New ‘Playbook’ Explains Four Elements of Great Online Courses

Remote Learning

New ‘Playbook’ Explains Four Elements of Great Online Courses

By Rebecca Koenig     May 29, 2020

New ‘Playbook’ Explains Four Elements of Great Online Courses

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, college faculty may have felt a little lost as to how to transfer their face-to-face classes online.

Now, a few months in, they may feel inundated with advice. (We know, EdSurge has published plenty of it.)

A new “playbook” aims to strike the middle ground between offering higher ed instructors and institutions too much information about teaching remotely and offering too little. Called “Delivering High-Quality Instruction Online in Response to COVID-19,” the guide is organized into short chapters that offer insight at three levels:

• “Design” boxes feature foundational information about taking a course online.

• “Enhance” boxes offer tips about improving the quality of online courses.

• “Optimize” boxes explain best practices and methods of course evaluation.

Throughout, the playbook explores themes of providing students with support in online courses, making such courses equitable, and the importance of continuously improving them.

The project was created by the Every Learner Everywhere network, the Online Learning Consortium and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Disclosure: EdSurge is a participant in the network.

“While we hope that the public health situation improves and students are back on campus in September, most institutions are preparing for the need to offer a significant percentage of instruction in hybrid and online formats for the fall semester and maybe longer,” said Jessica Rowland Williams, director of Every Learner Everywhere, in a statement. “Our faculty playbook provides just-in-time guidance from digital learning experts which builds on their decades of experience delivering high-quality online education.”

Here are summaries of the four essential elements of successful online courses, according to the playbook.

Course Design

Instructors should ask themselves: What do you want students to learn in your course? The answer to this question will help identify the right class materials, activities and assessments to use. Start by identifying learning objectives, not technology tools. Before getting too far into designing a course, study the basics of Universal Design for Learning to help ensure most students will be able to participate.

Course Components

What materials will impart the right information to students? The guide says to consider pre-existing, high quality, open access content to save time. It also advises recording “microlectures,” either via audio or video, with accompanying written notes. Faculty should consider how to welcome students to the course and set the right tone for the experience they hope to provide. As for assessments—maybe dial back the stress they tend to generate? This is an emergency, after all.

Course Management

Professors put a lot of effort into making a course. But they should carefully consider what they expect from students in return. The guide says instructors should specify how they would like students to communicate with them and each other, and explain what tools will help do that. And it suggests telling them about resources they can use if they need assistance.

Course Evaluation

Instructors should also grade themselves, so to speak. There are several resources and rubrics and scorecards available to help you measure the quality of an online course, so it can be improved for next term.

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