Best Practices in Online Course Design by Diana Moore, Ed.S.

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1 Best Practices in Online Course Design by Diana Moore, Ed.S. The following is intended to serve as a guide to the development of online courses. These guidelines 1 have been developed from a review of best practices within the field of online education and distance learning and align with the Quality Matters Rubric Standards 2. They are designed primarily to present information that will assist faculty in the development of exceptional online courses in order to further the mission of their college. INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN 1. Course Goals and General Structure a. State course goals and learning outcomes explicitly. i. Learning outcomes are active, observable and measurable. ii. They indicate what a student should be able to do as a result of having taken your course. iii. They are written with active verbs, generally at the critical thinking level, such as: Students will analyze/synthesize/evaluate/create. iv. They must be observable: Student will evaluate the effects of X on Y by writing. b. Align course content clearly with stated goals and objectives. c. Sequence course content in a clear, concise and logical manner. d. Present expectations clearly. i. Since online courses generally have less opportunity for faculty-student interaction, expectations for how to succeed in the course, how grades will be determined, what it means to participate, and course policies and procedures need to be spelled out very carefully and as explicitly as possible. e. Ensure that student support services and technology help resources are clearly located and accessible. 2. Course Content a. List course modules clearly and concisely. i. Chunk Information. ii. Present information in shorter segments, rather than in longer, narrative form as in a lecture. Many professors choose to do it by week, e.g. Week 1, Week 2, etc. iii. Think of presenting information more as an annotated outline, where the information is focused specifically towards the learning outcome(s). b. List activities that must be completed within each module clearly and concisely. c. Clearly state student learning outcomes for each module. 1 This guide was adapted in part from The Online and Hybrid Course Development Guidelines at Cedar Crest College (2011). 2 MarylandOnline. (2013). All Quality Matters rubric standards with assigned point values. Quality Matters Program. Retrieved from: https://www.qualitymatters.org/rubric

2 3. Course Information/Syllabus a. Include a course syllabus or related information in the course. b. Provide a course description, including any prerequisites. c. Include instructor information. i. This includes a bio, contact and availability information (office hours) and a picture d. List any supplies (e.g. textbooks and other materials) needed for the course. e. Clearly state the grading policy, including rubrics, grading scale and weights. f. Provide a calendar of course due dates, institutional deadlines, and exam schedule. g. List any technical competencies necessary for the course. h. List any hardware and software requirements for the course. i. Include an Academic Integrity Statement and your personal plagiarism policy for the class. j. Clearly state etiquette expectations ("netiquette") for online discussions, , and other forms of communication. 4. Instructional Strategies a. A variety of instructional methods, accommodating multiple learning styles, are available throughout the course (See Appendix A for a list of learning activities) b. Students have a variety of opportunities to demonstrate academic achievement. c. At the beginning of the course, students and the instructor are given an opportunity to introduce themselves to each other as a way of promoting a cooperative learning environment. 5. Use of Multimedia a. Audio files utilized in the course clearly support course goals/objectives. b. Video files utilized in the course clearly support course goals/objectives. COMMUNICATION, INTERACTION AND COLLABORATION 1. Activities and Opportunities a. Implement learning activities and other opportunities that foster student-tostudent communication and/or collaboration. b. Implement learning activities and other opportunities that foster student-toinstructor communication and/or collaboration. c. Implement learning activities and other opportunities that foster student-tocontent interaction. 2. Discussion Boards a. Create separate forums for community, course questions and content. b. Organize discussions in clearly defined forums and/or threads. c. Create separate forums based upon the discussion s purpose (e.g. private conversations between student and instructor, group work and class interactions) d. Clearly define the instructor s role in discussion activities.

3 3. Group Work a. Provide a description of the group s overall task. b. Clearly state rules for forming groups and assigning roles within the group. c. Define benchmarks and expectations for group participation. d. Describe how, when and where the final product will be delivered. ASSESSMENT of STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES 1. Goals and Objectives a. Align course assessment and evaluations with the learning objectives. b. Clearly communicate assessment and evaluation goals. 2. Strategies a. Use multiple methods for assessment and evaluation (e.g. quizzes, tests, discussions, essays, projects and survey). b. Conduct assessments and evaluations on an ongoing basis throughout the course. c. Choose assessments and evaluation tools that are appropriate to the measure stated in the learning outcomes. 3. Grading a. Provide explicit rubrics, rationales, and/or criteria for each graded assignment. b. Include a grading scale that defines letter grades and/or weights. c. Define student participation and include the rubric, rational or criteria for evaluating the quality and quantity of student participation. d. Provide a statement indicating whether extra credit is available along with a description of how extra credit assignments will be administered and submitted. e. Include a statement explaining when students should receive feedback. f. Include a statement explaining what type feedback students will receive and how it will be given. g. Ensure the grade book is available to students for checking progress. 4. Assignments a. Provide a statement of the time allocated for each assignment/activity. b. Include a date/time when each assignment will be available and a deadline for each assignment/activity. c. Provide a statement indicating whether assignments can be retaken. d. Clearly state instructions for completion and submission of assignments. LEARNER SUPPORT AND RESOURCES 1. Institutional and Academic Support and Resources a. Include links to institutional/program information and/or policies and procedures. b. Include links to tutorials and other LMS support sites. c. Include links, addresses and/or phone number for technical support.

4 d. Ensure that the a Students With Disabilities statement is clearly accessible. e. Provide a list of academic resources with links to the library, writing center, and other services. WEB DESIGN 1. Layout/Design a. Minimize scrolling or facilitate with anchors. b. Use a consistent layout design throughout the course. c. Use consistent and readable font type, size and color throughout the course. 2. Use of Multimedia a. Audio/video hardware requirements do not extend beyond basic soundcards, speakers and video players unless needed to accomplish specific course goals and objectives. b. Ensure that audio/video quality is clear. c. Be cognizant of Audio/video file length. i. It must be able to meet the goals of an activity without restricting students ability to download the file on computers with a lower bandwidth. ii. It must be able to meet the goals of an activity without adding unnecessary information. 3. Use of Images a. Ensure that images are clear. b. Optimize image files for efficient loading. c. Limit the use of animated GIFs to only those that support course content. 4. Links/Navigation a. Ensure that navigation cues are present, clearly identifiable, offered in text and graphic formats and are obvious links based on visual clues such as color, underlining, and text directives. b. Name links to improve clarity of navigation, e.g. Technical Support not Click here for technical support. c. Review the course for broken links. 5. Accessibility a. Design the course with a conscious attempt to comply with, or exceed, Level 1 of Section 508(B) accessibility standards. b. Include a text equivalent for every non-text element. c. Ensure that captioning options are available for audio portions of multimedia presentations. d. Provide redundant text links for links embedded in images.

5 Best Practices in Online Course Facilitation These best practices have been developed in alignment with Garrison, Anderson and Archer s (2000) 3 seminal research in online learning and development of the Community of Inquiry model of instructional design. The Community of Inquiry (Col) framework is a theoretical process model that explains the online learning experience as a function of the interrelation between three symbiotic presences: teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence. These three presences are not independent and work in concert together. The CoI framework has been the most frequently cited model for explaining the online learning experience, with extensive research undertaken on each of the individual presences. ESTABLISH TEACHING PRESENCE One of the major reasons that students drop out of online course is due to the feeling of isolation and disconnection. It s important that they feel connected to both the instructor and the other students. 1. Establish teaching presence in the course a. Use a welcome video and/or home page. b. Share a little person information, as well as why you love your subject and what you want students to know about you. 2. Use students names in responses and feedback: Jesse made an interesting point when she wrote. CREATE A COMMUNITY OF LEARNERS / SOCIAL PRESENCE This is where students create a sense of their personal presence, as well as their positive inter-dependence. Social presence is the sense of being perceived as a real person and interacting with other real people. 1. Create a place for students to introduce themselves and share freely with each other. a. Create a discussion thread specifically for introductions. b. Create a discussion board that is a Virtual café or Water cooler for students to have open discussion with each other. 2. Place students in study groups. a. Let them give their group a team name. b. Have them exchange s. 3 Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2),

6 GENERATE & FACILITATE DISCUSSION / FOSTER COGNITIVE PRESENCE Cognitive presence is the manifestation of critical thinking, which leads to deep learning in the online environment. 1. Create discussion questions for each content module that require students to contemplate the course materials for that module while engaging other students in critical discourse. 2. Allow students to be open in their dialog so they can tie the course materials and outside resources into real life experience, as this also fosters deep learning. 3. The instructor should facilitate not usurp the discussion by commenting periodically, re-directing discussion when it gets off-topic, and steering discourse to achieve the stated learning goals.

7 Resources for Faculty Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2011). Assessing metacognition in an online community of inquiry. The Internet and Higher Education, 14(3), doi: /j.iheduc Akyol, Z., Garrison, D. R., & Ozden, M. Y. (2009). Development of a community of inquiry in online and blended learning contexts. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1(1), doi: /j.sbspro Bandura, A. (1971). Social learning theory. New York: General Learning Press. Beck, C. & Kosnik, C. (2006). Innovations in teacher education: A social constructivist approach. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3-7. Friedman, R., Elliot, N., & Haggerty, B. (2010). E-learning in undergraduate humanities classes: Unpacking the variables. International Journal on E-Learning, 9(1), Garrison, D. R. (2011). E-learning in the 21 st century: A framework for research and practice. New York, NY: Routledge. Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2), Harasim, L. (2012). Learning theory and online technologies. New York, NY: Routledge. Hou, Huei-Tse (2011). A case study of online instructional collaborative discussion activities for problem-solving using situated scenarios: An examination of content and behavior cluster analysis. Computers & Education, 56(3), , doi: /j.compedu Inoue, Y. (2007). Online education for lifelong learning: a silent revolution. In Y. Inoue. (Ed.), Online education for lifelong learning (pp. 1-28). Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing. Keller J.M. (1987) Development and use of the arcs model of motivational design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), Kim, H. K., & Bateman, B. (2010). Student participation patterns in online discussion: Incorporating constructivist discussion into online courses. International Journal on E-Learning, 9(1), MarylandOnline. (2013). All Quality Matters rubric standards with assigned point values.

8 Quality Matters Program. Retrieved from: https://www.qualitymatters.org/rubric Online Teaching Activity Index. (2012). Illinois Online Network. University of Illinois- Chicago. Retrieved from Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2009). Community of inquiry as a theoretical framework to foster epistemic engagement and cognitive presence in online education. Computers & Education, 52(3), doi: /j.compedu Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2010). Learning presence: Towards a theory of self-efficacy, self-regulation, and the development of a communities of inquiry in online and blended learning environments. Computers & Education, 55(4), Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2012). Learning presence as a moderator in the community of inquiry model. Computers & Education, 59(2), doi: /j.compedu Stein, D. S., Wanstreet, C. E., Slagle, P., Trinko, L. A., & Lutz, M. (2012). From hello to higher-order thinking: The effect of coaching and feedback on online chats. The Internet and Higher Education. doi: /j.iheduc Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

9 APPENDIX A Learning Activities for Online Courses One of the most comprehensive indices of online learning activities can be found at the Online Teaching Activity Index maintained by the Illinois Online Network at the University of Illinois. The index is updated frequently and features over 45 types of learning activities with practical examples drawn from a wide variety of disciplines. Each activity includes how it can be implemented in the online classroom, and how they align with core educational objectives. Following are some examples: Art Projects Article (Journal) Critiques Audio Recordings (Includes Podcasting) Blogging Brainstorming Case Briefs Case Studies & Case-Based Instruction Community Action Concept Mapping Debate Design Projects Discussion Question Activities Document Analysis Drill and Practice Essays Gaming Group Debugging Group Problem Solving Group Reports Hypothetical Situations Ice Breakers Inductive Reasoning Interviews Journaling Kinesthetics KWL Laboratory Experiments Learning Contracts Literature Review Multimedia Presentation (Video and Film) Oral Reports Peer Editing / Review Portfolios Presentations Procedural Demonstration (Perform a given action) Q & A (Students pose questions) Quizzing Reflections Review (Play, Movie, Audio, Book, etc.) Role Playing Scavenger Hunt Simulations Socratic Dialogue Webquest Wikis The Online Teaching Activity Index can be found at:

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