Monday, August 11, 2014

Looking Back at Previous Courses to Improve Your Next Online Course

The countdown is on for the start of the Fall semester, and with that comes the work of getting our courses ready to go live. This article is about looking back at previous semesters and finding information that will help us improve our future courses. Below are tips for where to look for clues on how we can improve:

  • Student Evaluations: read them and take note of the good, the bad, and the ugly. We are often so involved with our teaching and trying to get all the information covered before the end of the term that we overlook items that are important to the students. Evaluations can often reveal the missing pieces.
  • Student comments and emails: Look back at student emails and forum posts for additional insight into what needs clarification. For example, if numerous questions were asked about assignments, grading policies, etc., this would indicate that further explanation is needed in the course. Also take note of positive comments from students that indicate what activities and resources they especially liked and use this as a guidepost for designing future ones.
  • Activity reports: Look at the activity reports within Moodle to see how often students viewed specific resources or utilized tools that were included in the course. This will indicate resources that could be eliminated or improved and also emphasize the types of resources that students found most useful.
  • Take note of the "unexpecteds" that occurred during the previous semester. Were there activities that did not go as you planned, or assignments that took too long to grade, or quiz questions that seemed to stump the entire class? In the future, start a file or document where you can collect these items and your responses to them so that the next time one pops up you will be prepared and you can spend less time and energy dealing with it. This will also serve as a reminder of what to go back and fix the next time the course is offered.
  • Check your syllabus for items that need to be added, clarified, or updated. If students had questions about your late work policy, add this information to the syllabus. If you received numerous poorly written emails, include a section on netiquette.
  • Conduct an honest self-evaluation and look over and learn from your mistakes, oversights, and inconsistencies. Look for activities that you did not like or could have run smoother and improve them.
  •  Do a thorough check of your course for any broken links, layout problems, or inaccessibility issues. Be sure to test all url's to make sure they still work - Internet materials can be there one day and gone the next!
  • Keep a file of positive comments, new ideas you come across and student interactions that went especially well. The comments will serve as a reminder of your positive efforts and how they were appreciated by the students. The documentation of new ideas will help you to remember what you wanted to add in the future. The transcript of student interactions can be used as guide for future students who may need assistance with the project.
  • Set aside enough time to look over your course before it goes live to update due dates, textbook information and lectures. 
Remember that you may have taught this course dozens of times, but "to each of your students this may be a first experience having you as an instructor and thus having a course that works well in all aspects--layout, technical, explanation of assignments, correct dates, working links, and an engaged and concerned instructor--is what that student expects..and deserves. And only you can make that happen" (Sull, 2010).

Sull, E. C. (2010, January). Use end of an online course to better your next online course! Online Cl@ssroom.

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