Deciding Which Course Tools to Use


Reaching all modalities for student learning can be tricky in an online environment, where student engagement is difficult to measure and extrinsic motivation harder to instill. Choosing appropriate course tools goes a long way toward providing enough varied activities to match multiple learning styles, and maximize the chance that your students have mastered the material.

Collaborative Learning

A major component of face-to-face classes that needs translation to the online environment is the social and interpersonal element, which some learning theories argue is crucial to learning. If a subset of students learn better collaboratively, how might their interactions be approximated in the online environment?

One common answer is to use discussion boards in Webcourses. This becomes particularly valuable when students are required to make discussion postings, since otherwise there may be little activity. Likewise, some instructors require students not only to make initial posts, but also to comment on the posts by other students as well. To guarantee substantive postings, it may be advisable to grade each post and response, though this might require additional work by the instructor.

Also available are tools for live chat, a "who's online" notification, and email within Webcourses. If student to student communication is woven tightly enough into a curriculum, one or more of these tools may be worthwhile pursuing.



Online Equivalent to Face-to-Face Activities

Face to Face Activities
Online Equivalent
PowerPoint lecture Modules of just text/images that convey information; PowerPoint presentation for download; PowerPoint presentatiosn with instructor's audio "narrating" a lecture (use free software AuthorPoint to compress this resulting video file)
Interactive lecture; question-driven interactions with students Modules that call for synchronous use of the Chat tool; online office hours using Chat or third-party chat tools such as Skype
Discussion-based seminars Forums and discussion boards online (consider carefully whether the instructor should himself/herself post to the forum)
Student response "clickers" Online quiz, or survey via third party such as
Student groups Electronic groups within Webcourses; the "Who's Online" tool; chat rooms; third-party wikis for group projects or class notes
Role-play Blogs generated by students, done in role-play fashion
Reflective writing Blogs written by students
Library research Google; social bookmarking tools online
Homework from the textbook Practice at the publisher's website
Community-building and learning names Avatar-based interaction, such as Second Life; Facebook groups

Common Tools

Organization Tools
Calendar: Enter important events and deadlines, and allow Students to enter their own events.
Search: Search for content in the course.
Syllabus: Provide course requirements, objectives, and policies.

Communication Tools
Announcements: Post important information in a central location.
Chat: Chat with other users in the course in real time, or use the Whiteboard to display images.
Discussions: Post and respond to messages on specific topics.
Mail: Send messages to other users.

Student Learning Activities
Assessments: Create quizzes, self tests, and surveys.
Assignments: Create assignments for Students to submit online. Students can work independently or in groups.
Goals: Create goals that list the qualitative and quantitative performance expected in your course.

Content Tools
Learning Modules: Organize and present content and activities to Students.
Local Content: Allow Students to easily access large files from a portable medium, such as CD-ROM, instead of downloading the files from the Learning System.
Media Library: Create a glossary or image collection.
Web Links: Create links to Internet resources.

Student Tools
My Files: Allow Students to store their own files.
My Grades: Allow Students to check their grades.
My Progress: Allow Students to track their own progress.
Notes: Allow Students to take notes.

Continue to the next section: Assessments


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