Spring Cleaning: Three Tips for Redesigning Your Course
It’s that time again. Courses are showing up in dashboard, and faculty are beginning to think about what changes they plan to make in their course design. As we near the start of the semester I’d offer these three tips for instructors who look to clean up and streamline their courses.
Consider What’s Essential – Fewer Resources
A common mistake I’ve observed is instructors putting too much content or activities in their course. I too have been guilty of thinking the more I put in a module the more substantial it feels, but that’s not the case. The course page becomes bloated, and the learner loses sight of what is essential. Less is more. Remember the course is designed to be a space for learning activities, not a place
to archive files, and to think carefully about the files you need.
An early step for many instructors, using the Learning Management System (LMS) for the first time, has been to post the supplemental resources (PDFs, slides, documents) in the course for the learners. It is a great way to get started and use the LMS to replace the handing out of paper. However I’d encourage restraint, and post only what is necessary. If everything in the course is important, then nothing is.
Examine the files you are posting and ask Is this meeting my learning goals? Do I consider this to be essential? It is very tempting to leave a resource in the course for “just in case.” This kind of thinking leads to course sections filled with additional resources that, in many cases, are never accessed by the majority of your students. Many courses become large file repositories that are backed up and restored every semester with little change to the course files. Too many times a supplemental reading from several semesters long ago just keeps existing.
Remove that which is unessential. Many LMS’s have ways to examine which resources the learners access and download. Check out the logs or reports from the last time you taught the course. If an activity or resource is not being accessed, is it necessary to keep it there? You may find that the more superfluous stuff you remove, the better your students perform with the content you are using.
Depth and Breadth – Few Tools, Used Very Well
The second tip in this “Less is more” approach concerns the activities in a course. As an administrator of an LMS I decide, with a group of admins and faculty, what activities will be available to the courses’ instructors. But over time the menu of tools has grown to fit the varied needs of the faculty who use it. Though you may see many options for assessment, many skilled instructors use just a few of these options, and focus on using them very well. The quality of how tools are used, not quantity, leads to more success and better sense of satisfaction for your learners.
A simple tool like a discussion forum can be used in many, simple ways. Balance the need for a variety of learning activities with the purpose of using the tool. Often it is not how many tools you have, but how well you use the ones you have. Become an artist using one of the features. Better to be an expert at one or two that you use in meaningful ways rather than a novice of many. There are common tools in all LMS’s that can be used effectively with little technical expertise. Your students may appreciate the restraint as well.
As you plan for the upcoming semester, choose a couple of things to use and plan ways to use them very well.
Design for Mobile
Finally, think of the different devices that students use to access the course. A course that looks great on a large monitor in your office might look very different on a netbook, tablets or, even more likely, a smartphone. Think about the ways that modules and sections might look differently when accessed on smaller touchscreens. Try it out on your phone and see how different it looks.
Although most of the traffic to our LMS is from laptops, many use smartphones as their primary devices. These learners might be the ones we most need to consider in the course design.
An easy first step is to think about the ways media might cut down on the text in your course. A short video to introduce the week’s activities and learning goals might be preferable to a longer text summary — or you might consider trying both and seeing how it might benefit your learners. The barriers for creating high-quality video for your courses are low. Some video options for doing short instructor-created videos are built-in to the LMS and are easily embedded in the course modules. Try it and you might find this is a nice alternative to the bodies of text in a course. Consider consulting the instructional technology team or instructional design team on your campus. They might be able to suggest some simple ways to make the course better for mobile delivery.
In summary, put some time and energy into designing for less content, use fewer tools and consider mobile delivery. All of these likely lead to a better experience for you and your students.
About the Author
Emory Maiden is an Instructional Technology Consultant at Appalachian State University, where he works with faculty on course design and supporting the effective use of instructional technologies in their courses.
The eDesign Collaborative serves higher education instructional design teams (instructional designers, multimedia developers and team administrators) in higher education seeking networking and professional development.
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