A Guided Tour of the Demo Online Courses

Facing a blank myCourses shell can be daunting. The CTL has made six demo online courses, each developed and taught by RIT faculty, available to you as examples—Christine Kray’s ANTH 245, Sandi Connelly’s BIOG 102, Chris Schreck's CRIM-230, Danny Maffia’s HCIA 719, Bernie Brooks’s MATH 261, and Lauren Hall’s POLS 290. If you are not already enrolled, please request access to these demo online courses. In this post, we provide some suggestions for how you might make use of these demo courses. The advice will be organized to reflect key elements in our Online Course Quality Checklist (OCQC), the tool we use to provide faculty with feedback on their course design and development.

Some key things to know before reviewing the demo courses:

  • These demo online courses reflect a moment in time and may not incorporate recent tools made available to RIT.
  • These courses represent a set of choices made by faculty at a particular time. They are a reflection of each person's approach to creating a digital community of learning for their students. Many of these courses reflect refinement over many semesters. The value here is in seeing how these six faculty incorporate strong online instructional practice in different ways. Some prioritize the use of text, some prefer to use video. There is no "best" here.
  • It is helpful to look at courses that are outside of your discipline. Use these courses as opportunities to compare and contrast the use of the tools in myCourses, the ways that online communities can be created and sustained, and how each faculty member projects their disciplinary expertise.

The staff in CTL are always ready to help you think through your own choices for your course. Request a consultation

Overview of and Orientation to the Course

Each of these courses provides students with an introduction that tells students how the course is structured, how to navigate the course, and how to get started. Many of these videos also contain “get-to-know-me” information about the instructor.

Sometimes the course overview is text-based such as in CRIM 230. Sometimes this is handled in a video such as in ANTH 245, HCIA 719, MATH 261, and POLS 290. Sometimes it is covered with a combination of text and video such as in BIOG 102.

Syllabus Materials

One way to increase the likelihood that students will read/refer to your syllabus is to divide it into intuitively named subsections. Sometimes the syllabus is divided into seven or more subsections as in Connelly's BIOG 102, and sometimes just two subsections as in Hall's POLS 290. You can also break your syllabus into sections, but also have it downloadable as a single document as Bernie Brooks did with his MATH 261.

Course Organization

In this section of the course quality checklist, we will be looking at methods for organizing the course content. Ideally, you want to provide clear instructions for what students should do each day or each week. You’ll want to ensure that your organizational scheme for the course materials is logical, and that students can find, and re-find, important material. Will you organize your course by week, as in Schreck's CRIM 230 or Hall's POLS 290? Or by theme/module as in Connelly's BIOG 102? You might adopt a “weekly plan”* scheme that uses html pages as "landing pages" that contain course links, content, and instructions for students. Courses that use a weekly plan scheme include ANTH 245, CRIM 230, HCIA 719, and MATH 261.

All of the demo courses include an HTML course schedule. Some of these course schedules include links to materials, discussion boards, assignments. Some course schedules are in the Syllabus folder and some appear as a custom tab in the main navigation bar. Some course schedules appear in both places. However you create your course schedule, the goal is to make it clear to all students what they need to be working on at any particular moment in the class. Informing or reminding students of what they will be learning in each week or module and how it may relate to past and future content is recommended. This can be done as a brief introduction to the work of each module, as in Kray's ANTH 245 and Maffia's HCIA 719, or with module-level outcomes as in Hall's POLS 290.

Here is where you can find the course schedules in the demo online courses:

  • ANTH 245 “Course Outline” tab in the main navigation
  • BIOG 102 “Schedule” tab in the main navigation
  • CRIM 230 within the syllabus folder
  • HCIA 719 “Schedule” tab in the main navigation
  • MATH 261 “Schedule” tab in the main navigation
  • POLS 290 “Detailed Schedule” in the syllabus folder

*N.B., We recommend using the Content Browser tool rather than a “Custom Widget,” which is the tool used to create the Weekly Plan widget in ANTH 245 and HCIA 719. The Content Browser tool populates automatically as the course is built, which means that it is less work for you to design and maintain. You can also move the Content Browser to different locations on your course's homepage.

Instructor Presence

The remaining sections of the course quality checklist focus on how faculty have designed into their course opportunities for interaction among students and between faculty and students; how faculty create opportunities to provide robust feedback to students; and how faculty model disciplinary expertise and serve as a guide for students. Penn State’s Global Campus Faculty Peer Review page has created a Peer Review Guide for Online Courses [downloadable at the link] that provides an excellent perspective on good practice in online teaching. Locations in the courses that can provide insight into the degree of instructor-student interaction include the Announcements tool on the course homepage, discussion forums, the syllabus, and email messages to students. Opportunities for faculty to provide robust feedback to students can be seen within the course syllabus, in assignment directions and rubrics, the course gradebook, and discussion forms. Disciplinary expertise is enacted in course videos, descriptive text, the selection of materials, in assignment feedback, and important interactions with students in office hours or other individual meetings.