Online Education Programs
Course Design Frequently Asked Questions
There are many choices to consider as you are developing a new or assessing a current online course. Here are the answers to several common questions. As you work through these, feel free to contact Clemson Online's staff as you consider further design and delivery details.
- Should my online syllabus look just like my on-campus syllabus?
In most cases, online content delivery requires different pedagogical approaches to course design than on-campus experiences. Current research offers insight into the pedagogical issues faculty should keep in mind as they design their individual courses.
Quality Discussion: Text-based discussion threads allow students to narrow in on specific sub-topics. When discussion is part of the online course design, students who might feel shy or marginalized in class are given the opportunity to have more equalized access to a voice through online posting. Faculty monitoring is important to maintain on-topic, substantive, and respectful discussion spaces.
Updated Media Sharing: Sharing links to various multi-media examples online can be an easy and effective way to connect students to a breadth of substantive and time-sensitive content. Many textbooks feature links to such media, and faculty designing online courses should consider searching the web for even more up-to-the-minute examples to drop in to various course modules.
- Should my course be synchronous or asynchronous (or both)?
In most cases, asynchronous content delivery is preferable. Asynchronous content delivery requires that the faculty member creates and posts material online with sufficient time for students to access instruction and complete necessary work. Sound organization, easy access to materials, captivating content, and detailed instructions (with clearly stated due dates) are the foundations of good asynchronous course delivery.
Synchronous content can allow for dynamic, live instructor-student interaction and can create predictable stability for students through regular course meetings, but technical glitches and large section sizes can make synchronous content delivery difficult to successfully manage. Clemson Online can discuss both options with you as you design your course.
- What about tests? Cheating?
Successful online course design can reduce the accessibility and motivation for academic dishonesty. For example, while online courses may seem like ideal environments for extensive use of computer-graded multiple-choice tests, such is often NOT the case. When tests are the primary assessment measure, the likelihood and opportunity for cheating increase while student engagement often decreases.
Test proctoring methods do help reduce cheating. By increasing the use/grade-weight of participation (through means like discussion boards or small group/team work) and original assignment work (such as creative projects, case studies, original essays, and “show-your-work” problems) in your course design, you increase the level of engagement and education investment in your online course.
- What tools will I use to post material online?
Blackboard is the primary supported platform for Clemson’s online courses. You can upload files of almost any media variety to your Blackboard course page, you can host discussions, and you can deliver feedback/grades. If you are considering other tools, please visit Clemson Online's Web Tools links and be sure to contact Clemson Online with your own suggestions or for further support.
- What about MOOCs?
MOOCs, or “Massive Open Online Courses” are merely one basic structure for distributing online education, and the course design goes much further beyond choosing to have the content be accessible in a massive and open manner.
If your course requires a significantly large number of students to be offered a section each semester, or if you want to open up your material beyond your current enrollment, a MOOC may be one option to meet your departmental and pedagogical needs. Though MOOCs have been trending in the media recently, a MOOC is just one of your options. Clemson Online will work with you to determine the best approach for your individual section. For more on MOOCs, see EDUCAUSE.
- What is the “Modular Approach” and should I consider it?
The “Modular Approach” is a structural approach to course design that segments the semester into semi-distinct sub-areas or competencies that students can master somewhat independently from the other content in the course. This approach has been found to work well in online settings and may be beneficial choice for you and your students. To read more on modular course design, see these helpful resources:
"A Modular Course Design Benefits Online Instructors and Students” by Rob Kelly (2009).
"Designing Modules for Learning” by Donnelly and Fitzmaurice (2005).
"An Analysis of Organizational Approaches to Online Course Structures” by Lee, Dickerson, & Winslow (2012).