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Topic design basics

This resource introduces some basic topic design considerations, and offers a range of ideas for practice, with an emphasis on designing for online

Site: Flinders Learning Online
Topic: eLearning Gateway (staff support)
Book: Topic design basics
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Sunday, 22 September 2019, 2:31 PM

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dance steps Designing for learning, including online learning, is not straightforward. The 'steps' in the process are more like dance steps that weave around the dance floor, rather than a linear progression from one idea to the next. The rationale for the design approach in this section is that designing is a creative, intentional activity that moves from fuzzy to sharp, through the combined processes of inquiry, inspiration and strategising. Designing involves a balance of creativity and practical thinking, and maintaining a curiosity about what's possible. Some of the approaches and resources will make sense to you and others won't – that's OK. Feel free to use or adapt them – or develop your own approach.

Some design heuristics
  • think like a learner – be an online learner yourself 
  • be a magpie – look at what others have done 
  • talk to your colleagues – educators, librarians, eLearning professionals
  • talk to your learners – find out what works for them
  • design is continuous – let yourself change your mind as the design matures 
  • let the ideas lead the technology... and be suggested by the technology 

Think of the activities that students (and staff) will do as the living framework of the topic. You can build the content and topic learning materials around the activities to support the learning-by-doing. For instance, if you create a discussion on a hot issue, what resources do the students need from you at that point? Or, is there a prompt at that point for them to create, curate and/or share their own resources? The principle here is that resources support activity, and are placed next to that activity if possible. 

Since assessment, activity and intended learning outcomes should be 'constructively aligned' as a triangle, the topic activities are aligned to the topic learning outcomes. This means you should be able to formally assess those activities. In this way the activities can lead the assessment design. Of course the triangle works the other way too: you can align assessment and learning outcomes, and then design activities that are aligned to assessment. In the end, it should ALL meaningfully align anyway.

Just play. The topic site you are developing is a like a canvas where you can 'play' with different arrangements and sequences of activities. Try dragging the labels around - each move you make will suggest a different topic narrative. You can check the narrative by telling yourself the story of the student and teachers actions through the topic and check that it makes sense. 

Bear in mind the teaching side of the activities as you design. What are the actions the teacher is doing between all the student actions? How does this dynamic interplay support the learning? For instance, where does it make sense to get students' input and feedback? Where and when should teachers have input and feedback to students? Or better, how can students and staff work together as partners in learning

Leave your design loose wherever possible so that there is room for improvisation in the topic. Not everything has to be thought about beforehand. Students, as adults with rich life experiences, appreciate having space to author their own learning activities, make choices and influence the topic. Looseness keeps it interesting, current and relevant for everyone - staff and students alike

To navigate, use the arrows on the side of the page, the index on the left, or the links above


Image: Mambo dance steps, Washington: Joe Mabel

Shape and structure

The way that the topic is structured online is itself a way for understanding the syllabus – the selection, organisation and representation of ideas and things in the online environment determines the ‘character’ of the topic, and importantly, sets the conditions for learning. The topic site  organises and represents the learning journey. One of the advantages of online learning is that we can see the the organisation of the learning through the topic environment: how activities relate to one another, and how ideas are organised and represented. The structure of the topic will also suggest movement within the topic: how the learning and teaching activities flow one to the other; how users of the site move between activities and resources. For instance learners may circle back to a case at various touch-points in the syllabus, or dip into a case, or work within a case.

It may be helpful to conceive a topic environment metaphorically: a topic might be like a tree, a room, a path, or a garden … these conceptual ideas can help to shape the topic, in terms of both its structure and movement.

Ideas for practice

Format the site as a whole. Put ‘big picture’ items at the top of the topic site, as well as items that the student will return to again and again – assessment details and communications, perhaps case studies, task guides, a schedule of events. Use blocks on the side as reference and connection points for the topic. Use modules to sequence activity according to the topic schedule so that it flows logically (weekly or in blocks of weeks). If you use modules to group items according to function (for instance, assessment activities, topic resources), provide a schedule of activities and due dates where it cannot be missed.

Create 'natural chunks'. A topic is a collection of ideas, activities and resources that have an overall cohesion; however, it is sometimes useful to think about the topic in terms of a few discreet and natural chunks. Chunks can be helpful in assisting learners with site navigation, orientation, completion, or understanding of a task or idea. If you are not sure whether this approach works for your topic, try describing the topic in a few dot points: these dot points are probably the chunks. 

Natural chunks can be about:

  • The subject area (e.g. global perspectives, anatomy of the heart)
  • The type of activity (e.g. reflection, major project, work placement)
  • Activity stages (e.g. preparing for placement, beta testing, reporting)

Chunks can be organised in the topic site to suggest their relationship to each other. You may also need to consider a neutral, general or connecting space that provides a 'home' for activities (such as communications) and resources (such as topic details) that are used across the big ideas. 

Connect instructions, activities and resources. Locate them together where practical. Alternatively, hyperlink between items, or refer to the location of relevant items: 'Refer to the assessment criteria in the Topic Details book'. Contextualise items with descriptions, displayed on the page if not too long. For fully online study, ensure there is enough information to complete the task successfully.

Use three dimensions – provide two layers. Use the ‘face’ of the topic site as a map rich in schema, and build a second layer (for example, by adding a page or book) rich in depth. Keep text on the face of the site to a minimum, to avoid building a long, scrolling site: aim to keep a module contained within a screen view (excluding phones). In the second layer, the same principle applies: contain the page to the screen as a general guide – users will scroll, but ensure that critical information is near the top, just in case. Use a book to modularise larger amounts of text into a series of sequenced pages.

Provide time on task. This will be linked to student workload expectations and provides a useful parameter for judging the depth to which the activity should be taken, for instance: 'Skim the second chapter. This should take about 20 minutes.' Time on task is especially important for online study where the activity uses the internet, because connections are endless and the student needs to know when to stop: 'Find an example of false advertising on the internet and post the link in the discussion forum. Take one hour to complete this activity.'

Navigating the online environment needs to be intuitive. The best way to design for intuition is to think like the end user – keep seeing the site through fresh eyes. Use non-technical terms unless they are linked to the syllabus. Where technology is used and the stakes are high – for instance, with assessable online activities – provide a practice point for using the technology. If the technology is not straightforward to use, link to instructions for use and technical support.  

Instruction is scaffolded: unpacked, chunked, staged and contextualised. As a general rule, granularise large items into discreet parts – for instance, five-minute videos, one-screen pages of text, separate forums for each question, separate pages for each quiz question. This approach allows the learner to locate their place in the task, dip in and out of the online environment, and progress at their own pace. It also facilitates increased movement between items, promoting complexity in the task – for instance, the student can switch between watching a video, participating in a discussion and taking a quiz if it is easy to find their place in each item.

Add visuals to add value. Graphics can add meaning, character and context to the site. They can also act as signposts: a carefully chosen picture to signal a new section, or a familiar image used as an icon to signal a regular activity (for instance, a weekly self-check point, a provocative question). Aim for a consistent style and site placement and keep them small, otherwise they will clutter the site and add to download time.

Human and personal

The technology facilitates the online learning experience – it is the virtual space where the student 'sees' the university, the topic, the teaching staff, their classmates, and the activity. Standing in the shoes of the student: What does it feel like? Is it friendly, welcoming? Where is everyone? Who is teaching? One of the advantages of the online environment is that we can create a teaching presence all the time: whenever the student logs on, the teaching begins. It is important that learners feel connected to people, artefacts and ideas rather than to a machine. The learning environment should be professional, but also humanised as much as possible.

Ideas for practice

Use personal and active language to communicate with the student. The student is accessing the FLO site in the present moment – a teaching moment! Address them directly. Include them in the activity: 'Next week we will revisit the key technical terms and use them in context. You might like to revisit the glossary before the tutorial'.

Create a learning community. Online learners generally work alone. The online space can be a place to connect to other students and reduce isolation. Where it makes sense to do so, count participation in social learning activity, such as discussion posts, as part of assessment. Using a variety of tools, create formal and informal spaces for social learning to occur. Students will create their own connection spaces outside the topic – for instance, using Facebook. These are important for autonomy and informal learning, but exercise care that students are not excluded due to use of technology. 

Be active and visible in the FLO site. Create a 'teacher presence' so that students have a sense of you as an integral part of the topic environment. When the student logs on, there is something that you have left behind – a forum post, a short video, a link to an article of interest. Posting a picture of yourself in the 'Topic welcome' block will make you visible and adds a human touch. Include a photo in your online profile and encourage students to do the same.

Provide participation options where possible. Every learner will have preferences in how they like to participate in the online environment: experience, confidence, skills, access, opportunity and personality type all have a part to play. Where practical, provide options for communicating, learning activities, and assessment activities to allow for a 'personalised' topic experience. Ensure equivalency between options in terms of academic merit, student workload and marking workload.

Develop topic 'personality'. Aim to give the topic a recognisable (and memorable) character as a point of connection for the learner. Is it a friendly place full of interest? Is it serious and businesslike? A topic theme or style will help with a cohesive look and feel – a particular color range, image style, layout. Groups can also have personality – be creative in assigning names to groups – or let the group decide what they are called (and rename accordingly).

Active strategies

Teaching, learning and assessment are all activities. In the online learning environment, technology can be used to activate, facilitate, capture and share these activities. Designing an engaging and sophisticated activity requires attention to the parts, or stages, of the activity. One approach is to think about activity ‘strings’. Flipped learning is an example of an activity string (e.g. view this video > do the quiz > discuss in your group > debate in the FLO Live session > reflect in your blog).

Interactivity is a two-way activity between elements – people and technology – in the environment. In the above example, viewing the video is an activity (as part of the string) but is not interactive; the quiz, discussion forum and FLO Live sessions are.

Student workload hours are made up of time spent on activities, so count them all: reading, preparing for assessment, discussing, reflecting, as well as attending sessions. Ultimately, try to aim for integration between teaching, learning and assessment activities (constructive alignment).

Ideas for practice 

Be an active teacher in the online environment. The teaching activity is part of the activity string – it builds on and leads to other activity. Post a short video orientation to a new idea or respond to an evidently muddy point. Put something new in the topic site, post something challenging in the forum, post a poll to get some feedback.

Convert static ‘content’ to activity and resources. Start the design process by thinking in terms of activity (strings) and then provide resources to support that activity. For instance, convert a traditional lecture to a collection of bite-sized videos and use these in an activity string that prompts active learning through further investigation, discussion, quizzing, or reflecting. 

Design for asynchronous participation for fully online topics. This caters for the busy fully online student. Scheduled synchronous activity online (for instance using Collaborate) can be altogether optional (e.g. drop in to an open session) or a choice of times given (e.g. sign up for a small group session) if participation is required (counted for assessment purposes). Asynchronous activity can still be dynamic – discussion forums are an example.

Design for a mix of whole class, small group and individual participation strategies. Completed small-group work can be shared with the whole class, especially where groups chose their own focus for the work; this structure exposes the students to a range of ideas and approaches. Try mixing up the groups through the course of the topic – again, this provides variety.

Use the functionality of technology and tools online. Use available tools to direct activity, connect users and activity, and capture online activity. Balance variety with consistency: choose a variety of media and tools to add interest and functionality to the site, but remember that for each technology, ‘tool learning’ is needed. Once the medium is mastered, student efforts can be channelled into the quality of the activity.

Connective online

Online environments and activities connect learners with each other, connect learners and teachers, connect teaching teams with each other, and connect everyone to resources and places within the LMS and in the world. Online learning can make full use of the affordances of being in a web-based space, and with good design can integrate this aspect of learning seamlessly into the online activities. Students are likely to enter your topic already well connected to the world through social media and business applications, and will expect a level of connectedness. In fact, students will often develop networks outside of the ‘walls’ of the LMS.

Ideas for practice 

Think about the topic as ‘glue’ for a distributed collection of destinations. This is essentially a curatorial function, with the learning management system acting as a sense-making device that filters, links, provokes and supports activity. If we consider that in many cases learning is located in the world, then the LMS becomes a portal through which the learner accesses the world.

Make use of ‘open’ resources. Sometimes referred to as OERs – open educational resources – any kind of resource can be used for educational purposes. Students are already accessing resources such as literature, videos, websites and forums in order to learn. The formal online learning environment just takes that to another level and asks learners to apply critical judgement: to be discerning and to evaluate the value of these resources and their meaning in context.

Position your expertise in a global context. Along with OERs, there are a plethora of expert voices freely available for learners to tap into. Not all these voices will agree but the topic can support learners to make sense of the diversity. What is your role as a subject expert in this ocean of expertise? You might take a position whereby you model the thinking of the expert in practice, steering attention, prompting reflection, and challenging assumptions.

Add something back to the world. OERs are not just for taking – they are for adding to as well. If you are brave you might adopt an ‘open unless there is a reason not be’ default approach to publishing materials, and make them freely available for use beyond the formal learning environment. If you publish learning materials to free hosting platforms, always perform testing to ensure that there are no restrictions to accessing these resources. Avoid extra log-ins, subscriptions, and software that doesn’t perform everywhere. Also maintain accessibility standards wherever possible.

Make use of publishing on the web to demonstrate learning. Authentic assessments create and publish real artefacts (e.g. blogs, webpages, ePortfolios). Artefacts in the real world can elicit comment from the public and provide another layer of feedback to the student. Consider creating a collection of these using a bookmarking tool as a source of inspiration for other students.

Develop digital literacy skills and digital citizenship. This is true for students and staff. Using the affordances of a connected online world for educational purposes develops skills and confidence that can be applied beyond the topic. It is recommended that requirements to use technology in a topic are reflected in the learning outcomes for that topic. Where possible, allow students to choose their technology as they may already have preferences. This might mean that marking staff need to access a variety of formats of assessment artefacts – this exposure also builds digital literacy. Digital citizenship is the bigger picture of how you use your literacy to interact with the world, and include knowledge of social norms and contexts for applying skills.

Make use of professional learning networks. Staff and students can take advantage of the fact there is an almost unlimited array of professional learning networks using social media and web-based forums, and they are discussing exactly what you are thinking about right now. Tap into these networks to expand your thinking, problem-solve, make contacts, and find resources. Encourage your students to do the same – it’s a professional skill that they can take with them. Technology users are especially prolific sharers of ideas and solutions – this is the best place to problem-solve issues of this nature. Where appropriate, link to the forums as a resource for students.

Make learning mobile. Encourage students to use their devices for ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning. Students can access the topic site from their mobile phones and tablets, thus integrating learning activities into their daily lives. Mobile devices can also be used to create and share media – but be aware that not all students will have one, or want to use their device if they do have one, because downloads on a device can chew up data allowances. Encourage but don’t prescribe – think of alternative ways that students can meet the same objective, for instance by sharing devices in class. Many site-based teaching tasks can be done on mobile devices as well – experiment with ‘mobile teaching’ as well as mobile learning.

Constructive alignment

3 overlapping sticks

Imagine that there is a 'skeleton of logic' behind the topic that holds the approaches and strategies together. This can be conceived as a triangle and is often referred to as constructive alignment, developed from John Biggs's work on constructive alignment, in which the intentions, learning activities and assessment items 'align' in the sense that they inform each other, together providing the scope of the topic. In this representation of constructive alignment, teaching activities are also represented, acting as a kind of glue that facilitates the connection between the three elements.

Checking for constructive alignment is a useful early exercise when designing your topic, because it ensures that the scope of the topic is right – everything that is in it is there for a reason: neither too little nor too much.

It may be useful to provide the student with a schema that illustrates how the learning outcomes, assessments and activities of the topic are aligned. This schema may be partly indicated in the Statement of Assessment Methods (SAMs) and/or expressed visually as a topic map.

Learning outcomes x assessment items

Learning outcomes for a topic are expressed as measurable verbs so that they can be demonstrated and assessed. A useful device typically used for this purpose is Bloom's taxonomy in which 'orders' of learning are conceived for different learning purposes. The verbs associated with each of the orders suggest the types of assessment activities and how they might be demonstrated. For instance, learning rules or facts might be expressed 'list the types...' whereas grappling with complexity might be expressed 'analyse the types...' – the assessment criteria are looking for, respectively, a list or an analysis.  

Bloom's (adapted) taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002): 

    • Create (design, develop, construct, create, produce, publish)
    • Evaluate (appraise, evaluate, justify, argue, reflect)
    • Analyse (compare, contrast, critique, examine, interpret)
    • Apply (demonstrate, illustrate, use, interpret)
    • Understand (describe, discuss, identify, explain, report, define)
    • Remember (list, state, recall)
Assessment items x engagement activities

Learning activities can be seen as engagement with the subject matter, whereas assessment items are formal assessment requirements for the topic. Ideally, these two things come together to create engaging assessments and assessable activities. Engagement activities might also include orientation activities, communications within a topic, practice activities, self-checks, and other activities that stimulate curiosity and provide opportunities to explore in low-stakes ways that are not necessarily connected to formal assessment.

One way to value effort of this nature (rather than the effect or result) is to design in a participation assessment item that 'counts' the fact that the learner has, for instance, entered the discussion forum, opened the resource, or completed the self-check regardless of the quality of their efforts. Another approach is to design formative assessment that stages drafts or sections of an assessment item as discreet activities. These types of assessment activities lend themselves to a participatory approach whereby ideas might be shared and tested within a forum, for instance.

Engagement activities x learning outcomes 

Engagement activities, even if they are extra to the assessment requirements for the topic should still align with the learning outcomes. That is, the activities engage the student towards the intentions of the topic.

Teaching and feedback activities 

The teaching and feedback component of the model connects the elements together both through the design of the online environment and its activities, and through the facilitation of the activities online. Feedback in particular is an essential part of the process, looping assessment back to learning. 

Narrative instruction

Instructional  guidance is a narrative in the 'teacher's voice' in a topic captured through the way that items like titling, text, visual signposts, and video or audio captures are arranged and worded so that they tell a story in the topic site that helps that the student start somewhere, take a journey, and end up somewhere else.

Narrative is a good way of creating character in your topic, and it develops cohesion across diverse elements. The journey - as a whole -  is one of the things that the online environment can do more easily that a face-to-face learning environment, because the entire journey - from entry point to finish point - is laid out as a map. Done well, a topic with a good narrative helps the student get the big picture of where they are in that journey, what comes next, and how it all fits together. 

It is important to consider the narrative style that your are using, because this is the teacher's voice captured in the site. Should the style be friendly, supportive, professional, challenging, inquiring? This may change as the topic proceeds - for instance, early activities may be highly scaffolded, while later activities might assume that some of the task support 'narrative' is no longer required. 

The way that FLO is designed helps topic narrative occur, because of its sequential layout, and through the use of recognisable icons for its standard activities that act as signals to the student about what they will be doing. 

A really simple thing that you can do to support topic narrative is to write and display descriptive text for activities and resources added to the site, and make sure they are sequenced or organised in the site in a way that makes sense.

Not all the topic narrative needs to be built into the site before the topic starts. Instructional narrative can also be added as you go through the use of announcements, or by adding new resources or text into the site where it is required. 

One way to design your topic as a journey with a narrative is to put yourself in the role of the student. What do they see first, when they enter the topic? What can they read that tells them what to do? Is it obvious what they should do first? Then what? How is the order of activity made clear to the student? 

Check your narrative from the teacher's perspective as well...running through the sequence of activities, what does the teacher need to do? What is the story of activity between student and teacher?

Online assessment

The online environment opens up new affordances for assessment, as well as posing some interesting challenges. The trick is to design the assessment for online, rather than trying to convert an existing assessment to work online, although this is often possible. When designing assessment for online, consider the conditions for the assessment, some of which can be systematised through selecting particular settings in some tools. For instance, an assignment can be set to draft until a certain date, or restrictions placed on availability dates or how it is shared and viewed.

Assessment types might include:

  • Participation in topic activity (e.g. posting and responding in forums)
  • Assessments with stages (e.g. a report plan, followed by a draft report, followed by the polished version)
  • Completion activities – with prescribed conditions 
  • Authentic assessment using real-life activities 
  • Work-integrated learning (WIL)
  • ePortfolio of created items over time
  • Peer assessment and self assessment 
  • Automated assessment (e.g. quizzes)
  • A polished product or artifact relevant to the discipline 
Potential benefits of online assessment
Provides a lasting record of the assessment Feedback can be instant
Can be accessed for assessment by multiple people Can be repurposed beyond the assessment task
Assessment can be put into the open Can simulate difficult assessment environments
Builds digital literacy skills Data can be used to improve learning design
Creates a polished product Assessment can be done remotely
Mirrors real-world tasks Assessment can be done in real time
Multiple copies are possible Assessment can be done in own time
Assessment can be automated Exemplars can be shared
Feedback can be automated Supports moderation exercises

Formats for assessment 

Assessments using technology can happen in the following ways:

  • Assessment tool is fully integrated as part of the online environment (e.g. quiz tool in FLO)
  • Assessments are linked to through the topic site (e.g. private ePortfolio hosted on a website)
  • Assignments are submitted and returned through the online environment (using FLO assignments tool)

Roles for teachers

The teaching role in the online environment will have within it the four characteristics of online – ideally it will be personal, active, structured and connective. How you express those characteristics and shape your own role online will be unique. We are teaching in a connected world that enables us to move beyond the 'set and forget' approach of providing rich online environments for learning and expecting that to be enough. However, looking at the online environment, it is difficult to see the teaching and, indeed, the learning: the activity in that space.    

Roles and tasks 

In general, it is helpful to think about online teaching roles and tasks as ranging across three areas of activity:

  1. setting up the environment for self-directed and self-paced learning activity
  2. actively teaching into that environment 
  3. responsively shaping the topic as it progresses, by making sense of what's happening 'behind the scenes'

Across the three areas there are a number of roles and tasks that can be mix'n'matched to suit the learning approach for the topic. Different roles and tasks will make sense at different points in the topic and they are not mutually exclusive, but potentially complementary – keep all the hats on your virtual desk.

Here's some ideas about roles to prompt your thinking:

Architect

One of the main differences in online teaching is that the topic environment is itself an active teaching mechanism, and can be set up to orient, guide, provoke, even assess, learners as they move through the topic. The teaching task here is to think like a learner, imagining them dipping into the online environment as it suits them. What do they encounter there that will engage them, stimulate their learning and advance their understanding in your topic? 

Expert thinker

What is the expert in the online teaching environment? While there are indeed a plethora of freely accessible experts that students can tap into, YOU are the expert they have a personal relationship with. You can model thinking and acting like an expert in your discipline even while you direct learners to access the work of other experts. This is valuable exposure into the mind of the expert!

Guide on the side

Online teaching is often referred to as being a 'guide on the side' (as opposed to a 'sage on the stage'). Guidance activity can include tasks such as orienting students to learning and assessment activities, and to participation and communication expectations. Guidance can also be provided at key points during the activities, such as checking for understanding and 'muddy points', directing attention to important things, linking forward to the next part of the activity or the next idea, looping back to reinforce or establish new connections, and providing feedback on progress. 

Meddler in the middle

A useful new idea is to be a 'meddler in the middle'. Meddling stirs up assumptions, provides new perspectives, prompts deeper approaches to the subject, and creates interest. Meddling is useful for subjects/concepts that are wicked (not 'solvable'), that are contestable, or that demand criticality.

Moderator 

The online environment enables teachers to moderate student learning in ways that are not possible face to face. Teachers can run reports to check that learners are accessing and completing set activities, and actively participating in the topic. Monitoring forum activity is another important aspect of moderation, checking that discussions are on track and that learners are getting their queries met.

Collaborator and co-learner 

The online space is a 'flat' space where the teacher is one of the participants in the topic site. This potentially supports a different kind of connection with the learners: one that is on equal footing, if you like. There is nothing to stop the teacher interacting in a discussion, or in an activity, alongside the learner, collaborating in the learning activity. In this sense the teacher is also a co-learner, learning about the learning as the topic progresses. The online topic environment makes sharing easy.

Teaching teams

If you are teaching in a team, there is a layer of organisation and communication required that will help to inform the shape of your teaching online. Some of the teaching will be to the whole cohort, and some will be connected to smaller groups. Online teaching teams need to work closely together so that there is continuity and consistency. Teams can use the structured online environment as a framework for their practice. Teaching resources such as lesson plans can be hidden from student view but available for tutors, or collected within a hidden module.  

Redesign for online (conversion)

In the online environment, students can engage around the subject matter in different ways and this means re-thinking the topic approach. Therefore it is easier perhaps to conceive 'conversion' to online as an opportunity for a redesign of the topic. 

Some elements are already online. The topic's FLO site already has the bare functional bones for an online topic: an announcements tool; the topic links block to FLO help, the library, topic aims, etc; a calendar block; a welcome block. Additionally, electronic assignments now need to be submitted and returned online, so students will be accessing the FLO site more frequently. Lectures are already recorded and integrated into the site. And typically, you might have already uploaded copies of the lecture notes, or added additional relevant learning resources. 

Replace lectures with mini-video lectures. 50-minute lectures to an unseen audience don't translate well to the online learning context:

  • They are large files, difficult to start and stop and find your place again. What works better is smaller bite-sized videos focused on chunks of content. 
  • They 'broadcast' to a theatre of people. The online learner needs something more personal, that talks to them directly.  
  • They are located in a particular time and space. Away from the lecture theatre, there is a lot more freedom to present from any location at any time. Mini videos can be re-used over and over.

Mini-video lectures in an online learning context are resources to support active learning, rather than activities in themselves., but they can support activity. For instance, students might view a short video, then post their responses to a forum, or produce a short video of their own that interprets the ideas from an alternative perspective.

Online topics don't have to have videos. But if you think they will add value to the learning experience (and they can, done thoughtfully) then first consider what videos on that particular subject might already be openly available − you could link to them. If you are going to the trouble of creating mini videos, consider carefully what it is that YOU can add to the mix that makes a difference to the learning. This might be more about modelling how to think about something, or demonstrating an action, than presenting 'content' that can be accessed elsewhere or in a less production-intensive format. Videos are great for adding the personal to the online learning experience, so don't think you have to produce something slick; rather, aim for a genuine expression of your teaching.

Unpack tutorials and convert to focused asynchronous activities. What happens in the tutorial, rather than the lecture, may be a better starting place for thinking about student activity in the online environment. In the tutorial, the grappling with the topic content happens - students discuss, share, ask questions. Their participation may even be linked to assessment. This translates well to online activity, however usually it is best to design asynchronous activities  that students do in their own time. Discussion forums are an example of this. Students can even work in small groups online as they would in the tutorial. 

See also

You may also find useful FLO topic baseline. This book contains:

  • guidelines (for a good user experience)
  • checklist (to help create consistency across sites)
  • starter site (for site development)
  • FAQ