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Developing a new course for online learning

Preparing to develop and teach a new online course may seem like a monumental task, but it can be approached in a manner very similar to how one would prepare to teach a face-to-face course.  Let’s assume you have already selected a course to teach online, and that you understand how the course fits into your school or department’s curricular map.  We encourage you to begin by focusing on overall course planning rather than thinking about what technology you should be using.  Let’s begin by answering the following questions:

  • What are your course objectives?
  • What are your intended learning outcomes for students?  What competencies/skills should they be able to demonstrate to be considered successful in the course?
  • What breadth and depth of information do you need to cover to achieve your course objectives?  This is where you need to consider what content is absolutely necessary for your course and what is nonessential. 
  • What sort of active learning activities can be used to help the students gain a better understanding of course concepts? (Group discussions, individual student presentations, etc.)
  • What types of activities can you use to assess the students’ competencies relating to the course concepts?

You may want to use this exercise as a means to get a start on creating your course syllabus, as many of the answers to these questions will be information that is important to share with students. 

Once you’ve mapped out an idea of what course content you will be presenting, what activities you would like students to engage in, etc. you can begin considering what technologies will help you achieve these goals.  There are a plethora of technologies that one can use to present materials in an online classroom, assist you with communicating with students, and to help you with assessing student competencies.

There are several things to consider when developing online instruction.  The first is to consider the students that you are preparing to teach—do they have experience using the technologies you’d like to implement in your course?  Do they have scheduling issues that would prevent them from participating in synchronous activities?  It’s important to make the course content the focus of the course, rather than the technology that you’re using to present or communicate with students.

It’s also very important to make your expectations for the course explicit to all participants.  Students will sometimes enroll in an online course with the expectation that less face-to-face time means less overall work to complete the course.  Often, online courses take more effort because the work is self-guided, and this can be difficult for students to handle once they’re mid-way through the course.  Having a conversation with the students regarding things such as the expected level of participation in learning activities or the amount of communication they have with you and other students will help them understand the amount of time and effort they will need to set aside from the beginning of the course. 

Creating an online course isn’t just about posting materials online—the success of an online course hinges largely on the creation of an open and inviting learning community. More information on creating a successful learning community is available in the following resources:

Palloff, R.M. & Pratt, K. (2000). Making the transition: Helping teachers to teach online. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EDU0006.pdf