Instructor Considerations - Planning for Your Course
This section covers administrative issues you should be aware of such as technology issues, suggestions on creating a course development timeline, and examples of models other departments have used. After your course has been developed, topics such as marketing and awards may be of interest to you.
You may have a new fully-online or blended course to develop or an existing course which needs conversion, revision or enhancement. We recommended that you start simply and plan to enhance your content later using student feedback. Consider the following before you begin course development:
What are the department's expectations for the course? What are your expectations for the course? (e.g., how often will it be taught, enrollment expectations, target audience, revenue, benefits)
What are the goals for the course? Which method will best help you meet your goals? (e.g., knowledge transfer, physical skill, reducing seat capacity, attracting distance learners)
What resources will you require and will your department provide? (e.g., release time, money, hardware, software, shared technology resources, technical expertise and support, training, other incentives)
What personnel support will the department provide for your course? (e.g., support staff, teaching assistants, mentors, marketing)
Is your content time-dependent? Do you have content and links that need frequent updating? Who will perform the maintenance? Will you pass this course along to be taught by another after you have developed it? What tasks need to be performed each semester to get it ready for students?
Consider whether you will need to purchase hardware or software to produce the course. You may need a budget for media support or production, technical support staff, secretarial staff, and Teaching Assistant (TA) costs. You may need to allocate budgets for course development, personal learning, and teaching time.
Will you develop your course on your own? Do you need assistance in course design and development or the production of interactive media and graphics? Do you need copyright and library support?
Are you aware of the many self-help resources Michigan State University (MSU) provides? (e.g., Learning Management Systems (LMS), training resources, faculty training and development, Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs)).
Are you aware of MSU units who will assist you with your course development? Some include IT Services – Learning Design and Technology (LearnDAT), MSUglobal Learning Solutions, the Writing Center, and MSU Libraries with the Digital and Multimedia Center (DMC).
Planning for adequate instruction time
Developing online materials requires significant time commitment up front. Designing a fully online, blended or enhanced course can be a daunting task for faculty who also have to maintain their regular schedule. It can be considered an investment, because the nature of the model offers an instructor increased flexibility. Planning is one of the most important aspects when developing a fully-online, blended or enhanced course. This is true for several reasons:
- ensures you have adequate time to devote to learning how to use the online tools available
- designating time for production and revision before the class goes live allows for more time to focus on instruction while the course is in progress
- advanced preparation allows for time to test and to get feedback on your instructional methods
- gives you the opportunity to review and troubleshoot content, which is especially important when using other forms of media that have the potential for being problematic for students.
Experience has shown that your course will run more smoothly when a significant portion has been completed before it starts. It is estimated that it takes about six months to prepare an existing course for the first fully-online offering. This estimate also relates well to blended and enhanced courses. Following a carefully devised plan will save you headaches later in the course and should allow you to put your focus on your students rather than rushing to develop material while trying to meet student demands. Advance preparation will give you time to test and get feedback on your instructional methods.
The skills you need to develop and teach your course will depend on the complexity of the media you use. The opportunity to review and troubleshoot content is especially important when using forms of media that have the potential for being problematic for students. It is always advisable to start simple and build up to more complex media.
Some basic skills you need include:
- familiarity with online communication tools such as e-mail, bulletin boards and chat software
- basic word processing
Other skills may include:
- familiarity with an LMS
- web design tools
- presentation tools
- communication tools
- media editing and production
There are resources on campus that provide these services. You can find some of them at http://tech.msu.edu/training.
Hardware and software requirements
Every online course requires a minimum of the following common set of tools. If your course exceeds the minimum requirements, include your technology requirements in your syllabus. Each student needs access to:
- A browser that meets the LMS requirements
- Minimum screen resolution of 1024x768
- A high-speed (broadband) Internet connection is recommended (and required for some courses)
- Computers manufactured within the last four years
- Up-to-date versions of software
Connection speed and file size
Consider who your audiences are and how they will be connecting to your online course. The speed of their connection can impact how media-rich your materials should be.
Audiences who do not have access to high-speed Internet connections, such as students in rural areas and in other countries may find it difficult to download large files, especially videos. Governments and employers may restrict access to certain websites or media types.
If your course requires the use of rich-media and large files, include an alternative plan such as having the material available on a CD to be mailed, or included in a course pack available for students to purchase.