You don’t need to wait until the end of the semester to learn from your students how you can improve teaching and learning in your course. Of course, you can get informal feedback from your students by directly asking them for their thoughts during class. But an anonymous survey may give you more honest input about how they (and you) are doing so far.
I strongly recommend that you provide a short informal survey to quickly assess your students’ progress in their learning, as well as get their input on how well the elements of your course are working.
There are endless possibilities as to the questions you can ask. The important thing is to keep it short and open-ended. Here’s a sample survey:
I invite you to complete this short mid‐semester evaluation. Your input is extremely valuable, as it will help me gauge how the course is progressing: what is going well and what adjustments may need to be made to improve your learning experience for the rest of the semester. Your responses will be anonymous and the information you provide is just for me. Thank you for your help.
- What are the most important or valuable things you've learned so far this semester?
- What don't you think you understand well enough yet?
- What would you like to see more of between now and the end of the semester?
- What do you think we can cut down on?
- What steps could you take to improve your own learning between now and the end of the semester?
- What other ideas would you suggest to improve the course between now and the end of the semester (e.g., course structure, discussions, group work, assignments, exams, papers)?
Of course, you can distribute the survey in class. To ensure participation, it helps to set aside ten minutes during class for students to complete and return the survey.
You can also administer the survey online in Moodle using the Questionnaire activity. Not only is it available to students outside of class, but responses can be anonymous. I’ve created an 8-minute video tutorial below that walks through the process of creating the survey on Moodle.
If you'd like to administer an online survey and need help, I'm happy to help out!
In this last of ten videos on developing your Moodle course, we'll explore Moodle's Messaging tool and other ways you can communicate informally with your students. I'll also cover Moodle tools that allow you to monitor student participation in your course. The total length of the video is about 23 minutes.
In this second-to-last post of my ten-part video series, we'll explore how to set up your Moodle gradebook to display grades the way you want, view online student submissions, and enter grades and feedback. The video is about 22 minutes.
In this eighth post of my ten-part series on developing a Moodle course for fall, we explore the tools for participating in Moodle's forum activity. I also share some tips for running effective forum discussions. The entire video is about 20 minutes.
In this seventh post of my series on developing your Moodle course, we'll explore how to use Moodle's Profile feature to facilitate connections among you and your students. I'll also demonstrate how to send a start-of-term announcement to your students.
In this sixth post of my ten-part blog series on developing your course for the upcoming term, we'll cover how to paste your syllabus into your Moodle course, add images and links, clean up your course's appearance, and make the course available for students to enroll in. The entire video is less than 20 minutes.
If you want to add internal links as shown in the video, here's an example of the tags you'll use to do it.
...<a href="#schedule">Jump to Course Schedule</a>... <p id="schedule" ...>Course Schedule...
Below is an extensive write-up on developing your course syllabus. There is a lot to consider, and you certainly shouldn’t feel obligated to follow everything I suggest, but there are probably plenty of tips in it that you will find useful additions to your syllabus. On Thursday, we’ll add all of the syllabus content you created to your Moodle course and add a few finishing touches to the course. By the end of the week, your course will be ready for your students!
Developing Your Syllabus
The syllabus is the most important page in an online course. It’s the map that lays out the path students will take over the course of the term. It tells them where they’re going and how they’ll get there. The syllabus also clarifies your expectations for your learners as well as what your learners can expect from you. In this post, we’ll tie together all of the resources and activities you created in Moodle into a single syllabus page in a way that will help carry your students through the term. We’re essentially going to create a narrative—the story of your class.
Rethink the Aim of Your Syllabus
For many students, reading a course syllabus is a pretty dry experience. Many syllabi are developed merely as a simple detailing of standard administrative content like prerequisites, grading policies, institutional policies, the book list, the schedule of topics and assignments, and itemized learning outcomes.
Faculty often complain that students don’t read the whole syllabus. It’s not because students don’t know better. It’s because they don’t see the value in it. They don’t find the content interesting or relevant enough to thoroughly read when they have so many other demands on their time. It’s your job to make the syllabus interesting and relevant.
It’s especially important for students to read the syllabus for an online course. Students usually approach a new online course with uncertainty and a little trepidation. In face-to-face courses, the teacher can address the class in person to provide a proper welcome to the course during the first meeting, fill in any gaps not covered in the syllabus with the group, and answer any questions.
In an online course, students will rely much more on the syllabus to provide all the information they need to be successful in the course. It’s therefore very important to clearly detail how students are to proceed in the course. It’s also the first place where you’ll have a chance to connect with them as a person, setting the tone for the rest of the term.
Many teachers treat the syllabus as a mere rulebook. They warn students to either read it and follow its instructions or risk damaging their grade or failing the course. Though it may not be stated in so many words, that’s the tone presented in the syllabus. Although it may scare students into following its instructions, this approach doesn’t create the safe, positive learning environment that will truly encourage your students to excel.
Change your perspective about the role of the syllabus. Think of it as the story of your course that you are telling your learners. They are your listening audience. Everything in the syllabus should help sustain the story. It should be clear, raise interest, and provoke curiosity. After reading the syllabus, your learners should be excited about the journey they are about to undertake.
Consider Your Voice
I see the syllabus as the framework for a term-long conversation with your students. As such, the tone of your voice in the syllabus should be as conversational as possible. Pretend that you are addressing students one-on-one. Convey to them your passion for teaching, and your commitment to their learning. Invite them into a dialogue with you and their fellow learners. Foster a learning environment that makes them feel safe to think deeply, to respond, to disagree, to share their own ideas, to take risks.
Where to Compose Your Syllabus
In the syllabus-based course I'm walking you through in this blog series, your entire syllabus will appear in the overview section at the top of your Moodle course’s home page. Now, you could start composing your entire syllabus right there in Moodle, but I don’t recommend it. Moodle does not save any changes you make in a text field unless you manually save it. In order to protect yourself from power or Internet outages, you would need to remember to save frequently.
Instead, I recommend that you go ahead and compose your document in a word processor like Microsoft Word. Almost every modern word processor has an autosave feature that will save your changes at regular intervals even if you forget to. Once your syllabus is done, you can just copy the entire document and paste it into Moodle. You can then discard the word processing document and make any last minor changes in Moodle.
The formatting you use in your word processing document will carry over to Moodle. Once in Moodle, you can still make any needed additional formatting changes. I just want to add a few suggestions for formatting the syllabus. The goal is to make it visually clean, organized, consistent, and readable. Here are some simple tips that will make a big difference in the appearance of the page.
Use a consistent font size and style for all paragraph text and each heading level text. To ensure consistency, Word processors and Moodle have style tools that let you assign a standard formatting scheme to all paragraphs that share a named style. You can, for example, assign all paragraph text to the Body Text or Paragraph style and set all same-level syllabus headings to the same heading style (e.g., Heading 3).
Use large heading styles for your section headings to allow students to easily locate a section while scrolling through the syllabus. See the headings in this blog post as an example.
Create subsections within each heading section—each with its own smaller heading—to further help students easily comprehend each section and locate them later as a reference.
To emphasize a selection of text, use italics sparingly and use bold very sparingly. Use color to emphasize only the most important details, if at all.
Avoid using underlines, since they can be mistaken for hyperlinks. Use italics instead.
Provide plenty of white space by breaking text into short paragraphs of two or three sentences each and creating an extra blank line after each section.
Use bulleted or numbered lists to help readers skim the lists for information.
Most online syllabi suffer from too little information about the course, which leaves students uncertain about what to expect or how to proceed. The lack of clarity makes students feel unsafe and uncomfortable, which is what you don’t want. Though you want the syllabus content to be concise, in my opinion it’s better to put too much information in the syllabus than too little. Prominent headings and links will help students navigate the document.
Below is a list of important elements to consider including in your syllabus. I would avoid including a separate “official” syllabus document in your Moodle course along with this syllabus, if possible, because it puts information in two different places, creating the possibility of confusion with students if information on the two syllabi don’t match. It’s best to have everything in one place.
As you continue to go through this post, go ahead and start building the content of your syllabus. Again, I recommend that you compose it in a word processing program, then copy it to the syllabus page when you’re done.
The very top of your syllabus should include the essential course information: the course name, the academic term and/or course dates, and your full name.
Right below this information, enter the following on a new line: “Jump to Course Schedule.” When we’re done building the schedule, we’ll turn this text into a link that sends the user directly to the syllabus section containing the course schedule. Although first-time visitors to your course will want to read the syllabus from the beginning, returning users will probably want to go directly to the schedule to see the current week’s activities.
Alternatively, you can create a separate link for each week’s activities in the schedule here, but that’s up to you.
This is your first chance to let students know there’s a human being on the other end of the line. Share a bit about your professional background, but also share personal experiences that increase your students’ interest in the subject and in you. If you participated in a compelling research study or you have a unique interest to share, for example, include that here.
By the way, nothing says you can’t add images to your syllabus. Why not start by placing your photo here in the syllabus with your bio? I'll show you how to do this on Thursday.
Your contact information should appear high on the syllabus so it’s easy for students to locate it. Contact methods might include phone, email, and SMS text. You can also use Moodle’s Messaging tool as a contact method; I highly recommend it. If you provide multiple contact methods to your learners, let them know which is your one preferred method for them to initiate contact with you.
Consider including protocols for each contact method. If you include a phone number as a contact method, what days and times can students call? How much time can they be expected to wait for a response if they leave a message? Be sure to make clear when students can expect a response from you on their inquiries. Some students may have the unrealistic expectation that you will reply immediately on demand. If you say you will respond within 24 hours or that you don’t respond on Sundays, students won’t be disappointed if you don’t return their messages right away.
In an online course, office hours are expected to be synchronous meetings in which you and your students can talk in real-time. This can include a phone call, open conference call, chat room session, videoconference, Google Hangouts session, or group Skype session.
In many syllabi, office hours take up one cold line, such as “Office Hours: Wednesdays 12–2pm” or “by appointment.” This is your chance, however, to let students know that they are really welcome to drop by during office hours or make an appointment to talk with you. Take advantage of the opportunity.
You can add the official course description to your syllabus, but I recommend rewriting it to be more engaging and inviting. At the very least, supplement the official description with your own personal touch.
Learning Outcomes and how evaluated
You can use the list of outcomes you created in Part 1 of this blog series to complete this section. You can certainly just list the program and course outcomes as bullet lists or a table, but it’s helpful to provide some narrative context as well.
Students taking an online course for the first time often mistakenly think that it will be easier or take less time than a face-to-face course. Of course, this is incorrect. Make your time expectations clear to your learners and provide them with strategies for staying on top of the work each week.
Share with your learners the minimum number of hours you expect are needed to complete each week’s or unit’s activities. Encourage them to create a study plan. Have them review the course schedule, add assignment due dates to their calendar, and block out time on their calendar to complete those assignments. It helps for students to set aside the same study times each day in order to develop a consistent habit. Describe the normal sequence of activities students should expect from week to week. This helps them set up a regular weekly schedule for completing their work.
Remind your learners to log into the course at least every other day. Not only does it strengthen students’ connection to you, the course, and their fellow learners, it also keeps them on schedule with assignment due dates. They’re less likely to fall behind if they are regularly checking on where they are and what needs to be done. And students can easily access Moodle anywhere using their mobile devices. They may not be able to do deeply involved projects on their smartphones, but they can take advantage of a few minutes of open time during their day to read and respond to messages or compose replies to forum posts.
If you have a big assignment that requires several weeks of work, be sure to alert students to set aside time each week to work on it, rather than saving the work for the last day or two before it’s due. Perhaps you can break down the assignment tasks week by week in the assignment description to encourage students to complete a chunk of it each week.
Include any specific technology tools or hardware that might be needed for students to participate in your course. The most common required hardware is a working microphone and speakers for videoconferences. For best results, I recommend a USB headset with microphone.
Also let students know if there are any online accounts, such as Google or Skype, that they need in order to participate in certain activities. Direct them to instructions for creating an account if they don’t have one already.
Course Texts (and other materials)
List all of the resources used in the course that are not actually supplied by you. This includes required as well as supplementary books, articles, software, and other materials.
Provide information on how to access course resources not available through United’s Virtual Bookstore. For books, include the full bibliographic information and ISBN, if applicable, to ensure that students get the right edition. If older editions of the book are acceptable, let students know that as well. They’ll appreciate being able to purchase a cheaper used or discontinued copy of the book.
Include links to online resources such as journal articles available through the library, if possible.
Navigating the Course
Explain to students that the syllabus is the hub of the course. Let your learners know that the course sequence is included in the syllabus, clearly describing the order of activities. Tell them that everything they need for the activities including links to resources and assignments (I’ll show you how to activate the links on Thursday) are all located in the course schedule on the syllabus. Also let them know that selecting the course name in breadcrumb navigation at the top of the page will return them to the syllabus from anywhere in the course.
Direct students to the Upcoming Events block on the right side of the course page for upcoming assignments due. Selecting an assignment in the block will take them directly to the assignment.
Share with your learners the different ways that they can communicate informally with you and their peers. Include all forms that you’re using in your course—Forums, Messaging, Chat, Skype, Google Hangouts, external videoconferencing tools, etc. Encourage students to use these tools to communicate with you and each other informally about ideas, questions, and needs. Include links to tutorials for using these tools. You can use Google to find tutorials for most tasks.
Encourage your learners to adjust their user profile settings and notification settings, including adding a profile picture. Include links to tutorials for making these changes. Encourage your students to visit their classmates' profile pages as well.
Provide an overview of what netiquette is, why it’s important, and what your expectations are for the course. This excerpt from Netiquette by Victoria Shea can help your develop your policy.
List summaries of the assignments in your course. Describe how students can make submissions to assignments where relevant. If you have common expectations for a group of assignments of the same type, you can convey to students your expectations for all assignments here. If you have a regular weekly routine, describe the sequence of activities. It also may be helpful to provide links to tutorials to help students complete the activities.
Let students know the turnaround time for returning their graded assignments as well as how you will grade them. Invite them to make comments on your feedback if they have questions.
Describe what you would like to see from students in all of your discussions, both when posting a response to your prompt, as well as replying to other students’ posts. If you have a normal weekly schedule for posting replies, include the day of the week the discussion opens to students, the day posts are due, the day comments are due, and the day discussion closes.
To manage students’ expectations of you, include how you’ll participate in the discussion. State how often you will look at and respond to discussion posts—for example, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Mondays. This keeps students from feeling neglected if you don’t add posts every day.
Also describe how you’ll respond to student replies. Some students might expect that you post a comment to every student reply, which may be more time-consuming for you than to be worth the benefits it might provide. Be clear about how you’ll provide public feedback to student posts. You might post a reply to the topic that summarizes student responses and provides general feedback. Your feedback might incorporate individual responses as well. Of course, you can still opt to post replies to any individual posts that are especially worthy of feedback.
Grading Rubrics/Criteria for Evaluation
Along with your list of scoring criteria and/or rubrics for all graded assignments, include in this section how your learners can access their grades in Moodle. Include the course grading scale and a description of how points are distributed between assignments. Describe how you will handle late work. Also include any elaboration you want to add regarding the seminary’s policies including extensions and academic integrity.
Be sure to refer students to the Student Guides for any questions not specific to the course. You can include direct links from the Guides to questions you know students frequently ask.
These policies appear at the bottom of the standard United syllabus template. I prefer, however, that the course schedule appear at the bottom of the syllabus instead so students can access it more easily.
In the Course Schedule section of the syllabus, you’ll detail how students are to proceed in the course, unit by unit. Each unit description will include an overview of the unit and links to all of the activities in the unit. I’ll show you how to create these links on Thursday. For now, just make sure that any references to activities and resources in the schedule are spelled precisely as you named them when you created them earlier. That way they’ll automatically become links on Thursday.
Start each unit description with the name and date range of the unit. Follow that with a short paragraph that summarizes what students should expect to experience during the course of the unit:
the purpose of the unit, perhaps including the target outcome;
how the unit’s activities build on previous activities or courses;
how the unit’s activities prepare learners for coming activities; and
potential challenges learners may encounter.
You’ll follow the overview with a description of the sequence of activities, with links directly to each of the activities. Don’t forget to include activities that have no submission—such as readings and group conferences—in your sequence of activities.
For each of the assigned activities, you’ve already created a separate page containing the activity that includes a description of your expectations. For readings and viewings, however, you’ll need to provide this information in the unit description itself, both for uploaded resources and external web pages. Consider the following questions in composing your description of each reading or viewing.
What is the content about?
What is the purpose of assigning the content?
Which learning objective(s) does the content address?
With what depth of comprehension to you want learners to read or view the content (e.g., read deeply, skim for key points, peruse)?
What do you want students to do as they read, watch, listen to the content (e.g., highlight, take notes, answer focusing questions)?
What questions do you want learners to keep in mind as they consume the content?
What will students do with the content later in the course (e.g., discussion topic, test, paper, project)?
For long-term projects, you can encourage students to manage their work load by breaking down the assignment tasks week by week to encourage them to complete a chunk of it each week. You can include the link to the same assignment in multiple units, accompanied by a description of intermediate tasks you expect students to complete during each unit.
By the way, the course schedule is a part of the schedule where I highly recommend adding images in order to pique student’s interest in the content they will cover. I'll cover how to do it on Thursday.
[Note: I’ve underlined words that will be hyperlinks to other pages]
Week 1: Your Teaching Philosophy (9/5-9/11)
This week, we’ll take some time to get to know each other through our personal experiences with teaching and learning, then we’ll each draft our own personal teaching philosophy. As we explore different theories of transformative learning during the term, we’ll assess how their themes may help us to clarify and express our own teaching philosophies in our work.
Watch “Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement” from Iowa State University. The video describes the purpose of writing a teaching philosophy and how to approach writing your own. Note the main points of the video. Please complete this viewing by Wednesday.
Read the “Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement” webpage from Iowa State University. The page provides some inspiration on how to approach putting your teaching philosophy into words. Highlight the main points. Please complete this reading by Wednesday.
Submit a reply to the Your Teaching Philosophy discussion topic. Please post your reply by Thursday.
Read replies made by your classmates to the Your Teaching Philosophy discussion topic. Submit a comment to at least two of your classmates’ replies. Please post your comments by Sunday.
Brainstorm for a topic for your Learning Unit Plan project.
In this, the fourth installment of Countdown to Course, we'll cover how to add discussion forums to your course. Along the way, I'll describe the different types of forums you can use and the settings you can choose from to create the discussions you want to have with your students. The total video time is about 18 minutes.
Here's a list of elements to consider including in your forum descriptions:
- Description of the discussion topic: What question do you want students to answer?
- Content and materials needed to participate in the discussion
- Expectations for the discussion—both responses to the topic and comments on other students’ responses
- Weight of individual expectations towards the discussion grade, or rubric, if applicable Estimated student time to complete discussion
- The date and time a reply to the topic—as well as comments to other students’ replies, if applicable—is due (as a reinforcement)
In this third installment of Countdown to Course, we'll cover how to add assignments to your course, as well as adjust assignment settings to meet your instructional needs. The total video time is about 17 minutes.
Here's a recap of content I recommend including in the assignment description:
- A quick summary description of the assignment
- A list of the content and materials needed
- Any procedure students need to follow
- Submission guidelines and submission methods available (text entry, file submission, etc.)
- If students can submit files, the allowed file formats (PDF, Word, etc.)
- Your expectations of submitted work (narrative, checklist, rubric, etc.)
- Estimated time needed for students to complete assignment
- Date and time assignment is due, as a reinforcement