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

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.