Module 1: Structuring Your Online Course
There are a lot of unconscious social norms that direct the conduct of an in-person classroom. People recognize a podium as a place for the instructor. They see chairs and tables and recognize them as places to sit down. Hands are raised to get attention. These unconscious rules help organize a classroom experience. The instructor makes eye contact, gesticulates, and uses body language to convey whether they are easygoing, strict, prone to tangents, or succinct. Over the semester, students get a good sense of who the instructor is, not only through their teaching, but through the human interactions that happen during each class.
Online learning has no such norms. The unspoken interactions are weaker. Does this mean that learning is more difficult? Not at all. Only that it takes place in a different environment, with different areas needing attention.
Students may not know where to find information, or how to get their questions answered. They can’t easily tap their neighbour’s shoulder, and say, “I’m lost. Can you help?” While most classrooms look the same, not all courses on an LMS do. As a result, more attention should be paid to the organizational structure of a course, and the ways in which an instructor interacts with the students. While these may be particular challenges in an online classroom, they are by no means insurmountable challenges.
Without these norms in place, instructors need to intentionally create a space that is intuitive to navigate and welcoming. Course items should be easily findable, and when found, it should be obvious what they are, when they are due, and how they fit into the larger course. Interactions between students and faculty should be positive and an effort made to communicate beyond text.
This module has covered a number of suggestions and ideas for you to consider in your own course. You might already be doing some; others will be new. Some might strike you as inappropriate, while others may be worthy of more exploration.