I’m teaching a winter graduate course called Online Learning Environments where students examine the different features and strategies that support effective online instruction. After examining different rubrics for quality online design, I have the students select one of the rubrics and use it to assess an online class they have created or taken. Since many of these students have taken a handful of online classes with me, many choose to assess one of the classes I’ve created. To complete the assignment, the students have to create a short video showing the areas that meet their chosen rubric’s standard for quality (and which areas could be improved). While this process can be humbling, I also find it to be tremendously instructive. Seeing how students view my online classes provides a wealth of information for me to improve my classes. Here are a few things I’ve learned.
- Students value organization and structure. While this is a standard in many rubrics for effective online course design, the students commented about how they really enjoy seeing courses that are predictable and easy to follow. I’ve worked to develop standardized templates for content pages and to organize the learning materials the same way each week. In their video reviews, it was clear that students value this and find it critical to their success as online learners.
- Some courses have a shelf life. Some students asked to review courses that they took with me two or three years ago. Our learning management system went through a major upgrade last summer that changed how pages would be formatted and displayed. While these upgrades forced me to retool and redesign the courses I’ve taught since then, the older courses that the students reviewed didn’t reflect these changes. Although the content and modes of interaction would still be effective, the upgrade changed how the learning objects were displayed and where they could be found. This impacted how students reviewed these older courses. In my comments to student reviews, I explained that online courses evolved with time and were impacted by outside factors (like LMS upgrades).
- Students enjoy variety. As students completed their reviews, many commented on the variety of learning objects and assessments that are incorporated into my online classes. Since I’m a firm believer of Universal Design for Learning, I try to provide multiple means of representation; action and expression; and engagement into my online classes. While this is an area represented on the different rubrics that students could use to evaluate the online courses, it was clear that students enjoy when online instructors vary the instructional methods and assessment techniques they use.
- I still need to work on online course accessibility. Across students’ reviews of my online classes, it was clear that accessibility is still an area for growth for me. While I structure my content pages to make them friendlier for screen readers and I supply captioning for the videos I create or assign, there are still areas that need to be improved. For instance, students found a few PDFs that I had assigned where the text hadn’t been extracted. This meant that a student with a visual impairment wouldn’t have been able to access the scanned document at all. Hearing my students comment about the need to include these elements in online classes has motivated me to take a more critical eye for the online classes I design for the spring.