Tomorrow, we start Week 3 of our popular online teacher training course (OT 101). In the third week, we discuss what our online students require of us in terms of syllabus design, clarity of policy, and early instructor communications.
Often, OT 101-ers will discuss how some schools will provide you with all of this information up front. They will give you a syllabus and assignments and even early messages to students and all you do is plug-and-play. Other schools expect you to develop a course from scratch. There are pros and cons to each of these approaches, the most obvious being the dichotomy between academic freedom and consistency of course delivery.
Abbot et al. (2018) write eloquently about this topic in their article out of eLearn Magazine titled Quality Control vs. Academic Freedom: Walk the Line. I’ll pull out some of the points they make here:
1. What accrediting bodies want. Accrediting bodies require a balance between academic freedom and some sort of consistency/quality control when it comes to course design. Abbot et al. (2018) state “Across the board, accreditation of colleges and universities is predicated upon the preservation of academic freedom” (para. 6). However, “in an age wherein online education opportunities are expanding rapidly, accreditors have begun to search for consistency and predictability in online college classrooms” (para. 7).
2. Student focus vs. faculty focus. Accrediting bodies are much more interested, these days, on student-focused practices vs. faculty-focused. Consistency of student experience is valued by accreditors as a sign of a program’s strength and effectiveness. Thus, more and more will faculty notice that their classrooms are, for the most part, “ready to go” for them when they come on board.
3. Striking a balance. Since accrediting bodies want both things – academic freedom and consistency – it falls upon administrators, course designers, and instructors to walk this line. How do we do that? These authors offer several suggestions.
a) Consider thinking of pre-established courses as “templates.” Thinking in this way allows instructors to work within a scaffolding, yet add their own unique take on the course as well. Research suggests that students experience less confusion when a standardized template is used and that these templates also encourage faculty creativity since they can focus on the discussions and assignment development vs. the week-by-week calendar.
b) Consider the pre-written syllabus content as a load off! There is tedium involved in explaining the elements of the online classroom (i.e. netiquette), university policies (i.e academic integrity), and aspects of the LMS used. If those are ready to go for us, then one less thing we have to do when there is already so much involved in course prep.
c) Grading rubrics are helpful. A customizable, but otherwise ready-to-go assignment rubric is a helpful tool for students and faculty alike. It helps structure our own thinking about what we are looking for and how to guide students in their preparations. Students begin to see a pattern emerge as far as what faculty expect and this pattern is comforting. If I’ve heard any complaint from students, its this: “This instructor wants me to do it this way and that instructor wants me to do it that way and they both count off if I forget and do it the other way, its so frustrating!” Standardized grading rubrics help with that…although the instructor remains at liberty to assign points and offer feedback within the rubric as they deem fit.
What is your experience working within a pre-designed course? Do you prefer starting from scratch and developing your own course or do you prefer a template? What frustrations do you incur with either practice? Feel free to comment below!