What are some Best Practices for online course design?

Best Practices in Web-Enhanced, Blended, and Online Teaching

The following information is recommended for faculty utilizing myCourses sites for web-enhanced (WE), blended (BL), and fully online (OL) courses. The course format (WE; BL; OL) guides the level of information and development of the myCourses site. These guidelines are provided for faculty to use in the development of their Web-enhanced, blended, and fully online course sites.

GOAL: Provide Easily Accessible Learner Information

The following practices assist students in accessing course information, student support services, and technical help. Providing the suggested information is an effective strategy for web-enhanced, blended, and fully online courses.

  • Course syllabus easily accessible
  • Departmental expectations provided, including course learning objectives
  • Student support service links clearly identified (library; online writing tutoring; Center for Access and Success; myCourses navigation)
  • Student technical help information provided in myCourses site footer
  • Information provided on university wide academic policies (e.g. Academic Integrity; In-completes; Center for Access and Success)
  • Course policies outlined (e.g. communication practices; email response time; use of instant messaging text vs. proper grammatical writing; technical issues; late assignments)
  • Course assignments and assessments are clearly connected to course learning objectives
  • Grading criteria identified for learners

GOAL: Provide Effective Course Organization

The following practices assist students in accessing course materials easily and efficiently so their focus is on learning not locating information. These strategies are effective for web-enhanced, blended, and fully online courses.

  • Course site design is easily navigated and provides a logical progression through the course content
  • Course site is user friendly with titles and descriptions that assist learner in locating information
  • Course site provides opening introduction explaining how course site works
  • Course site presents text with effective use of white space and page lengths to limit scrolling
  • Course site maintains a consistent style and format throughout the site

GOAL: Provide Interactivity

The goal of interactivity is tied to blended and fully online courses more than web-enhanced. The suggested best practices here encourage multiple forms of interaction with course materials, students, and the instructor.

  • Course utilizes multiple communication tools to address learners and varying learning styles (e.g. announcement tool; email; discussion boards; use of audio)
  • Course provides opportunities for varying levels of interaction as follows Instructor participates in online interactions to provide feedback and guide learner work
    • from student to student
    • from instructor to student
    • from student to content
  • Instructor integrates instructional technologies effectively to develop assignments and learning objectives
  • Course provides student discussion area for questions or informal conversation (e.g. student discussion board lounge)
  • Instructor provides formative and summative feedback in a timely manner

GOAL: Create clear assessment practices

The following strategies offers best practices for assessing how students are learning due to the use of the web-enhanced, blended, or fully online course site design, content, and assignments. Assessment of course sites and student learning, whether web-enhanced, blended or fully online, can happen at many levels ranging from how a myCourses tool is used and how it affects student learning to course design to if assignments are leading students to the course learning objectives. The following strategies are offered to assist faculty in self-assessing their use of myCourses for their classes.

GOAL: Attend to Legal Requirements

All courses sites must attend to the legal requirements regarding the American with Disability Act and copyright laws. The guidelines below offer suggested best practices for faculty use.

  • Course site is Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliant

The Americans with Disability Act requires that online course sites provide learners with disabilities with equal access to course content.

While not inclusive, here are some simple guidelines to follows:

  • Create a course design that offers a consistent layout to the site
  • Create backgrounds to course information that are plain and provide contrast between background and font color (using colored fonts can be difficult for visually impaired students or color blind students)
  • Images have text identifying images so that a screen reader can interpret the images for blind learners
  • Audio files (e.g. voice board postings; podcasts) provide textual summaries of content or full transcription of audio content for deaf learners
  • Video files provide textual summaries of content or full transcription so a screen reader can interpret the video blind learners
  • Format acronyms so that screen readers read them properly (for example, USA becomes U S A; the spacing enables the screen reader to identify the letters separately)
  • Provide specific titles and/or phrases for weblinks (Note: screen reader software will try to web links as words; thus, providing a title will assist the learner. For example, here is the link to the Instructional Development Team’s best practices page for faculty: http://instructionaldev.umassd.edu/teaching-online/. This link could be rephrased as: Click here for more information on best practices. The screen reader will pick up the link based on the underlining.)
  • Course site adheres to copyright requirements
    • Using the library’s licensed sources for online course readings (e.g., articles, book chapters) helps avoid copyright issues. Consider these options: Online course sites have different copyright rules than face to face classrooms regarding video and audio use. Faculty are allowed to use a “reasonable” portion of a movie or section of music in their online course sites. For additional information, see this site from the Copyright Clearance Center