier to complete this activity and the activity on Page 4 at the same time.) Continue using the template that you downloaded from Page 2 and on which you entered your course goals, learning objectives, and assessments.
- Make sure your content choices consider the following factors:
- Is the content critical to meeting the learning outcomes?
- What types of content will you include?
- Is the content accessible for students with disabilities?