Alex Joppie

Building in Revision: Five Tips for Building New Courses That Will Make Re-Offers Easier

When you’re developing a new online or hybrid course, it’s hard to look beyond the first course offering. After all, there might not be a second offering if you don’t focus your attention on making sure the course goes well the first time around, and developing the course always seems to take more time than you think it will. It’s hard to put much attention into making the course workable for future offerings. So here are some quick tips to keep in mind when developing a course to make life easier on yourself when you offer it the next time. Follow these tips, and your future self will thank you.

1. Use internal links instead of duplicating information

If you have key information like assignment instructions in more than one place, you can make more work for yourself when you update the course. If you need to change those instructions later on, you need to change them in more than one place, and you run the risk of forgetting every place the information was reproduced and having contradictory information in your course that will confuse students.

Instead, put your instructions in one place and link back to them if you want to remind students about them elsewhere in the course.

2. Make content modular

There are a lot of reasons to chunk your instructional content into smaller sections—like breaking up a 40-minute lecture into eight 5-minute videos. It allows students to keep their attention up by working in shorter bursts, and to track their progress if they need to stop watching a lecture in the middle. But it also makes it easier for you to update content later on. If you need to update a segment of a lecture, you’ll have an easier time just re-recording a short stand-alone video than trying to splice in a new section to a longer video and trying to make it look coherent.

3. Never reference the date in your content

Or the weather. Or the term. Or the big news from last week. In short, don’t put anything in your instructional material that will be out of place if your students are watching it a year or two down the line.

If you rely on the calendar function in your learning management system, you can change the dates for the next quarter all in one place instead of having to make changes item by item and module by module. Again, you reduce the opportunity for missing a date and confusing students.

4. Try to segregate current events discussions

In some courses, you just need to talk about current and recent events. Rather than weaving a discussion of how current events are relevant to the course concepts into your lecture materials, try producing a separate video just for applying the concepts to today’s news. This can be something you post as a news item just to spur interest in the topic at the beginning of the week, or if it’s something you expect students to incorporate into assignments, it can be a separate short lecture video that you can plan on swapping out.

5. Think about your external tools

Learning-management systems like Desire2Learn do almost all of the work for you when you’re ready to offer a course again. You can automatically copy the course without any student data, re-group students with your new roster, offset due dates to reflect the new quarter’s schedule, and hide old news items.

If you decide to set up a WordPress blog for your class, deliver your lectures through VoiceThread, or do collaborative writing through Google Docs, you won’t get all those benefits. You’ll have to do some extra work every quarter to make sure that all the materials are set up for the new class and that the permissions are correct for your new batch of students. There still might be a good reason to use an external tool like these, but do factor in the additional set-up time when making that decision.

Alex Joppie

About Alex Joppie

Alex has been with FITS since 2008, when he started out as a student worker while earning an MA in professional and technical writing from DePaul. Now he is an instructional designer for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the Theatre School. Alex earned his BA in English from Concord University. Alex is a strong advocate for usability in educational technology and a co-lead of the Mobile Learning Initiative at DePaul. Alex follows tech news feverishly, loves early-morning runs by the lake, and is always up for a board game night.

2 thoughts on “Building in Revision: Five Tips for Building New Courses That Will Make Re-Offers Easier

  1. Alex,

    I appreciated your thoughts with regard to ways to streamline the replication process for new courses. Do you have an opinion as to which LMS is the easiest, cheapest and/or most powerful for the offering of on line courses? I work for a non profit organization that will be developing a suite of on line courses for K-12 teachers. We are in the process of choosing an LMS and course-authoring tool and would love your opinion as to the best way to streamline the process.

    I have been introduced to Adobe Captivate by Walden University, where I’m getting a Masters in Instructional Design and find it to be powerful but relatively difficult to learn quickly. Thanks!


  2. Hi Steve,

    I think the best LMS for you depends a lot on your use case, particularly how much you expect individual instructors to be able to be independent in developing, running, editing, and maintaining their courses versus, say, having professional coders and techies doing most of the heavy lifting. We have both ends of the spectrum in our organization, so something with a learning curve like an Adobe product wouldn’t be a good fit for us, even if it can produce some more sophisticated interactive activities out of the box.

    I’m most familiar with higher ed–focused LMSes, of which I’d rate Blackboard, D2L Brightspace, and Canvas about evenly. But I know Canvas is more extensible if you do have coders and techies, and there’s a free version for individual instructors so I’d probably start there if I was working from the ground up. Good luck!

Leave a Reply