You have an upcoming semester start, a fresh class roster, and new developments in your field to weave into your curriculum. Over the next few weeks, these Teaching Tips will highlight checklist/startup issues associated with getting ready for the first day of instruction. This particular tip will focus on changes that fundamentally alter the learning experience of your students, and would mostly be instituted well before your class begins.
Inspiration for changes in your course design can come from many places. Perhaps you’ve considered an issue which students commonly reference in course evaluations. Perhaps you’ve received professional training or attended a conference and you’d like to use a new instructional or assessment method. It might be that you are pondering a change to your course textbook. Or, you might be considering changing the times your class meets. All of these are examples of changes that should be made well in advance of the first day of instruction. Why? Fairness mostly.
Many students take online classes because of the flexibility that they offer. Consider a student with some sort of on-call job. Instead of taking the same face to face class that your department offers, the student signs up for your online class, knowing that the flexible schedule will allow them to work and complete your course. Now suppose that you’d like to set up a series of synchronous meeting times where everyone in your class meets at the same time, albeit from different remote locations. If you make such a change with short notice, or after course registration opens, you might be unknowingly setting up certain students for strong bouts of frustration or even failure.
There are sound reasons for conducting parts of your class synchronously, as long as you give your students adequate planning time in advance of the semester. Course schedules and descriptions are published 1-2 weeks before registration opens for the next semester: October for the Spring, February for Summer, and March for Fall. If you are still thinking about this, feel free to chat with one of eCampus’s instructional designers so we can give you ideas on how best to use synchronous time, and provide alternatives to those students who can’t meet such a schedule.
Let’s think about textbooks. Included in this category are any item or service that requires students to pay a fee. Components like movie rentals, memberships, lab kits, and paid services that round out your instructional materials need to be communicated to students in advance. Lists of required items should be available to students when registration opens and included in your syllabus. You should also be clear about alternatives to these materials. Is a used textbook acceptable? Will your class use the newest edition or are older editions acceptable? Is there an accompanying online component that the publisher makes that is also needed? You’ll find it better to provide students with these details early as well as letting them know the purpose of your instructional materials and how they’ll be used in your course.
Given that we are very close to the beginning of a new semester now some good general advice might be to concentrate your improvement efforts on facets of your course that can be introduced module by module. Visit one of UAF eCampus’s open labs to get help with semester start tasks or to brainstorm ideas. But don’t let big game changer redesigns get away from you. It’s never too early for planning on the next next semester.
Dan LaSota, M.Ed., is an eCampus instructional designer and has taught several semesters of online classes at UAF.