Friday, March 16, 2012

Guest Post: Tips for Designing and Planning Your Course

TWU’s Instructional Design Team has been posting Blackboard “how-to” guides on their PB Wiki Space pages for years. And, this information is open to anyone with the URL. Here it is:

Recently, our Online Program Director asked me to take a look at one section of the TWU ID wiki titled “Designing and Planning DE Courses” and to think about perhaps posting some information from it on our Milestones & Meditations blog. This particular section of the wiki is indexed into five (5) parts:
  • Planning Your DE Course on Paper
  • Preparing for Your DE Course
  • Individual Course Planning Template
  • Contingency Planning for Instructors
  • Designing your Course to Show Instructor Presence

The information it contains can be taken as a whole for instructors new to online teaching and learning or as a refresher for veteran instructors. One of my take-aways from reading the material is how to manage your course offline, so that updates to it can be recorded as soon as they come to mind, rather than waiting for the course shells to become available before changes, updates, or edits can be made.

In our department, course copy and/or exporting is how materials from a previous semester are moved into a course shell. This saves time and effort on the part of the instructor and just requires updates from the online support staff. Sounds simple enough, right? Except for the million and one things that can get in the way of a speedy update, like
  • Operator error – we don’t like it but we know that it happens.         
  • Blackboard goes down (or gets an update).
  • Natural disasters.
  • Power outages.
  • A new instructor who will be using someone else’s course.
  • A variety of updates and changes to things like dates and assignments.

The TWU ID section on “Designing and Planning DE Courses” offers some great suggestions for managing, editing, and updating your course offline.

One way to do this is to develop a Learning Guide for each module in your course. This Learning Guide should mirror the structure of your Learning Modules and might include the following sections: Module #/Topic/Summary, Objectives, Due Dates, Readings, Learning Activities, and Assessments and it should be kept, in a Microsoft Word document on your hard drive. You could format it in a table, like the graphic shown here. Or, if tables don’t suit your style, you could format it as an outline. Just make sure that your modules and Learning Guide have the same components. 

This Learning Guide is your site map for everything contained in the module. Details for each of the items listed can be found inside the module.

The goal for this instrument is twofold:
  •  For faculty, it is designed to hold all of the specific information that used to be inside the module. For example, chapter pages, specific dates of the module, or specific due dates for the components of the module are located in just one place, the Learning Guide. That means, when it is time to update your course, you will need to change dates, times, chapter and page numbers only in the Learning Guide. You will no longer have to search throughout countless modules and other Bb elements to catch all the instances of a dated test, assignment, or discussion board. Also, by sitemapping your modules this way, you will be able to, at a glance, determine if you have included all of the major elements necessary for your students to achieve the objectives outlined for the module.
  • For students, the Learning Guide serves as a sort of “Module-at-a-Glance.” It is their “heads-up” to what is expected of them once they click on the link for a particular module. At a glance they will know what they are expected to learn, when things are due, what chapters, papers, articles, websites must be read and by what date, and what assignments they will need to complete for this module and which ones will be graded. Again, the details for all assignments are inside the module.
How you use the Learning Guide is entirely up to you. The basic structure of the Learning Guide is the same as the module. You can keep it for your own use in updating your module when there is a change in textbooks, or when you run across a learning activity that you would like to add to your course. In this case you would make all changes to the Learning Guide, then, when your course shell for the upcoming semester becomes available, you would simply use this “cheat” sheet to make the changes, additions, edits, etc. to your individual modules in Blackboard. As long as the Learning Guide is clear, complete and current, you could just hand it over to your Graduate Assistant or Course Support person to update your course shell.

The Learning Guide is where the important work of keeping your course current is kept. And, that’s just one of the great ideas you’ll find at the TWU Instructional Design Wiki!

This post contributed by Margaret Cortez, the Course Support Specialist for the TWU Department of Health Studies.

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