Notes from Designing an Exemplary Online Course #slate14

These are my notes from the session “Designing an Exemplary Online Course” presented by Jason Rhode at the 2014 SLATE Conference. You can view a recording of a similar presentation by Jason below.

You can access his slides at

What Constitutes Quality Online?

  • Standards are important to allow everyone to start from the same page on quality, to enable innovation beyond basic quality
  • Blackboard Catalyst Program
    • A rubric for assessing quality in online courses
    • Developed based on research and best practices, used for evaluating in four areas: course design, interaction & collaboration, Assessment, and Learner Support
    • Bb Catalyst Award recognizes innovation and excellence for technology and learning
    • Learn more at
    • Rubric
    • Course Design
      • Structure of the course
      • Learning objectives
      • Organization
      • Instructional strategies
    • Interaction & Collaboration
      • Interaction: communication between and among learners and instructors
      • Collaboration: subset of interaction, referring specifically to groups working toward a shared result
    • Assessment
      • Measure progress towards learning outcomes
      • Provide feedback to students and instructor
      • Enable grading assignment
    • Learner Support
      • Address support resources, within or external to the course environment
      • Specifically, addressing student services

Sample Course

Best Practices

  • Start Here area that includes information about getting started and accessing support services
  • Goals and Objectives easily located within the course (something like Overview, Course Information)
  • Put goals and objectives in multiple areas (to increase the likelihood of finding them)
  • Content should be displayed or “chunked” in manageable segments (could be folders, learning modules, or other method)
  • Use a consistent unit structure, such as overview, objectives, readings, activities, etc.
  • Create an intuitive navigation structure, with information needed at the beginning of the course first, then a section on content, followed by interaction tools, and an area for reflection/feedback and assistance
  • Post content in multiple ways, so that content is navigable as a type as well as in the unit-based chunks (for example, create readings in a content area but link to this folder in a particular unit)
  • Present content in a variety of different mechanisms (text, images, audio, and video)
  • Provide guidance for learners to work with content, such as weekly introduction videos
  • Use low-cost or no-cost materials whenever possible (Open Education Resources, publicly available videos, etc.)
  • Use asynchronous communication to promote critical reflection (discussion board and reflection journals)
  • Balance asynchronous activities with synchronous communication
  • Build a sense of community by encouraging sharing
  • Provide clear and detailed instructions for assignments (consider posting the rubric directly in the description)
  • Use multiple types of assessments
  • Provide detailed information about the instructor to set a friendly and welcoming tone
  • Make it easy to find policies, such as late work, accessibility policies, etc.
  • CREATE ACCESSIBLE COURSE MATERIALS. That’s it, no negotiation (my personal opinion)
    • Caption videos
    • Provide downloadable transcripts
  • Allow for multiple methods for students to submit assignments (consider video posts instead of only text)
  • Provide opportunities for students to give feedback on course design

Practical Tips

  • Organize by units instead of content type so that students can find everything they are looking for right now in one place
  • Create one “Unit” or “Module” as a sample and then copy to create identical versions for other units
  • Use video (such as the Video Everywhere tool in Bb) to provide welcoming videos that introduce the weekly content
  • Provide choice of questions on discussion forums so that students have choice and flexibility to adapt to their own context
  • Create a one-page quick guide to your course, including schedule & assignments
  • Provide a table view of when they earn points for each assignment, organized by assignment and week
  • Post rubrics as a table as well as creating with the Rubric tool to make it easier for students to find it
  • YouTube has a really easy-to-use transcription tool so that you can create ACCURATE captions (not auto-captions)

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