of Online Course Design
your online course, it can help to think that you are converting your
existing course into a new medium. The content, goals, and objectives
of the course should be similar--you are just modifying your delivery!
The biggest differences between online and traditional instruction are:
HOW the content is delivered, and HOW interactions are managed.
This article relates directly with the first aspect--content delivery!
One of the
first things I tell faculty regarding course design is--plan...plan...plan!
Don't wait till the last minute to design your course. With so many factors
to consider, course design needs to be given adequate time in order to
develop and implement. Ideally, you want to start planning a semester
ahead, in which time, you should sit down with a course designer in order
to facilitate the process.
elements are common to well-designed course sites. Although some are more
important than others, they all serve as good techniques which can enhance
your online course content.
seen many online facilitators become victims of the "more is better" concept.
This is not the case when developing a course site. Realize that students
do not enroll in online courses to see all the "bells and whistles" you
can put into a site. Improper use of fonts, colors, and graphics (to name
a few) can serve as a distraction and hamper the effectiveness of your
When confronted with too many moving and repeating objects, some students
may become annoyed and distracted. If necessary, try to keep these repetitive
features to a minimum. If you require the use of such animations, limit
the number of times they loop and even limit the speed in which this is
Simplicity must also be applied in choosing the most visual aspect of
your course, the background. When the background is busy and loud, text
becomes distorted and users are once again distracted from the actual
content of the page. I have found a white background to be the most effective.
The use of fonts and colors are also extremely important. Keeping color
and font variations to a minimum can help keep your site design "simple."
Consistency can greatly reduce the time initially required to master the
use of your course site, particularly for faculty teaching online for
the first time. This is important for both cognitive and motivational
reasons. Consistency across pages can reduce the load on cognitive processing.
If learning to use the site is a quick and painless process, learners
are quickly motivated to continue. If they have trouble, they are much
more likely to lose interest in the course.
of course materials
On the other
hand, if used correctly and infrequently, changing formats can quickly
grab a learner's attention. These inconsistencies might include a highlighted
button to indicate location, or an altered color scheme to indicate a
change of topic.
Creating Identity/Personalizing your Course
Taking into consideration the fact that your course site is a physical
place, you need to consider the purpose of your site. What is the general
"look" you are trying to convey? The
graphic design of a course site must not only be appropriate to the overall
subject matter, it should also set the "tone" for the learner's experience.
A quick review of publicly accessible courses will demonstrate the range
of styles chosen by course designers:
your course site is also important! There are many ways in which this
can be achieved--some examples include adding:
- a course
- a personal
picture within "Staff Information"
which express your personality (Remember not to over do it--remain simple!)
audio clips conveying reinforcement
to set proper "availabilities" within your Blackboard's control panel.
These course options allow you to customize your course by making only
the features you will use "available" to students. For example:
If you don't use Blackboard's online gradebook feature, mark it "unavailable"
in order to discard the access icon from the course site.
One of the most important elements of your course design is navigation!
You need to take time to seriously map out your navigational scheme, remembering
to remain consistent from page to page. Once set, you should also spend
time navigating your site from the student prospective. It's also not
a bad idea to have others test your site and its navigation.
As you know, Blackboard has already given you a head-start when it comes
to navigation. Every page on the course site can be easily reached....more
or less :-) This structure was provided by Blackboard Inc. for students
to readily find course information, documents, assignments, etc. Improvements
can be made to further enhance the "user friendliness" of the course.
Adding internal links within Blackboard, clearly labeling content folders,
removing unused icons and buttons, using banners or images to remind your
students of their location, are just some examples.
Be sure to consider "standards of compatibility" when creating your course
site. Your site should be platform, resolution, and browser friendly.
If your course site is not compatible for all viewers, you may need to
consider creating additional resources to accommodate exceptions.
if one of my student's uses a MAC to view my course? What browsers are
my students using? (AOL, Netscape, IE, CompuServe...) What's the common
screen resolution my students are using? These are all important questions.
Realize that pleasing everyone is IMPOSSIBLE!! It's understandable to
set platform, browser, and resolution requirements at the beginning of
the course. Even though this can alleviate some stress, you should still
be aware of the issues. I have found that 90% of "technical" problems
students have are related to their systems configuration. Realize that
not all your students will adapt their systems around your course!
To take "compatibility" a step further, to make your course truly
accessible from anywhere one must consider the use of applications when
designing a course site. Within Blackboard, it's simple to upload almost
any document created in one of many popular applications (i.e.; Microsoft
Word, PowerPoint, Lotus etc...) But is this simple and fast method the
most effective? Realize that by uploading any such document you are requiring
your students to have the application on their system in order to view
the material. For example, if you upload your syllabus which was created
in MS Word your students will need MS Word in order to view it! What
if your student uses WordPerfect?
Using HTML to create and maintain course sites is a technique which I
have adopted and taught to many online facilitators. This method permits
easy access of course materials and requires no application on the student's
computer...only a browser is needed! This technique allows for "anywhere"
access giving your course universality.
Does this mean you need to learn HMTL? NO!! There are many ways to creat
HTML pages which can be easily incorporated into Blackboard. Some include:
an HTML editor. There are many of them in the market and some can even
be downloaded from the web. One I recommend to faculty is MS FrontPage
which resembles MS Word.
Netscape browser contains a built-in feature (Netscape Composer) which
also acts as an HTML editor.
word processing applications now contain conversion tools which can
convert your documents into HTML automatically.
Course Design for Disabled Students
Special consideration is needed when designing web pages/sites which
will be view by students with disabilities. Some
Images & Animations - Use the alt tag attribute to describe the
function of each visual.
Multimedia - Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and
descriptions of video.
Hypertext links - Use text that makes sense when read out of
context. For example, avoid "click here".
Scripts, applets, and plug-ins - Provide alternative content
in case active features are inaccessible or unsupported.
design for disabled students is a vast topic! The following are some
web sites with useful information.
necessary alterations to your course site (especially within Blackboard)
is impossible. Future releases of Blackboard promise to take all "special
needs" into consideration.
Here To Go Back