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A Guide to Online Course Design: Strategies for Student Success
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
The first online course I ever viewed appeared to be a simple transfer of teaching materials from the in-person format to the online environment. There were scans of handwritten lecture notes, a few documentary links, and a couple of ungraded discussion forums. This haphazard planning was a reminder that the virtual classroom is a distinctly different environment from the traditional classroom and must be planned for and constructed in a very different way. This is where Stavredes and Herder’s An Online Guide to Course Design would have been useful, to navigate the opportunities an online course affords and to mitigate the problems of student retention and persistence sometimes seen with distance education.
Stavredes and Herder advocate an outcomes-based design in order to plan an online course fully before it even begins. One starts by first asking what students should learn from the course, then asking how to assess what they have learned, and finally asking how they will learn this content. To this end the authors break course creation down into a four-part arc of (1) Analysis, (2) Design, (3) Development, and (4) Implementation and Evaluation.
In the first step, “Analysis,” the instructor assesses the characteristics of the expected learners and articulates his or her goals for the course. The authors invoke Bloom’s Taxonomy to structure the goals of the course and they use this framework again in choosing course activities.
The second phase, “Design,” takes up the bulk of the book. The authors helpfully recommend strategies for choosing and sequencing course activities. Of particular note is the role of the asynchronous classroom discussion, as discussions are one of the ways an instructor creates a social presence in the virtual classroom. Here we see that the online environment is fundamentally different from the face-to-face classroom. “If learners don’t feel a connection with you and their peers, it is difficult for them to persist online” (80). An instructor must deliberately foster a social presence to engage students in the online classroom. The authors recommend a problem-based approach to content-related discussions: present students with a real-world issue and let them draw inferences from the subject matter to solve the problem.
In the “Development” phase the authors describe further how lecture notes, videos, and introductions can help enhance the sense of the online classroom as a social and collaborative community. The authors also offer advice for developing rubrics and how to write instructions for students accustomed to scanning information on the Internet rather than actively reading it.
Finally, in the “Implementation and Evaluation” phase the authors recommend reflecting on the course to improve it according to specific standards. The authors develop a rubric for evaluating a course and they recommend eliciting feedback from students as well as from colleagues after each term, to discover areas for improvement.
A real strength of this book is that the authors do not just explain what makes for good course design. They give examples of how to design well with a high degree of precision. For example, they offer clear guidelines for articulating course outcomes. In chapter 10 there is a chart quantifying the amount of time different activities in a course take, from assigned reading, to writing, to taking quizzes, in order to meet accreditation expectations. It is this concern with ensuring that all aspects of course design are planned and deliberate that makes this book an asset to anyone serious about developing an effective online course.
Using Technology to Support Learning and Teaching
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
Using Technology to Support Learning and Teaching provides an overview of the key ways in which teachers and course designers are using technology to support teaching, learning, and assessment. As with the other books in the Key Guides for Effective Teaching in Higher Education Series, this text combines practical examples of techniques and methods with educational theory and research. The book thus contributes to a more general conversation about the effective pedagogical use of technology in a way that does not focus solely on describing the technological tools, but also takes seriously how “they might be best implemented” (2). For example, the first chapter outlines several influential theories (such as behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, humanistic theories, and connectivism), in order to provide a framework to underpin later considerations of various technologies for practitioners.
Beyond presenting the technology, the book stimulates further thinking and discussion about how technology relates to teaching and learning. Each chapter includes “Pauses for Thought” sections, “Case Example(s),” “Useful Resources (many of which are URLs),” screenshots and QR codes, as well as discussion questions in the conclusion. At the outset, the authors tell their readers: “This book isn’t meant to be read from cover to cover. We expect and would encourage you to dip in and out of it. To pick it up when you are considering various developments in your, or your colleagues’, teaching” (ix). Each chapter stands on its own; the chapters do not directly flow from one another, nor is there a comprehensive introduction or conclusion to the book.
Using Technology to Support Learning and Teaching comprises ten chapters, of which the first two respectively discuss learning theory and inclusive practice (disability and diversity); the next eight chapters cover the wide range of technology available for higher education, including a specific chapter on each of the following: the use of social media for collaboration and networking; technology for interaction; technology for assessment and feedback; podcasting and vodcasting; virtual learning environments; open source software; immersive online 3D environments; and future developments. What might otherwise be a daunting and time-consuming task, these latter eight chapters give teachers a comprehensive and jargon-free overview of the expansive array of technological tools now available, with many concrete examples, hints, and tips for how they may be used in teaching and learning. For instance, the chapter on assessment provides rubrics for evaluating student blogs and wikis. It also includes “how to” sections and tips for using multimodal feedback (such as video and screencapture).
In describing each technology, the authors present what technology has to offer educators. They note specific cautions and considerations (such as copyright laws), but their focus is positive. For example, the authors note how Virtual Learning Environments “have been criticised heavily for being inflexible, unintuitive, difficult to navigate. . . and even ‘boxy’”, but they continue to say that nevertheless, “we would like to emphasise that VLEs still have significant benefits for learning and teaching” (155).
The book is not limited to one context, but is directed toward teachers in any discipline, in any format of teaching (including traditional face-to-face classes, online settings, and hybrid-format courses). It will be of interest to anyone who seeks to utilize technology in higher education, or who is more broadly interested in critical reflection on the relationship between educational research and technology in practice.
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