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.