For many online instructors, the primary mode of course delivery is through modules, which approximate the organizing principle (a kind of weekly routine) that face-to-face sessions in a live class would otherwise have provided. While the syllabus often houses a class schedule, this schedule usually only lists the student work in broad strokes, such as chapter numbers or sections. A common practice is to develop modules that are spread out throughout the semester (perhaps one per week in the term), and provide specifics about reading assignments, context, learning activities, tasks, discussion board posting requirements, and so on in those individual modules. The syllabus/schedule can then point to the relevant module(s) in a given week (see a sample schedule).
Many modules are presented with subsections such as Reading Assignment, Learning Tasks, Quiz Directions, and so on. The module represents the instructor's best hope of guiding the students' eyes as they read. In a face-to-face class, students are given reading assignments that provide the basic knowledge, and then lecturers flesh out the material. Since there are not face-to-face meetings in an online class, the module provides the only means of setting the context for the students as they engage the material in their textbooks or other primary sources. Some instructors highlight what is most important in the reading. Since you cannot write down ideas on the board or repeat them as you might in a lecture, the better to lay emphasis, you must find a different way to express the primacy of some information in the online format.
In one sense, the online module is similar to a replacement lecture. Some instructors opt to literally provide a lecture through electronic means. At its simplest, this could take the form of creating a PowerPoint slideshow and allowing students to download the .ppt file. A more time-intensive method, but one with perhaps a greater chance of achieving the desired outcomes for student learning, would be to record an audio file of your lecture concurrent with presenting the slides.
The PowerPoint software itself includes built-in functionality to record your audio commentary. In this fashion, instructors can literally deliver their entire lecture electronically, which can be especially useful in an online course. The resulting file is still a standard PowerPoint file, but when the slideshow is "played," the recorded instructor's voice narrates the action, and the slides advance on their own, turning whenever they had been moved by the lecturer during the recording. Click here to see a sample.
It is also possible to use AuthorPoint Lite, a free software download, to take the narrated PowerPoint presentation and transform it all into a Flash video movie, which plays in any Web browser. Here is a sample. To create such a video, you must first record a narrated presentation, and then use AuthorPoint Lite to convert the file. Our tutorial explains the process.
If you opt not to capture a live performance of a lecture, you may wish to explore other avenues for helping students make connections in the reading. One of the most important (but least-heralded) aspects of live lectures is that lecturers construct arguments and methods as they speak, since they are literally verbalizing, and the immediacy of the experience lends itself to making bridges and connections that might otherwise not be realized. An online course constructed without "real time" explanations and argument-making may suffer from a general sense of disjointedness. Reading the textbook alone may not replace lecture, and so context provided in modules becomes even more critical to student comprehension of the material.
Many modules include directions for students to perform tasks, both as a means of practicing the learning and to assess student comprehension. The nature of these tasks often appeals to diverse learning styles; those who relish interpersonal communication enjoy discussion boards, group projects, wikis, and blogs, while those who learn better independently are attracted to individual reports, online research, and individual homework. Since online courses do not have have a face-to-face component, and students therefore cannot practice the learning with each other in a live setting, the online curriculum should adjust to meet the needs of diverse learners in other ways. Well-constructed modules attempt to bridge the divide by promoting multiple modalities and interactions when engaging the material.
Planning an Online Course
Continue to the next section: Deciding Which Course Tools to Use