College Hall seen through spring flowers

Online Course Design

The successful design of an online or hybrid course requires thoughtful consideration of how the modality shift impacts teaching and learning, both logistically and pedagogically. You should expect a shift in approach from the way you teach in a physical classroom, and you’ll need to determine what components will be asynchronous or synchronous depending on your course’s assigned modality. If you are teaching a hybrid course, you’ll want to figure out how to maximize the time you spend in person and what can be done effectively online.

Online and hybrid courses are usually developed many months before they are taught. The better designed the course is in advance, the more time you will be able to devote to facilitating the course.

The online and hybrid course development process is described below. Select each step to learn more.

Step 1
Define Course Goals and Outcomes

The first question to ask yourself at the beginning of course design is what should my students know, value, or be able to do by the course’s end?   Your answers to this question will influence everything- from how you organize your weekly content, to the readings you select, activities you conduct, and assessments you create.

You will transform these answers into course goals, measurable broad outcomes your students should achieve by taking your course. Your course goals will help you define learning objectives, which are more specific and measurable. Mastery of these will be demonstrated through your assessments. Beginning with your end goals in mind embodies Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design (UbD) framework, which follows a “backwards” design approach. They recommend you start by defining your course goals and learning outcomes (LOs), facilitating your students’ learning journey by planning every aspect of your course around your course goals. The path to achieving those goals typically entails students’ active engagement with course materials, activities, discussions, assessments, and much more. You’ll plan these materials and activities in the next two steps.

Step 2
Chunk your Content into Weekly Learning Modules

Students learn better when information is presented in meaningful categories or logical groups, when longer lessons are broken up into smaller segments, and when course activities are appropriately scaffolded and sequenced. The MSU Canvas Course Template is “chunked” into learning modules by week to provide structure you can customize for your courses.

Whether you are designing a traditional 15-week Fall/Spring course or an accelerated Summer/Winter course, it’s important to consider each module’s workload as you map out each one to ensure balance and an appropriate amount of content and activities. Wake Forest University’s Workload Estimator can help you estimate the time commitments necessary for common academic tasks (reading, completing writing assignments, etc.).

You can use the Workload Estimator in tandem with the Carnegie Unit, a measure that approximates hours per week for instruction, study hours, and total student engagement based on the number of credits and weeks of the course. Note that instructional hours in an online course can take the form of live Zoom meetings in synchronous online courses or recorded video/text-based lecture content in an asynchronous online course.

Step 3
Follow Montclair’s OCIA Course Design Model

The OCIA Course Design model supports a social, interaction-embedded approach to course design and development and uses learning modules to structure the course in Canvas. Although this is particularly helpful for online and hybrid courses, students appreciate the structure this offers when taking in person courses as well. The OCIA model establishes consistency in the way learning modules are designed and content is presented to your students. This reduces confusion and guesswork by students on where to find various resources and assignments in Canvas. Montclair State has developed and continues to improve a course template based on this approach. It is informed by new findings in online learning research and resources like the Quality Matters Rubrics and Standards.

Once you define course goals, essential questions, and other course level outcomes you will develop an overall approach to online course assessments and activities and chunk the course into weekly learning modules. At this stage, the OCIA model and course template will guide you through structuring the course into weekly learning modules.

Each module follows the OCIA framework, which includes four main components:

  1. Orientation: The orientation sets the learning context for each learning module and includes learning objectives, module requirements, and perspective.
  2. Content: Each learning module’s content includes all information students need to begin the learning process and engage with the concepts introduced.
  3. Interaction: Include multiple opportunities for asynchronous or synchronous interaction and reflection in your course. You may include discussions, wikis, synchronous web conferencing sessions, online office hours, group activities, and tools that support student engagement (i.e. Flipgrid, Perusall, Padlet, Voicethread).
  4. Assessment: Assessment is an opportunity for students to demonstrate that they have achieved the objectives you challenged them to master.
Step 4
Build your Course Components

Once you’ve mapped out your course in its entirety, the final step is to build it in Canvas and integrate the additional technologies you’ve decided to use (VoiceThread, Padlet, Flipgrid, Perusall, etc.).

This step can feel intimidating if you’ve never used Canvas before. Instructional designers are available to help you navigate the resources available that may enhance your course development and teaching. Technology training is also available for Canvas and many of the additional tools used within it.

The simplest ways to get started with Canvas are to:

  1. Review our Faculty Canvas Orientation Course: This course is self-paced and contains all the details you’ll need to know about Canvas to successfully teach online.
  2. Schedule a One-on-One Course Design Consultation: You may schedule a one-on-one appointment with an instructional designer for assistance with instructional design, Canvas, and other tools and technologies.
  3. Attend a workshop: ITDS regularly offers training and workshops on a number of pedagogical and technological topics. Review our training calendar to learn more and register.
References and Resources