Course Design and Assessment

Online Course Design

Designing an Online Course

Designing an online course has some elements similar to the traditional course development. The course is still based upon course goals and learning outcomes. Course calendar imparts the balance between the amount of teaching and learning needed to meet the goals of the course and the allotted time. The difference between the traditional and online course is your ability to communicate the classroom experience in via an alternative venue. You will need to determine methods of building a "community" and provide opportunities for students to communicate and collaborate with one another, and with you.

A key difference in online courses is students do not need to rely on face-to-face interaction to learn content. However, this also means the computer communication and feedback is highly important and should be structured accordingly.

Engage your Students

It is essential to engage your students. Making your online course as interactive as possible will help. Some methods to consider include:

  • Promoting continuity by answering e-mails promptly, asking open-ended questions in bulletin board discussions, and posting to discussions frequently.
  • Defining the purpose and timeframe of each discussion to facilitate students staying on topic.
  • Ensuring identification of students through profiles or photos. Please ask the each student's permission prior to doing this, particularly if the course website is on the Internet (versus the intranet).
  • Establishing rules of trust to facilitate a friendly and respectful environment.
  • Inviting other faculty to participate in chats and bulletin board discussions.
  • Making online discussions a part of the student's "participation" grade.
  • Encouraging reflective thinking and ongoing discussions by using problems that are complex and not easily resolved.
  • Including other audiovisuals to provide a context and alternative learning methods for students.

Although studies have shown that the medium of online instruction has not significantly altered learning, the design of the materials on the online medium does have tremendous influence. Basic instructional design is still essential and should be used in designing an online course. And as students have different learning styles, online course activities should be developed that employ a variety of pedagogies. There are a number of teaching strategies that can be applied and adapted to the online environment. Some of these strategies include discussion boards, chat rooms, group projects, case studies, lectures, and mentoring.

Build on what you do best.

Continue to do what has been effective for your and your students. If you prefer lecturing or using case studies, use that format in your online course. Remember to incorporate those elements included in your lecture that made them effective. This could include PowerPoint presentations, streaming video, audioclips etc. Remember to include relevant assignments and assessments.

Preparing your Materials

Become familiar with WebCT and its respective course setup. To include your course's relevant content, you may need to save your files as HTML, pdf, or in Impatica. The Technology and Learning Center (TLC) can be of assistance to you in this endeavor. Regardless, consider the size of the files and remember that the larger the file, the slower the download. Some considerations include:

  • Keeping images small for faster download time. A 65K or smaller image is the rule of thumb for a 28.8 modem. You can decrease the file size of an image by saving fewer colors or by cropping the image to a smaller size. It is also wise to reduce the image size while maintaining proportions.
  • Ensuring the font type and size are easy to read. Arial, Courier New, and Times New Roman are acceptable fonts. Font size ranges from 10 to 12 points.
  • Using web-friendly colors. Also, if your type is in a dark color, use a light background and vice versa.
  • Creating a focal point will allow the reader to easily digest your information. Too much information and nothing will be noticed.
  • Avoiding long, scrolling text pages except in white papers or instructional materials.

Designing the Course

ADDIE is a process one can used in designing an online course. This instructional design elements includes analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation.


Who are the learners? What are the learners' needs? How does the course meet the learners' needs? Are the learners studying part-time or full-time? Are they the learners for which the course was originally designed? What knowledge do they bring to the course? What are the learners' motivations? How does this course differ from others?


Will faculty peers, experts and/or students pilot the course before full implementation? Have you clearly incorporated objectives and assessment? Is the course efficient?


Is the course material readily available? Is feedback and support available? Does the material work?


Are the objectives achieved?

Managing an Online Course

The following table modified from the California State University-Chico Technology and Learning Program (2003) delineates suggestions for managing an online course. Additional tips can be found at: Embleton, K. (1999). Online teaching tips.

Before Course During Course After Course
Allocate sufficient time to develop and deliver an online course. Set aside an appropriate amount of time per week to manage course. Create a backup of the course.
Determine where and when to direct students when they have technical problems or questions. Provide students with adequate time to master the information technologies prior to delivery of the course. Reset course and tests as needed.
Choose appropriate graphic formats. Post a FAQ. Update deadlines.
Include instructions in your study guide/hard copy syllabus about how to use the online component of your unit. Respond to students emails in a timely manner and provide students with adequate feedback. Make changes to course while ideas fresh.
Add web links and other resource materials. Establish personal folders in WebCT email to organize each student's emails and assignments.  
Verify web links status. Use other methods to verify student learning.  
Have the course organized, on paper, before you begin designing the course. Assess frequently. This encourages students to stay on target.  
Set up bogus student accounts for testing and validating purposes. Set dates for assignments.  
  Test and validate anything you expect students to do online, before you have them do it.  
  Promote interaction online by using asynchronous and synchronous tools.  
  Provide clear and detailed instructions for online discussions.  
  Set clear expectations for online student activities.  
  Check in with students who haven't been heard from, or who are late with assignments.  
  Verify roll sheet provided by university with the students enrolled in your WebCT course.  

Evaluating an Online Course

Prior to implementing your course, you should consider how you will evaluate the course. The checklist below and its elements of content, instruction, learners, design and preparation can be used as a guide. This rubric was modified from one developed by the California State University-Chico (2003).

Content and Instruction

Introduction and/or course overview properly prepares learner? Course objectives are clear and comprehensive? Unit/module objectives are clear and comprehensive?
Lesson objectives are clear and comprehensive? Objectives are taught in the same order as originally presented? Objectives match the strategy of the instruction?
Objectives meet the needs of the target population? Instruction is sequenced logically? Units and lessons are chunked and sized properly?
Content is complete and thorough? Content is accurate and up-to-date? Content presents a consistent perspective?
All information is necessary (There is little/no superfluous information.)? Information method includes various approaches (expository, embedded, discovery, etc.)? Information presentation includes various approaches (media, simulations, discussion groups, etc.)?
The instructional strategy used is appropriate for the learning tasks? Media (graphics, animation, diagrams, screen captures, audio, etc.) are accurate and relevant? Audio and video clips can be paused and restarted and replayed from the beginning?
Examples used are clear, logical, accurate, and relevant? There are sufficient practice exercises to attain mastery? The practice exercises and feedback are realistic and accurate?
The practice exercises and feedback include variety and maintain interest? Feedback is keyed to reference materials? The lessons provide a balanced approach to learning, i.e., explaining, exercising, and evaluating?
0verall, the instruction is appealing, interesting, and motivating? The level of difficulty (reading level, terminology, approach, content) is appropriate for the target population? The instruction applies to different populations?
Summaries and/or reviews are included at the end of each lesson? Summaries and/or reviews are included at the end of each unit/ module? The unit/module objectives match the unit/module tests?
The lesson objectives match the lesson tests? The tests are valid (test content covered)? Tests measure how well the learners have achieved the learning tasks?
An answer key is provided for lesson tests? An answer key is provided for unit/module tests? There is a glossary of words for easy access?
Help index is available?    


Learners are engaged in activities? The learners have control over the rate of presentation? Prerequisites and entry-level skills are clearly defined and accurate?
Prerequisites and entry-level skills are reviewed? Learners have a chance to bypass a unit or a lesson via a test that accurately measures their knowledge of the subject? Learners are able to get a summary of their performance?
Information is presented in a format/manner that can be easily used and transferred to the learners' situation? Reference materials (of any type) are provided for learners to use for review or additional learning? Learning aids are provided for learners to use for quick and easy access to key concepts?

Design and Presentation

Presentation is professional and compact? The layout (screen) is clear, clean, and well organized? Grammar and spelling are correct?
Cryptic abbreviations and codes are not used? The use of discriminatory examples/terminology is avoided? Course materials are well organized for ease of use?
Course materials are complete, clearly written, and easy to follow? Course materials are detailed enough but not too detailed? 1t is easy to learn to navigate so learners can concentrate on learning the material as opposed to learning how to use the learning tool?
0n screen instructions are simple, clear, and concise? 0n screen instructions can be skipped if already known? Learners can review previous frames of information?
The system will function without the need for an instructor? Time estimates for completion of the content are included and accurate? The instruction is efficient (least amount of time to achieve the objectives)?
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