I have facilitated many online courses which worked . . . and a few which didn’t. I have found that the keys to the best online courses are organization and clear communication. Following are a few absolute musts for me when I am building or amending an online course:
- Bullet-point, bullet-point, bullet-point. Much like the old mantra of how to succeed in business – “location, location, location” – bullet-points are the top three ways to organize communication in online courses. I get paid to read blocks of text in an essay format, but I still want directives I must follow to be communicated to me in succinct and clearly delineated steps, and I expect that my students prefer it that way as well.
- A clearly communicated course organization. Although I use modules, the assignments within each module are organized by weeks. All assignments are due on Sundays at 11:59 p.m. I find that students are most intimidated by online courses because they aren’t sure what comes next or if they’re overlooking something. The module outlines contain everything they need to know, including an introduction or overview, the weekly schedule of readings and assignments, and specific instructions for each assignment in that module. It’s one-stop shopping, and my students seem to love the clean simplicity of it.
- Flexible dropbox and quiz dates. Dropbox folders and quizzes are open for a range of days in my courses. I communicate to students that I consider the first day to be the “due date” and that I am allowing three extra days to be “late” without penalty. Since my syllabus states that late papers or assignments are reduced by 20% per day they are late, it is futile to extend the dropbox beyond the day it closes. This allows space for students to plan their work and keeps me from extending deadlines excessively. (Admittedly, I still accept late papers at times depending on the situation.)
- It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Perhaps the single most important element in successfully facilitating an online class is to use the appropriate tone. I try to strike a balance of professional and conversational. In all emails, discussion responses, and assignment feedback, I strive for my written communication to contain an element of the camaraderie the student and I might enjoy in the classroom. Humor is always good. Unless it’s bad. And then you should leave it alone. But if you can pull off appropriate humor that translates well via the written word, then by all means, do it.