Quality courses share the same foundational elements that underpin their design, regardless of whether the class is held online, blended, or face-to-face. Although classes will vary greatly depending on the subject matter, the level of the class, and your individual teaching style, learning outcomes are key in any course design. Of equal importance are the assessments that measure students’ achievement of those outcomes and activities that give students opportunities to practice the skills or apply the concepts they are learning.
Students should expect their courses are built around six core principles fundamental to online teaching: Accessibility and Inclusivity, Flexibility, Interactivity, Clear Communication, Instructor Presence, and Supports. These principles aim to assist all course instructors at Dalhousie and King's to prepare, design, and deliver online teaching.
Accessibility and Inclusivity
You should strive to design a course that is universally accessible. The principles of Universal Design for Learning, a learner-centred framework that guides course design and delivery to support all students in their learning, is a start to designing courses that are accessible and inclusive.
Other measures you can take toward accessibility and inclusion include:
- Proving all students with equitable access to course content and assessments.
- Implementing student accessibility plans, which may include accommodations or other forms of support
- Complying with the developing requirements set by the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act of 2017.
- Considering ways to address any socio-cultural and economic consequences of online instruction for students in keeping with Dalhousie's equity, diversity, and inclusion priorities.
- Ensuring your courses are accessible and navigable by assistive technologies
- Adopting open educational resources (open textbooks), where appropriate, to help mitigate costs and make learning materials more accessible to all students.
Making course content available to students asynchronously (pre-recorded content) enables students to watch or listen at their own pace and on their own time and ensures students in different time zones or with other responsibilities are not disadvantaged in their learning experience.
However, the context of your course, its content, and your discipline matters. There is also value in including synchronous (live) course components where students have an opportunity to engage with the instructors, TAs, and other students in the course; ask questions; and engage in dialogue and problem solving. Such sessions would ideally be recorded for those unable to attend. Optional drop-in office hours are another way to engage students synchronously.
- Assessments should, whenever possible, provide flexibility by giving students options for how they can demonstrate what they have learned and how they have met the course learning outcomes. This is also an effective strategy to increase inclusion and accessibility in online classes.
In large classes, consider using breakout rooms (synchronous) or smaller group discussions/projects (asynchronous) to increase student interaction within the course. As well, if you have TAs assigned to your course, it is important to think about how to maximize their potential to support student interaction within the course.
The same as you will be giving students feedback on their performance, you might consider creating opportunities for students to give you feedback about the course. In addition to end-of-term course evaluations (Student Learning Experience Questionnaires), you might solicit feedback from students midterm or following each course module.
Clear communication is especially important in an online environment. Courses should begin with an orientation or welcome module that will introduce the course and its components. In addition, your students will benefit from weekly announcements and a clear weekly calendar.
Students in a fully online course need to hear from their instructor about how they are doing. Instructors should provide timely feedback to students early on in the course and continue to communicate with students about how they are doing as the course progresses.
- A template is now available to guide the creation and navigation of your course structure within Brightspace.
In an online course, it is especially important to establish and maintain your presence. There are several forms of presence that overlap to inform the students’ educational experience:
- Social presence: how you build trusting, inter-personal relationships within your course
- Teaching presence: how you facilitate meaningful educational experiences to achieve learning outcomes
- Cognitive presence: how you support learners to construct meaning through sustained reflection and discourse), and
- Emotional presence: how you facilitate learners’ emotional responses to the learning environment
In addition to you (and the teaching assistants) providing support within a course, it’s important that students have access to supports related to the rest of their academic experience. These include those related to academics (accessibility, advising, writing), campus communities, research, technology, health/wellness, and more. (A full slate of student supports is integrated into the Brightspace course template.)