The student is infinitely more important than the subject matter.
I do not need to establish a deep, lasting, time-consuming personal relationship with every student. What I must do is to be totally and non-selectively present to the student-to each student-as she addresses me. The time interval may be brief but the encounter is total.
Most of us who have found ourselves in the teaching profession, found our way here because teaching was something that we liked doing. We wanted to connect with students- and to engage with them in meaningful ways- but how is that possible in an online environment?
It's challenging enough to engage meaningfully in a face-to-face environment and so it’s a rather 'tall order' to be asked to demonstrate empathy and respect:
One of the very best places to start is with the design- how are your learners going to encounter you for the first time? How will you introduce yourself?
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles give some helpful considerations when you are thinking about designing your course curriculum to accommodate for many diverse learners.
Image from http://udlguidelines.cast.org/
(CAST. (2018). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.2 [graphic organizer]. Wakefiled, MA: Author.)
When you are thinking about engaging with students, providing multiple means of engagement is important.
So, if you were thinking about introducing yourself, you could include a welcome message on your course syllabus, you could record a short video introducing yourself, what you are passionate about, and why you enjoy teaching the class (you could even encourage students to do the same) and post it on SLATE, and you could plan for an introductory activity on the first day of class (whether it is synchronous or asynchronous delivery).
In the Design phase, a course blueprint or map of the entire course is created. In developing the blueprint, consider all the components of the course. It can be helpful to work backwards (remember backwards design) and think about what learners should be able to do by the end of course, how they will demonstrate what they have learned, how they can practice what they are learning and prepare for assessments, as well as what materials and supports they will need to help them successfully complete the course. Learning outcomes are the foundation of the Design phase and all components should be carefully developed and selected based on these. It is also important to consider quality standards as a guide for this phase, as they can inform instructional decisions. It is recommended to check if your institution has adopted any internal or external quality standards for online courses. Examples of external quality standards include, the Quality Matters Higher Education Course Design rubric and the Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard.
Before entering the Design phase, there are a number of questions it would be helpful for you to consider:
The Course Outline and the Topical Outline
The Course Outline and the Topical Outline are used to inform learners of the intent of the course, by offering a description of the content and curriculum expectations, describing the evaluation methods and material requirements, and identifying important policies that learners must be aware of.
In an online environment, these become even more important because it is often one of the first ways that you will be communicating with your learners.
Assessments document and measure an individual learner's progress towards the learning outcomes of the course. Assessment methods may vary and include, but are not limited to, written tests or reports, presentations, activities, discussions, and exams.
When you are designing assessments:
The next stage in this process is Development.
The Development or production phase is informed by the course outline developed in the Design phase. Instructional materials and resources, such as instructor notes, activities, assessments, and media are created, along with the online learning environment in which they will be presented. It is important to design and assess materials to ensure that they meet accessibility standards (i.e., Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); Accessibility Rules for Educational Institutions (Ontario); Web Content Accessibility Guidelines - WCAG 2.0), as well as any quality standards (e.g., Quality Matters Higher Education Course Design rubric, Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard, etc.). Once the course is posted to the online learning environment, a quality assurance check is advised to ensure that components are organized appropriately, there are no errors in presentation, and technical elements are functioning.
Consider the following when developing Assessments:
Learning activities are tasks that engage the learner in the learning process, having them utilize or research appropriate information to build a foundation of knowledge or develop a skill set pertinent to the course learning outcomes. Consider the following when developing Learning Activities:
When you are thinking about setting up an discussion activity, consider the following tips for respecting diversity. A goal of equitable facilitation of online discussions is the promotion of a safety net and the provision of opportunities to freely express one’s ideas, feelings, and experiences in an online discussion forum. The hope is that this will ensure respect for diversity and other important issues as well as promote reflection and better understanding. (Castano Bishop, 2008): Based on Dr. Joyce Kaser’s publication, “Equity in On-line Professional Development: A Guide to E-learning That Works for Everyone” (2004), consider the following suggestions for facilitating issues of equity when setting up discussion forums in online courses.
Additional resources such as audio, video, tables, graphics, and readings, are often an integral part of a course. The resources chosen should be carefully selected in support of the content, as well as be accessible and usable by the wide variety of learners in the online environment. Consider the following when you are thinking about the Materials for your course:
Layout, structure, and sequence are important design factors to consider when building an online course as they can impact the accessibility, usability, and comprehensiveness of content by learners. Layout is the visual representation of materials. Course content that is organized and makes use of headings and subheadings is important to helping learners to engage with and understand the information being communicated. Content organized in this fashion creates scannable blocks of content to help readers mentally group similar topics. You should consider such elements as, whitespace, placement of graphics and media, and font size and colour. Structure refers to the conceptual organization of materials. For instance, a consistent overarching course structure that includes modules or units allows for the organization of key topics in the course. These topics can then be tied to the weeks of the course's duration and provide learners with areas of focus. Modules should also be structured similarly to support a pattern of learning and reinforce expectations of the course. Sequencing is the order the in which materials are presented. Appropriate sequencing allows for smooth transitions between topics and facilitates scaffolding of content to allow students to develop foundational knowledge and continually develop their learning to take on more challenging tasks. When you are thinking about layout, structure and sequence, keep the following elements in mind:
So now, you've designed and developed a course that takes into account a diversity of learners, what are some of the strategies you can use to create meaningful engagement with learners once the course has begun?
This next section discusses evidence-based practices in the Facilitation of Online Courses:
Communication between the instructor and learners, both at a course and individual level, is essential in an online course to establish presence and to develop a sense of community. The instructor's role is to convey information and news about the course schedule, assignments and content and provide encouragement and feedback to learners. There are a number of ways that you can do this:
Feedback is the contact between the instructor and a learner in relation to the progress towards the learning outcomes, reflections on assignments and activity performance, and is intended to be supportive of progress and improvement. Consider the following when giving feedback:
Content from Design, Development and Facilitation adapted from Universal Design - Best Practices for Online Learning, OpenEd, Open Learning and Educational Support, University of Guelph, Retrieved from https://opened.uoguelph.ca/instructor-resources/UD---Best-Practices-for-Online-Learning