How can faculty deliver and refine their online courses?
Page 7: Final Adjustments and Ongoing Revisions
The information on this page was developed for use in the Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching Online Course Development Institute and adapted by the IRIS Center.
Now that you have learned about the major parts of designing and teaching an online or hybrid course, there are a few more things you are going to want to keep in mind. Once you have built the course, you should perform a final review to make sure it is ready and then share it with your students. As with every course you teach, you will want to keep track of what works well and where you can make improvements. Again, always remember that designing an online course is an iterative process—you are not expected to get it perfect from the start. If something doesn’t work—or doesn’t work how or as well as you expected it to—it’s okay to try something else.
Make Final Adjustments and Share with Students
Before the course begins, take some time to review the course as a whole, as well as to test and fine-tune the core elements.
Once you have developed the major elements of your online course, you should examine it to see what’s working well and what needs to be strengthened. To do so, you will need to conduct an overall review of the course and make whatever adjustments are necessary. You can do this using three different, but related, lenses:
- Alignment: Make sure that there is alignment among the course goals and learning objectives, assessments, learning activities, and content. In other words, acquisition of the course goals and learning objectives are verified by the assessments, which are supported by the learning activities, which are guided by the content.
- Community of Inquiry Elements (COI): Make sure you have incorporated cognitive, teacher, and social presence by including opportunities in every module for students to engage with the content, with you, and with each other. To review the elements of COI, visit Page 4.
- Equity and Inclusion: Make sure that the course includes mechanisms to create an inclusive and equitable learning environment. This includes accounting for differences in student’s cultural and linguistic backgrounds, abilities and disabilities, and access to technology and other resources.
Several weeks before you make the course available to your students, there are a few actions you can perform to test and fine-tune your course.
- Proofread and edit top to bottom. Check visual appeal, look for grammar errors, and clarify instructions that students might find confusing. Colleagues or teaching assistants can be especially helpful during this process to point out when instructions or course organization are unclear.
- Time yourself working through a module from beginning to end. Check to make sure the amount of time it takes to work through each module aligns with your expectations. Typically, students will take about two to three times as long to work through each module as you do.
- Double check dates and restrictions. For each module, make sure due dates have been assigned and that all materials and assignments are visible. You might want to check your LMS to see whether you can pre-program these dates. If you are using groups, 1) make sure that all students are assigned to a group and 2) make certain that group discussions or assignments are set up appropriately.
- Set up and schedule automated announcements. If you are sending out frequent announcements (e.g., weekly, bi-weekly), consider pre-loading and scheduling as many as you can.
- Test your digital tools. Make sure that your digital tools are working as expected. Additionally, check the instructions for using the tools provided for students to ensure that they are clear and accurate. It might be helpful to ask a colleague, teaching assistant, or a student to perform a task using your instructions to identify any issues.
- Upload finalized syllabus and welcome message. Make sure that any changes you make in the online course are reflected in your syllabus. Upload the final syllabus along with a message to welcome students to the course.
- Schedule time to respond to discussion board posts. Monitoring discussion boards can consume hours of your time. To make this task more manageable, set a consistent time each day or several times a week to read the latest discussion posts and to offer feedback. Also, set a time limit for the amount of time you will spend on this task (e.g., 20 minutes) and the maximum number of responses you will add each time you check in (e.g., 2-3 posts). Alternatively, respond only to posts in which students specifically ask you questions.
- Establish a timeframe for responding to student questions. Commit to a set timeframe (e.g., within 24 or 48 business hours) to respond to student emails. Be sure to schedule time to do so in your calendar to make sure you don’t find yourself responding to student questions and concerns at all hours of the day and night. Also, make sure to communicate this timeframe to your students (e.g., in your welcome message).
A few days before the course begins:
- Make your course active. This gives students the opportunity to become familiar with the structure, read the welcome message and the syllabus, and hopefully start exploring the first module.
- Establish social presence. Introduce yourself on a discussion board or other interactive space and encourage students to introduce themselves.
Teach the Course
As you teach your online course, there are a couple of actions you can take to improve learning outcomes for current and future students. By collecting data, you can identify the strengths of the course and where you can make adjustments. You can also support your students by maintaining teacher presence and student engagement.
Now that your online course is up and running, you should monitor your teaching with an eye toward making improvements. Fortunately, online courses allow you to build in tools and collect data to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your design. Following are four ways to do so. (Note that the first three have to be intentionally included in the design so that the data will be available for use in subsequent analyses.)
Item analysis for quizzes and rubrics. Item analysis is the process of identifying patterns in student performance on assessments and then determining what those patterns say about the assessment instruments. Item analysis can be a good way to start the course-revision process. In some LMSs, statistics about student performance are built into the assessment tools and learning activities. Click here for examples.
Digging Deeper: Student Feedback
The resources below were developed by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching.
Student feedback. Although student feedback on end-of-term course evaluations can be useful for revising a course for the future, feedback during the semester will allow you to make changes that will benefit your current students. Following are several ways to collect this type of feedback.
Click Tracking. In some LMSs, instructors can collect data on the course links that students are utilizing. Depending on your LMS, this feature may be automatic or it may need to be turned on or enabled. This allows instructors and students to see what materials students have clicked on and when. If students are not responding to certain topics or types of activities at the same level as others, you may want to rethink those learning opportunities, provide more scaffolds, or review their alignment with course goals or learning objectives.
Instructor Field Notes. Taking notes about your experiences while they are still fresh can help you make data-informed decisions about adjustments to your future course design. To get started, record information about the following:
- Amount of time you spent preparing and grading
- Items or activities that were hard, confusing, or just not worth the effort
- Where you felt time was wasted and how to make teaching this course more efficient
- Items or activities that the students complained about, experienced difficulty, or needed support
- Elements that were fun, as well as those that were not
- Whether students demonstrated that they met the course goals and module learning objectives
A frequent challenge of online teaching is maintaining a high level of teacher-student engagement. As you teach your course, be sure to keep close track of the ways in which you are available for and interact with your students. Below are some suggested ways to maintain or increase the amount of teacher presence in your course.
Create a summary of a discussion that highlights well-done student posts. Share your summary in the discussion board or during the next live synchronous meeting.
- Consistently check into the interactive asynchronous parts of your course. If you didn’t schedule a time to respond to discussion board posts prior to the beginning of class, be sure to set a consistent time to do so.
- Respond to student emails. Again, if you didn’t communicate a plan for responding to emails prior to or at the beginning of the course, it is recommended that you do so.
- Provide timely, focused, personalized feedback on student work. Offering quick feedback will help prevent your students from feeling they are alone in the course. To speed up how quickly you can offer feedback, you may want to:
- Limit feedback to areas directly connected to course learning goals.
- Use video and audio feedback tools to speak directly to students as you review their work.
- Pre-load common feedback into a rubric so all you have to do is click on the correct level, and students will get your feedback automatically.
- Offer feedback in two phases. As soon as work is submitted, offer a short response with general comments. Later, when time allows, provide a more detailed evaluation and notes. If you use this strategy, make sure students understand that feedback comes in two phases and what they should expect in each.
Digging Deeper: Synchronous Meetings
- Teaching an Online Synchronous Session Boston College, Center for Teaching Excellence
- Facilitate focused synchronous meetings. If the synchronous portion of your course includes video conferencing:
- Make sure you are familiar with the controls on your video conferencing platform and be prepared to use the security features in the event that uninvited or misbehaving participants join your meeting.
- Prior to the meeting, provide an agenda and guidelines for students related to expectations for participation.
- Make sure students stay engaged. Class progress tools (e.g., Intelligent Agent in Brightspace) can help automate some of the labor of tracking student engagement. A quick scan of the data provided by the tool can provide useful information about which students are not engaging with the content or other tools. However, there is no substitute for old-fashioned human contact. Holding office hours and reaching out to students who have fallen out of touch can be powerful.
After the course ends, take some time to reflect on the course as a whole. Review the notes and data you collected throughout the course. Keep the following in mind when you evaluate and revise your course.
- Make changes to the course, but not too many changes! Remember that developing an online course is an iterative process. As you evaluate and revise your course it will improve incrementally over time. There is no need to pressure yourself into doing it all at once. Make as many minor edits or changes as you like, but limit yourself to no more than three major changes to the course before you teach it again.
- Seek out new tools and resources. Immediately after teaching your course, consider what new knowledge, skills, or technology you will need to acquire in order to teach this course again. Then, choose one or two of the most important skills to focus on and improve. Seek out professional development, expert advice, or other types of support to foster this learning.
- Visit other courses and “borrow” good ideas. To improve your course, view other online courses and apply the features that you like to your own. Consider arranging a course exchange with a group of colleagues where you invite each other to visit all of the courses in the group.