In the beginning
I remember the first online course I developed. When I started the project, I thought it would be relatively straightforward. After all, I had been using Desire2Learn extensively for my face-to-face courses; this should be a piece of cake, right? I soon found that the phrase “piece of cake” did not apply to the development of an accessible or engaging online course.
At first, I worked with tools that would easily augment my existing course materials. But as I progressed, I found myself thinking that the course I was building not only looked boring, but I was seriously considering the ability of my students to learn the material without more resources. The question I constantly asked myself was “If I were taking this course, do I have all the tools necessary to accomplish this assignment?” As an instructor, I sometimes forget that what seems simple and straightforward to me can be the biggest hang-up for a student.
My online classroom philosophy
My philosophy is that my course shell is my classroom. I do not want the students to have to traverse beyond the my online classroom unless they are doing independent research. I believe that everything the student may need to understand the subject should be available from within my classroom. I do not believe that my teaching style is the best for all students, and therefore I think it is important they have study aids made easily available to them. Having these additional resources increases the chances there is an explanation of a concept that will connect with their unique learning style.
So, I just had to find the right resources to facilitate that goal. That was a journey all unto itself! I needed to start with the textbook, one that would support the independent nature of online learning.
Supporting the independent nature of online learning
Successful online learners are good at independent study because they are generally self-motivated and self-disciplined. But just because successful online learners are motivated and disciplined, does not mean that I should leave them in the deep end of my subject matter without some sort of life-line other than sending me an email.
The first reference that online students generally turn to is their textbook. So, I wanted to find a textbook that would provide great student ancillaries that were freely available. Students pay a small fortune for their textbooks and, in my opinion, access to well-developed student ancillaries should be included in the cost. Not only that, but I did not want to re-invent any wheels if possible.
The PCC Query Guide outlines what is needed for a quality online course at PCC. The first thing a PCC instructor sees in module one of a new development shell is templates for an introduction and a conclusion. Wouldn’t it be nice if all publisher materials provided instructors with brief overviews and detailed summaries of the topics along with learning objectives and helpful hints for students? Unfortunately, not all publisher textbook content is made equal.
I teach economics and after a long search through introductory textbooks and their ancillaries, I found one that freely provided:
- Chapter Overviews
- Chapter Learning Objectives, Instructional Objectives
- Student Stumbling Blocks
- Historical pieces on concepts
- Interactive Graphs
- Advanced mathematical notes
- Video Clips on nearly every economic concept
- The first week’s chapter reading in PDF format
- Additional worked problems
- Test Banks
Wow! I hit a jackpot! Interactive graphs to boot! I was in instructor resource heaven and my students would not have to pay for anything more than their textbook. If they did not quite understand a concept from my lecture video, they could view one of the video clips. If they were history buffs, they could read up on the history behind economic concepts. If they were mathematical, they could look at the more advanced math notes. Here was a plethora of materials to appeal to a variety of student interests.
We are in an era where our online courses must compete against online entities such as Facebook and YouTube for our student’s limited time and attention. Making a content and resource rich online course has helped keep my students in my classroom and not out searching for additional content and getting distracted by the latest and greatest posts and uploads.
The wealth of ancillary content associated with my text was a great asset in the development of my course. I chose the ancillaries that matched my teaching style and supported my personally developed materials. As a result, my class averages are higher on all assignments and exams. In addition, my students tend to retain basic concepts from the first week and are able to reference and expand upon them in later weeks. Finding a text with great ancillaries was a win-win. It was a win for me in creating a content rich course and a win for my students in their ability to successfully complete the course.
Note: Sam Houston State University’s (SHSU) Online Newsletter posted an article in April of 2014 on Best Practices for Working With Publisher Content. It lists nine best practices for the use of publisher materials.