Best practices: Creating successful online courses for newbies

For many seasoned educators teaching can be a breeze. Teaching online on the other hand is an entirely different gust of wind which presents its own unique set of challenges. For many folks just the thought of venturing out into cyberspace to plant a home for a new virtual classroom is shocking – nay scary! Taking the plunge to move your teaching online might seem daunting at first but it doesn’t have to be. In today’s blog I’ll point out ten best practices for creating online courses for the first time!

1. Use a chart to keep yourself organized.

Things are constantly moving and changing in an online course and it’s important to keep track of them. Using a chart or an outline to plot out the scope and sequence of your course will make it easier for you to see what’s missing and what else you might need to add. I like to set up a new document in Google Docs for each course I design so that I always have the peace of mind knowing that my design documents are accessible anywhere I have an internet connection.

2. Organize your course materials in one place.

It’s easy to start adding files to your course just as it’s also easy to start losing track of where they’re coming from. Take advantage of using Joule’s file repository system to upload and store all of your course files so that it’s easy to link to your course content as you’re building your course. Always be sure to use the backup feature to save a copy of your hard work; backing up will even make your life easier later when you’re rolling over your courses to future semesters.

3. Design and use rubrics to make grading easier.

Rather than wasting valuable time you can create rubrics in Joule for all of your graded activities to keep the grading process as transparent and consistent as possible. An effective rubric should be detailed enough to cover all of the nuances and expectations of any activity but also simple enough so that there’s little to no difficulty deciding between different areas of the grading range. Using rubrics to grade is an ultimate time saver that can be effective and efficient especially with large groups of students.

4. Integrate a healthy mix of asynchronous and synchronous elements in your course.

Most online courses are considered asynchronous (not live) since each user can be logging in and out at any given time during the day. Thus the most popular medium of facilitating discussions are forums. Try including a discussion forum during each week or unit of your course if appropriate. While Moodle™/Joule automatically includes a helpful “News forum” for your course announcements it might also be helpful to add a “Help” forum for students needing to ask questions. When you want to add more synchronous (live) elements to your course such as a chat room virtual office hours or a live class session complete with whiteboards and screen sharing consider purchasing a Joule Synchronous license to add another exciting level of engagement to your course.

5. Help your students monitor their learning progress.

Take advantage of completion tracking settings in Joule to help students track their course progress. Because you might want to ensure that students complete certain activities before others you can even set up restrictions for when activities and resources can be accessed based on grade and completion conditions. To top it all off you can add the course completion status block to your course which quickly helps a student stay on track and allows you to view their progress. You can even use the exciting Personalized Learning Designer (PLD) to assist in remediating or accelerating a students’ learning experience in the course.

6. Make your course mobile-friendly.

The latest version of Joule (Open LMS ' enterprise Moodle™ platform) includes a mobile theme custom-designed for smartphone browser screens. When enabled your current course site remains unchanged but will appear with a complete different mobile-friendly layout when accessed on a mobile device. You can interact with your courses on your device (with certain limitations of course) anytime and anywhere.

7. Add resources and activities to support and enhance the instruction.

Many educators mistakenly believe that online courses must be congested with an army of resources and activities in order for the course to “look pretty.” Unless you truly believe that your students will benefit from watching parts 1-20 of random YouTube videos and perusing through pages and pages of obscure articles leave them out! Instead design the flow of each unit or lesson of your course; then add an appropriate number of resources and activities to support the learning. While your course will end up with a lot of elements in the long run the key is to chunk your content in manageable pieces that won’t overwhelm students.

8. Use social networking to extend learning beyond the classroom.

The value of social presence is powerful and often overlooked so consider connecting your courses to social networking platforms to keep everyone connected outside the formal learning environment. Joule includes a social networking add-on called Joule Social that can be integrated into any course giving students and educators the opportunity to connect in an informal atmosphere. Users can create groups post status updates write blogs and so much more. Simply add the Joule Social block to your course and one click will take users directly into an intuitive and highly interactive social environment.

9. Convert your resources to accessible formats.

In an effort to make your courses more accessible consider converting all of your course documents (syllabi handouts PowerPoint notes etc.) to easily accessible file formats like PDF. Not only will this make it easier for students to open and view your documents it will also ensure that your documents display exactly as you expected. When creating course materials in Microsoft Word I always find it helpful to have the original copy alongside the PDF copy; this means I can make changes at any time to the original and update the PDF version.

10. Consider adopting an e-book textbook for your course.

Most folks don’t think about it but the textbook(s) of choice for any given course is always important to consider especially for an online course. It’s always a good idea to see if an e-book version of your chosen textbook is available to save your students money and to make learning more mobile with less to carry around. Chances are good that nearly all e-book versions are more inexpensive than their hardcopy counterparts and can be read on most mobile and tablet devices. CourseSmart ( is one of the largest providers of e-book versions of textbooks that can be purchased and/or rented for less than the print versions; they even have free readers for select mobile devices. If you want to create and/or publish your own e-book for your course you can explore Apple’s new free iBook Author app that allows you to do just that.

That’s all we have for today. I hope you find these tips and best practices to be helpful when designing and delivering your online courses!




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