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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.
Going Beyond Google Again: Strategies for Using and Teaching the Invisible Web
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
This volume follows up on the authors’ 2009 book, Going Beyond Google: The Invisible Web in Learning and Teaching (New York: Neal-Schuman, 2009). It is a welcome addition, given the rapid pace at which information technology is transforming higher education. “Invisible Web” is the term for the huge amount of Internet information that is not accessible via Google, Bing, Yahoo, and so forth. It includes proprietary databases, institutional collections, corporate and government data banks, privately secured web sites, and increasingly, social media. Of the trillions of webpages in the World Wide Web, Google only comprehends perhaps 10 percent. The rest is “invisible” to search engines.
Devine and Egger-Sider present a picture in which: (1) print reference materials are tacitly deemed obsolete, (2) most students in U.S. higher education have institutional access to high quality digital research materials, but (3) they are often unaware of these resources or make little use of them. A major OCLC study in 2010, for example, found “a decline in use of library Web sites, electronic journals, and online databases since 2005,” a trend that has not yet reversed (31). The authors’ analysis of dozens of studies on student research identifies three major traits: “over-reliance on Google and other major search engines, a tendency to favor time over content, and an overwhelming preference for convenience” (38).
The over-reliance on Google is especially troubling because of the rapid growth in automatically “personalized” searches, often unbeknownst to the user. Search engines filter the results of searches based on users’ previous queries. Over time, the search utility constructs dense profiles of users’ interests, generating results that are most likely to be “preferred.” This works well for advertising, but it is disastrous for critical inquiry. Personalized searches are liable simply to reinforce researchers’ biases.
Devine and Egger-Sider make a strong case for teaching students about the Invisible Web, beginning as early as high school. They include a chapter describing approaches for introducing students to the Invisible Web, including a two-stage sample curriculum: (1) Web-Searching Basics, and (2) Presenting the Invisible Web, plus advice about teaching the Invisible Web with graphics and social media. The final sections of the book provide a working orientation to the Invisible Web, numerous examples of good resources, and some thoughts about the future of the Invisible Web.
This book is valuable in its own right as a reference work and resource guide. Every chapter comes with extensive reference lists; there is also a collection of selected additional readings. Chapter 6, “Looking Inside the Invisible Web: A Sampler,” sets out the web addresses and some commentary for a basic research tool kit, recommended tools for specialized research, and an illustrative list of resources for highly advanced research.
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