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Online Course Design

With more faculty moving course elements online and more technologies and services becoming available to support those environments, you may be considering how much of class—if not all—should be held in the online space. Many working professionals already pursue graduate programs that are fully online, and some colleges and universities are now experimenting with methods of integrating online learning into the traditional undergraduate environment. While most courses at Georgetown are still delivered face-to-face, there are many fully online courses and programs currently available to undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, there are many elements of online learning that could even enhance traditional, face-to-face classes.

What are some instructional considerations for developing an online or blended course?

If you are considering moving your class online, you’ll need to first consider whether you aim for a fully online or a blended course. It is important for you to discuss any opportunity to develop a fully online course with your program or department chair, so you can ensure that your individual course will still meet larger programmatic goals.

Benefits of a fully online course:

  • Your students need not be in the same geographical location, allowing you to connect a larger community of learners.
  • Your students will engage in active learning, since all students must participate in online activities and assignments to complete course requirements.

Benefits of a blended course:

  • Your students will benefit from both online engagement and face-to-face interaction with their professor and peers.
  • Your students will have access to a rich array of course materials online, and use face-to-face class time for active learning applications of course content.

In a blended course, you may want to use the online component to deliver lectures or other content and retain face-to-face class time for more active learning opportunities, such as group discussions, student-led activities, and problem-based learning.

As you consider which parts of the class to move online, you may need to address the following questions:

  • What kinds of interactions do you want students to have with the content that will be online?
  • What will the relationship be between in-class activities and content delivered online?
  • How will you use class time that you are freeing up by moving some content online?
  • Will you need any additional resources, such as a teaching assistant, to help you manage and support the online components of the course?
  • How will you evaluate the success of your experiment? How will you know that students have achieved the learning goals you identified?

What are the instructional considerations for teaching a course online?

No matter which type of course you choose to develop online, you will have to adapt your pedagogical practices for the online space. Here are some considerations to keep in mind.

  • Adapting your pedagogical practices to a visual medium.

    The possibilities for teaching and presenting content online are quite endless, and you can experiment with a variety of methods for delivering information to students. You can still rely on traditional pedagogical methods, such as providing articles and other texts, and presenting traditional lectures (although in the online space these would be captured and delivered on film or through audio). However, you can also experiment with other kinds of videos, PowerPoint presentations, interactive modules, Whiteboard demonstrations, and other visual and audio media.

    Moving content from the classroom to an online format doesn’t mean a one-to-one correspondence in terms of time—that is, a one-hour in-class lecture doesn’t necessarily translate into a one-hour video. And even when you integrate materials from a face-to-face course, you likely won’t be using that content online in quite the same way. Students tend to respond best to educational content when it is delivered in shorter chunks. A series of segmented, shorter videos would be preferable to one longer video, so consider whether your traditional 50-minute lecture could be reimagined for the visual medium as five 10-minute, self-contained chunks, each paired with an interactive application to help students process the information.

  • Planning an appropriate estimate of your time.

    Online courses, even blended ones, work best when there is an active faculty presence because it helps students see that they are part of an active community in which everyone’s participation is required. If your class is fully online, you will not have any other medium through which to address potential confusion over course material or assignments. And even the strongest peer-to-peer discussions may still need a faculty presence to steer the conversation in productive directions.

    Online courses require a significant investment of faculty time, and the delineation of “class time” may not be entirely analogous to your sense of this concept in a traditional face-to-face course. Because online courses typically function as a series of asynchronous conversations happening over extended periods, you should spend some time planning for when your presence will be needed from week to week. While you still have total control over these elements of the course design, it’s important that you plan for them carefully—and even build in more time than you might initially expect for responding to students’ questions, posting to discussion boards and other collaborative online spaces, and adequately commenting on all student work.

What resources does CNDLS offer?

CNDLS provides several kinds of support to faculty transitioning to an online learning space.

  • Individual Consultations

    CNDLS team members are happy to meet with you to help assess what elements of online learning design will best support your course goals. At these meetings we will typically ask you to come with a course syllabus and to be prepared to talk about what elements you plan to move online, depending on whether you intend to develop a fully online or a hybrid course. We will then talk through your particular objectives for the online components of your course. For example, are you planning to use the online space for content delivery so you can flip the classroom and allow for more hands-on applications during face-to-face time? Are you hoping to generate active discussions and peer-to-peer collaboration? Are you planning to build quizzes and exams that can be delivered online? Thinking through these objectives when developing the course will allow us to determine which online tools and pedagogical strategies can best support your goals.

    To schedule a consultation today, contact us at cndls@georgetown.edu.

  • Multiple e-Learning Management Systems

    Although many Georgetown faculty use Blackboard as their e-learning management system, CNDLS can support faculty who would like to migrate to an alternative system known as Canvas. When we build online courses for larger programs, Canvas is the online learning platform we use because it offers several advantages for fully online educational environments. Like Blackboard, the system can integrate a number of applications such as Echo 360, VoiceThread, and Turnitin, but the Canvas interface makes communication and collaboration in an online space easy. Canvas also allows for the intuitive construction of course modules, which are the units that students often follow in an online learning environment. In addition, because of Canvas’ 24-hour/7-days-per-week technical support services, along with the full support of our own University Information Services (UIS), transitioning to Canvas and optimizing your use of its tools and capabilities can be easy.

    Whether you are interested in staying on Blackboard or moving a course to Canvas, we can provide support and resources to help you make the most of your course management system. Visit the CNDLS technology tools page or contact cndls@georgetown.edu to learn more about how Canvas can support your course goals.

  • Additional Resources

    If moving a piece of your course online is part of a larger strategy to flip your classroom, check out the resources on the CNDLS Teaching Commons on teaching with technologies.

    The CNDLS website also has information on all of the teaching and learning technologies available at Georgetown. Since all of these tools and services are supported by UIS and CNDLS, you can implement them in your classroom knowing you have will immediate assistance available to help with any problems.

    And keep your eye posted for workshops on teaching online at our upcoming Teaching and Learning and Innovation Summer Institute.