Let’s move the course online. How many times have you heard that? Prior to COVID-19, online course development was a bit taboo – moving courses online required time and planning. COVID-19 occurred and suddenly within weeks, we were pivoting courses to online delivery. However, just because a course is running online does not mean it is a well-developed online course. Take it from us – we know, we learned.
In 2018, after years of running over 20 annual sections of our career preparation course, we decided to move it online, using all original content and giving ourselves a few months to get the work done. Was this goal ambitious? Absolutely.
The path to course creation and execution is not always a smooth one, as we learned in the summer of 2019. With the fall semester looming and course enrolment steadily increasing, we made the decision to pivot our mandatory student submission to a short-answer reflection assignment. The assignment was created, the course went live and we were optimistic about the new semester … until we discovered that the automatic grading functionality we used for other quizzes was not available for this one. We found ourselves faced with the task of reading and manually grading 1,200 reflection assignments. Such a task will change a person.
Plan for everything to go well, but expect that it might not. This will help you be prepared to adapt when you discover that unclicked checkbox that would have made your life a lot easier.
Ours is a cautionary tale and we hope it will help those considering adapting a career course into an online format. We succeeded, failed and learned a few lessons along the way.
1. Time. Can you develop an online course in two months? Sure, but you need people with an education background – not just subject matter experts – to do so. Chunking out material, writing objectives, scripting animated videos, developing quizzes and content or figuring out discussion boards all takes time.
2. Technology. Consider what platform you will use to house your course, including its possibilities and limitations. If you intend to record lectures or workshops, consider how the platform you choose will look. We recommend training one of your team members to do much of the tech content, while still working with your EdTech Department – this will be a gamechanger. And make sure you know what your EdTech Department is willing and able to do for you.
3. Accessibility. This is where we went wrong; some elements of our course were not optimal for students with disabilities. If you are not putting everything you post for learners through an accessibility check, it is time to make a change in your process. Take a course in accessible online learning – you can find them on Coursera or ask your EdTech department for recommendations – and learn to analyze each component before you post it online.
4. Diversity. Your learners come from diverse backgrounds, and you want everyone to relate to your content. Whatever kind of content (original or not) you are using, you need to remember who is visible. We recommend connecting with your equity, diversity and inclusion office before beginning your course development.
5. Length. People get bored quickly. You want to keep their attention? Try “chunking.” Consider chunking your modules and speaker presentations into two-minute sections. You need engaging speakers, a variety of age demographics and a good pace if you expect learners to listen attentively for more than two minutes.
6. Cost. If you want to use original content, you need to spend money. Learners appreciate original content filled with their own alumni, employers or people with whom they identify. However, you will need a great animator or videographer, which costs money. Budgets are tight in academia but choosing to invest in professionals to develop this content goes a long way.
7. Ability. Rick Mercer’s amazing alley rants look easy. But we quickly learned that a rant video requires more than a person walking around campus, talking to a camera – you need countless takes, editing and an actual human running backward in front of them while holding very large cue cards (check out our final product). We recommend thoroughly thinking through any unique ideas, realistically assessing your abilities and resources, and testing how everything will work – before you try to do it.
8. Participation. Unless content is mandatory, learners will not view it; instead they may skip to the required quiz and end up trying it many times before they get it right. We recommend making the content mandatory; do not allow a quiz or requirement to open until all weekly content is at least clicked. This will also help alleviate multitudes of questions with answers that were included in the unwatched content.
9. Teaching assistants. If you have the budget, hire senior students as teaching assistants; they are a huge asset as students prefer to learn from their peers. We tried countless models over two years – manned labs, computer labs, drop-ins – and realized the greatest student attendance was at events with peer support from 6-9 p.m. or online virtually. Save your staff some time and hire senior students whom you trust to run these sessions.
10. Pivot. Do not reinvent the wheel, but don’t use content or exercises that have failed – instead, innovate. After every term we analyzed the course. We made small changes during the academic year and used the next summer for big changes.
The future is here. For many, you are hard at work preparing to pivot your career course online. It’s absolutely attainable for fall 2020. A last piece of advice: there is no pressure to make all your content live right at the start. Prepare and post the first few weeks, evaluate and pivot as you go along. This is a learning experience for students, you and your team. Pivot, innovate and be prepared for whatever may happen. If you put learners at the forefront of the learning experience, you will always be a step ahead.
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