Create the Course Schedule Including Clear Deadlines.
There are a number of elements to consider when creating the course schedule. These include:
- Time Unit
- Beginning and Ending of Week
- Student Workload
- Student Enrollment
- Classroom Discussions (Asynchronous, Synchronous, or Both)
Time Unit: In an online course, students engage with the same course material, discussions, and activities within a week (or module); however, they complete assignments, activities, and contribute to the discussions at times that are most convenient for them (Elabum, McIntyre, & Smith, 2002, pp. 25-27):
- If you use a weekly time frame, make all assignments due by the end of the week.
- If you use modules, plan on due dates or weekly check-in points at least, so students are not left on their own for too long.
- Consider the pacing of the course and plan appropriately. Reading through many discussion postings and lessons can be time consuming for the online student.
NOTE: It is important to avoid assigning daily due dates because many online students will not be able to participate on a daily basis.
Beginning and Ending of Week: As an online instructor, you will need to set arbitrary deadlines. Consider setting the schedule for a “Tuesday to Monday” or “Wednesday to Tuesday” week. A Monday to Sunday schedule often requires you to work over the weekend answering student questions and posting announcements and activities for the following week. Also, many online students work during the week and prefer to complete school work on the weekends.
Student Workload: Design your course with the expectation your students will commit a minimum of five to seven hours and up to ten to fifteen hours per week engaging with course materials, discussions, activities, etc. (Elabum et al.). Five hours per week is the minimum amount of time in which students can still engage meaningfully with course material and fellow students (p. 27). Most online instructors do not include “technical time” which is the time it takes for students to log on, download attachments, post discussions and assignments, and technical problems. However, it is at your discretion.
Student Enrollment: As mentioned in section one, most online courses at ASU are limited to 15 to 20 students. Elbaum et al. advises, “if your course gets much larger than 28 students, consider breaking it into two separate sections that run simultaneously, or one following the other.” Consider the class size in advance because it will impact “group activities and class discussions” ( p. 27).
Classroom Discussions (Asynchronous, Synchronous, or Both): One of the great benefits of online learning is that learning and teaching can be done anywhere and anytime. “In asynchronous online learning, students can access the online materials at anytime, while synchronous online learning allows for real time interaction between students and the instructor” (Anderson, 2008, p. 5). Many online courses run asynchronously and offer the learner the ability to progress at learner’s pace. When considering whether or not to include synchronous discussions or chats in your online course, Elbaum et al. offers the following advantages and disadvantages (p. 29):
What About Synchronous Chats?
- Allow a quick response time, which is good when you or students need an immediate answer or decision.
- Good for quick communication between two people, for example, two co-instructors or two teammates, and can be used to quickly decide issues.
- Useful as an “office hours” forum for scheduled private meetings and help sessions.
- Good for group-brainstorming sessions, where everyone tosses out ideas.
- Blackboard’s Ultra Collaborate allows application sharing for live visual technical help across distances
- Real time communication helps build community and teacher and social presence.
- There is often no organized record of work and comments that have been posted.
- Can exclude students from the conversation who cannot arrange to be there live.
- Different time zones mean some students may be absent and excluded from conversations.
- Since it is hard to monitor for inappropriate content, strict supervision is required.
- More than just a few students present can make it hard for the instructor to find and respond to all questions.
- Technical and security issues or firewall obstacles can make it difficult to get everyone functioning.
- Discussions can be chaotic and fast, which makes it hard to engage in a solitary or few deep conversations and include everyone.
- Poor or slow typists are at a distinct disadvantage, often feeling ignored and excluded.
- Because it is easy to lose threads of conversation or interrupt others, it does not allow everyone to have a say.
- It is easy to get off track and distracted from the material at hand.
- It is harder to measure and grade participation.
Build Course Schedule
Create a Bulleted Outline: Once you have put thought into the overall course schedule, create a timeline driven bulleted outline. Create a bulleted outline in which each activity, assignment, and assessment in your face-to-face course (or a course you are developing from scratch) are noted with a bullet. (Note: activities, assignments, and assessments can be divided into weeks, modules, or units.)
Week 1: Introduction to Course
- Overview of Week 1 Activities
- Syllabus and ASU’s Academic Honor Code
- Overview of Course
- Rules of Discussion
- Discussion Posting: Self-Introduction
Week 2: Ethics and Civic Engagement
- Overview of Week 2 Activities
- Discussion Posting: Ethical Listener
- Critical Thinking Assignment: Ethical Speaker
- Read Chapters 1, 3, & 4
- Quiz #1
Week 3: Developing and Researching Your Topic
- Overview of Week 3 Activities
- Discussion Posting: Evaluating Sources
- Critical Thinking Assignment: Supporting Your Ideas
- Compose and Submit Specific Purpose Statement and Central Idea
- Read Chapters 5 & 6
Creating the course schedule and bulleted outline may seem linear in these materials. It is an iterative process. The course schedule and bulleted outline provide the overarching structure for the online course. With a detailed schedule, you are ready to design an effective online syllabus.
Online course schedules must be detailed, clear and concise. Due dates and times for assignments, activities, and assessments should be included.