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Designing Your Course

Page history last edited by Anne McKinney 15 years ago



Let's get organized!

Let's assume you've had a chance to familiarize yourself with the CMS (or other course design system) you're going to use. Now, how are you going to format your site, organize your content, and otherwise put your course together? If you have never taught before, this module will help you plan the learning experience from communicating your objectives to assessing what your students learn. If you have taught your course f2f, this is an opportunity to rethink your curriculum as you adapt it to the needs of online learners. First, let's discuss the way your students will respond to your course materials in terms of navigation.



Simply put, your students need to be able to find out:


  • What they need to do,
  • When it needs to be done, and
  • Where to turn it in.


How will they find this information? In an f2f situation, you would probably hand out copies of your syllabus and explain course procedures and expectations. For an online course, students need to be able to access important information easily, know where to find it, and receive important announcements in a timely fashion. The way you organize your course site can help accomplish this.


The most important rule of thumb

However you organize your course content, keep it consistent. If you have assignments and forums organized by weekly units or modules, for example, have a new unit/module for every week of the semester. If you put announcements at the top of your home page, or send them out as email messages, do this continually for the duration of the course. Students will come to expect a pattern to their interaction with your course; deviations to this pattern will make it harder for them to find important information, fail to complete assignments on time, or worse, frustrate them to the point of dropping out. The less time students have to spend looking for information, the more time they will have to devote to learning the subject matter.


Beyond consistency, instructors (as well as students) have differing opinions as to the most effective way to organize content on their sites. Some prefer to have a very clean, sparse home page with links to content pages and sub-pages because the eye doesn't have to sort through as much text to find the content it's seeking. On the other hand, some prefer to use just a few pages with lots of text and content because it's easier to print one long page than a dozen short pages.

It will also help navigation to use headings and sub-headings in your text. Breaking up longer bits of text into short sections and shorter paragraphs will make your online readings more digestible. This brings us to the topic of accessibility.



Long story short, you want your course text - and content in general - to be accessible to all your students. If you have students with disabilities in your course, you will need to ensure that any text can be interpreted by software for the blind. If you create your documents in Word, for example, not all fonts and formats can be interpreted by this software.


There are ways to format your documents so they will be more accessible for these students: using different headings for main titles and subsection titles instead of increasing font size and using boldface type, for example, is better for blind students reading with interpretive software. The software picks up on the type of heading when "Normal" text in bold will be interpreted as part of the main body of text. This means that when you use the different types of headings, blind students will be able to skip to specific sections of text rather than slogging through an entire chapter from start to finish.


Additionally, any images, video, or audio you create should be accompanied by text so they can be accessible to blind and/or deaf students. We will discuss accessibility issues in greater depth in Module 5.



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