online course design
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Visual Design for Online Learning
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Anyone who has developed an online course knows how important the design of the course is. Poorly designed courses make the course navigation difficult, causing unnecessary frustration and limiting the ability of students to achieve learning outcomes. The author of this book understands these difficulties. Drawing upon her own negative experiences with initial online offerings, she provides readers with important lessons on designing effective online experiences for both teachers and students.
Davis suggests, rightly, that the reader should use the text like a workbook, drawing from the ideas presented in the text as the reader creates her/his own course in the platform the reader uses. She encourages readers to draw upon the backward course design model: begin with learning objectives, discern appropriate ways to assess those objectives, and then generate online learning activities that will enable success in the course. Such alignment will promote student success.
The author provides an acronym, L.I.T.E., for the design framework she encourages. Readers should be sure to create clickable links to external content (L), integrate well the multimedia included (I), use typography and white space to enhance the legibility of the course (T), and embed the content at the point of need (E). She identifies four types of content pages that should be part of the design: landing page, navigation page, instructional page, and assignment submission page. Of course, most learning platforms will provide these. The key, she contends, is to create them in a way that achieves the course objectives and is user-friendly for the student.
The remainder of the chapters illustrate how readers can develop the various components of a good online course, including images and videos, integrating multimedia, facilitating instruction and interaction, and the all-important assessment. Davis provides helpful hints regarding the tools included in software such as PowerPoint, like using it to download and edit images or to incorporate online media. She also points to a number of free online tools one can use to develop a course, such as the presentation tool Brainshark, and the interaction tool VoiceThread. At the same time, she cautions users not to incorporate too many technologies into the course. The focus should be on learning the content of the course, not on overwhelming students with too many technologies.
As with any text, there are some limitations. Parts of the book require knowledge of html language. Many faculty do not know html language because they use software to develop their courses that does this automatically. In addition, for a book that emphasizes visual design, many of the illustrations are difficult to read, leaving the reader to wonder how well the text follows its own advice on legibility. Yet over all, the text is a useful step-by-step guide for developing an online course or for improving the visual design of existing courses.
Teaching Online: A Guide to Theory, Research, and Practice
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Some higher education faculty might still be ambivalent about the long term impact on educational culture by the technological takeover, especially that this shift has taken place in a relatively short period of time. Few though would doubt the fact that we are in the midst of an innovative, technology driven, instructional change. Teaching Online’s main goal is to help us navigate this change. Based on ample research, the book argues that the change has reached a tipping point and is expanding. This is hardly surprising news. Taking some courses online during their program has become a common expectation of the current generation of students at seminaries and graduate schools of theology, not to mention the large increase in distance learning programs and enrollment.
In addition to offering a comprehensive guide to the theory and practice of online teaching, Teaching Online also includes substantial chapters on developments in the theories and philosophy of education. This, in addition to situating teaching online within a long trajectory of change to instructional culture are among the key contributions of the book. Faculty views on learning change when they teach online, argues the chapter on “Views of Learning.” Higher education systems are facing new and significant challenges. “For hundreds of years, educators labored under the assumption that learning happened by way of an individual’s consumption of information and ideas.” Many philosophers of education, long before the time of online learning, starting with Paulo Freire in the 1960s, have challenged this view. However, the recent and widespread experience in online learning, which has now become mainstream, has clearly moved education beyond the traditional static concept. The difference is that this time the move to learner-centered educational systems is caused by technology. Online learning is offering the possibility of constructing ecosystems “in which each person is spreading his or her understanding among the pieces of information available in that ecosystem.” Students are becoming active agents in what one contributor to the book calls a “rhizomatic” learning process that has no fixed beginning or end, and is rather an ongoing experimentation and transformation (65-67). This is a great metaphor for theological education! Equally challenged by the spread of online learning are not only traditional philosophy and pedagogies, but also academic institutions themselves that might be losing control of the learning process (257). Teaching Online helps teachers tackle these changes and challenges. Furthermore, the chapters of Teaching Online offer valuable practical help in several key areas such as course structure and planning, the teacher’s persona in the online course, communication, student engagement and community of learning, and much more.
One minor annoyance in the book is the format of the chapters. Most chapters include five or six page-long testimonies of professors sharing their experience on the topic of the chapter. While these are somewhat interesting and add information and liveliness to the book, because of the way they are inserted, they can be distracting and interrupt the flow of the chapter. One feels lost at times in trying to follow the flow of the chapter; perhaps the book is trying to implement the rhizomatic approach mentioned above!
I was attracted to this book mainly because I am preparing to teach a totally online course for the first time, in the next academic year. I am glad I read it, and I strongly recommend it.
Creating Courses for Adults: Design for Learning
Date Reviewed: July 15, 2016
Ralf St. Clair’s instructive book on designing courses will provide helpful guidance to new professors and a meaningful review to those seasoned in the classroom, along with some potentially new material for those veterans. Divided into ten well-defined chapters, Creating Courses for Adults walks readers through the learning theory associated with the adult student population, as well as the practical logistics of designing different kinds of courses for different adult populations. The array of courses discussed range from online for credit instruction to non-credit onsite education for trade school students. Taking seriously the role and the needs of the professor and not just the students, St. Clair begins with a welcomed and affirming chapter, “All About You,” which includes a very helpful section entitled, “Why Who You Are and What You’ve Done Matters.” While this book accepts that teaching is about the students, the author accepts the often unappreciated fact that teaching is also about the needs of the professors, who feel a sense of vocation to this work.
St. Clair operates out of the helpful notion that “nobody is an intuitive or completely natural teacher” (page xii), a claim that will challenge seasoned instructors to continue to plan and will encourage new professors with their often unarticulated sense of intimidation. Several chapters are especially rich in what they provide the planning process. Chapter three, “Context Drives Design,” makes distinctions among formal learning, non-formal learning, and informal learning. Adult learners may bring previous experience in formal learning to the classroom, since formal learning is education that leads to a diploma or certificate. They will certainly bring experience in non-formal learning, such as that experienced in an open-ended group, and informal learning, which refers to learning achieved through everyday activities. In fact, the latter two learning experiences can so shape the approach to education of adult learners that it becomes difficult for them to embrace a world of formal learning, even if it is adult-education friendly. For this reason, teachers must give some thought in course design to preparing students for the particular educational context that the course provides.
St. Clair also offers helpful approaches to online learning. In addition to a useful bibliography of online course design material, St. Clair proposes that design issues in online education do not fundamentally differ from onsite education. Citing current literature that explains online course design, St. Clair concludes that the best literature provides questions for online course design that do not substantially differ from face-to-face education. While acknowledging that his conclusion will not be universally accepted, St. Clair nonetheless provides an affirmation that online education can be informed by the same theoretical approaches that guide other forms of education.
Readers wanting an accessible approach to course design, grounded in both theory and application, will find St. Clair’s Creating Courses for Adults to be valuable. The book belongs in the collection of any teaching and learning center of higher education for its content and its current bibliography.
Best Practices in Online Program Development: Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: October 15, 2015
This compact guide on building online programs has practical tips for faculty and administrators in higher education who are at various stages of online delivery. While mostly aimed at beginners, the book has ideas for institutions in the first, second, third, and fourth generations of distance learning, whether it is just one course, one department, a program or online delivery is fully integrated into the university’s strategic plan. The authors share from personal experience, surveys of faculty and students, as well as best practices from accrediting bodies to assure the reader will enter the online delivery method with eyes wide open. The book also has helpful suggestions for administrators and instructors who have experience with online education, but are trying to move their program to the next level. After a brief history of distance education and its place within higher education, the authors cite a study by the Babson Survey Research Group indicating that 6.7 million students in 2011 took an online class (a jump of 9.3 percent from 2010) and one-third of college students had taken at least one online class (compared to less than 10 percent in 2003). The authors state many reasons for offering online classes: overcoming space limitations, reaching students who were not accepted in the traditional admissions process, non-traditional students and students with disabilities—who may not otherwise come to campus because of mobility or accessibility issues. Students also choose online programs because of the flexibility to study around family, work and personal commitments. Whatever their reasons for studying online, the book emphasizes the different study skills to succeed. The authors suggest that admission offices should find a way to assess readiness to assure student success and in best practice offer an orientation, ongoing support and an ample IT staff.
The authors acknowledge that teaching will be different online than in the traditional classroom and administrators may find resistance from faculty. Therefore they recommend seeking faculty volunteers to teach online. According to a 2003 study, many faculty believe that teaching online requires more time than conventional teaching and a 2012 survey revealed that two-thirds of faculty believed that the educational outcomes were inferior to face-to-face teaching. Yet the authors estimate that between 25 and 33 percent of post-secondary faculty have taught at least one course online. Faculty also perceive advantages such as greater flexibility and reaching more and a different variety of students. Of course, faculty will have to make changes to relate to online students, for example Skype office hours, being socially present, while also managing student expectations for email correspondence. Once a class is prepared it is easier to teach again and can be taught by another instructor, however universities should have a clear policy of intellectual property rights. Other benefits of online teaching are greater attention to learning outcomes, methodology and assessment.
This book is not a “how to” book for instructors to develop an online class, nor is it an exhaustive manual for administrators, but it is an excellent overview and beginners guide for administrators to learn the challenges and best practices of high quality online programs.
ePedagogy in Online Learning: New Developments in Web Mediated Human Computer Interaction
Date Reviewed: March 6, 2015
This volume consists of fourteen chapters designed “to provide a useful handbook on adopting interactive Web 2.0 tools that promote effective human-computer interaction (HCI) in ePedagogical practice for education and training” (xv). Each essay presents data for the consideration of educators and administrators who are preparing to be or who are actively involved in virtual education. Primarily, the contributors explore using Web 2.0 tools such as Blackboard/Moodle, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, wikis, and blogs, but there is much more.
The chapters are divided into four sections. The first contains essays to help the reader think clearly about methodology as it relates to the continual evolution of online education. The second section consists of essays focusing on differences between synchronous (everyone must meet at the same time either in physical or virtual space) and asynchronous learning (done on one’s own time, such as watching recorded lectures or using message boards to communicate with other students). The third section focuses on how educators might measure student development in a virtual environment. The final section is the most technical with essays dedicated to the use of software and online systems.
This book does not offer quick-and-easy steps for one to follow toward successful ePedagogy. It is dense, heavily technical at points, and it requires readers to set aside time to read attentively. An educator of theological studies will have to creatively search for ways to transfer information to their own setting since none of the essays are directly related to this field.
The essays are social-scientific in nature. The testing conditions and criteria are unique to each particular essay, taking place in geopolitical regions as distinct as Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Taiwan, the United States, and Vietnam. The diversity is promising, offering encounters with a wide-array of scenarios wherein Web 2.0 tools function. On the other hand, the principles offered cannot be understood in a vacuum without reference to context.
This book may be best used as an occasional reference. In other words, it is not the type of practical book one would read through in a few sessions. The most useful part of each chapter for the casual reader may be the list of works referenced at the end of each study. These short bibliographies invite further exploration.
In summary, readers will find insightful academic essays that will assist them in their professional development as educators in a virtual context. The essays are based on data acquired through rigorous research. The uniqueness of each case study requires the reader to actively sift universals from particulars in order to determine what information may assist them in their own work, and the technical nature of the book will require non-experts to familiarize themselves with much of the vocabulary.