Teaching with Tech
Organize Your Online Course Shell
Maria H. Andersen, June / July 2011
In the April/May column (“Online Course Shell: Worth the Effort”), I urged you to get familiar with your Learning Management System (LMS) so you could put up a course shell. Now, I hope you’re either convinced or at least willing to read on. The setup of an empty course shell, which includes course objectives, will take a couple of hours, but you’ll have to do it only once for each course you teach.
Think of the course shell as a customizable textbook, and organize it the same way you do topics in your course. In a textbook, you have Chapter > Section > Objectives. A course shell should follow a similar structure: Folder > Subfolder > Learning Objectives (or perhaps your LMS calls it Topic Area > Subpage > Learning Objectives).
In the LMS, start by setting up empty folders (chapter or unit level, e.g., “Limits and Derivatives”) and subfolders (section level, e.g., “Limit Rules”) for each topic that is covered. At the top level, in the description area, state general learning objectives, and at the second level, go into more detail about specific learning objectives (see figures 1 and 2).
These specific learning objectives serve three purposes:
Once the course shell framework is built, you can populate it with resources of your own (including class notes, screencasts, worksheets, and assignments) and resources found online (such as interactive demonstrations, online videos, and news articles).
There are many ways to “collect” what you do in the classroom. Even if you have an extremely low-tech room, you can use a digital camera (or your cellphone’s camera) to take pictures of the board before you erase.
The series of pictures can be shared online to capture the “notes” from class.
If you’re not comfortable using a computer as a presentation-and-recording device in class, you can record a video of your board lectures using an inexpensive digital video camera on a tripod (set it far enough back to capture all the space you use, or recruit a different student each day to handle the camera).
Decide on a set of consistent learning resources to use as you begin to add resources to the course shell. Different courses may lend themselves to a different resource structure. Below, I’ve listed the learning resources found throughout my calculus section and my math for elementary teachers (MathET) section. I try to follow the same order when adding these resources so students can easily find what they are looking for. In calculus, the video lessons are always the first thing in the folder. In MathET, the assignment is always the first thing.
Math for Elementary Teachers
If you’re going to share video in a course shell, try to find a way to store the videos somewhere other than in your LMS (or the course shell becomes excessively large). For example, my college provides Screencast accounts in which instructors can store files; in Blackboard, we link to the video files, and the videos stream directly out of Screencast.
Also, ensure that your resources can be accessed by students regardless of their software and operating systems. For example, if your documents use Word or LaTeX, your students will need to have that same software to read them. However, if you can produce the files in a PDF format, the files can be opened on nearly any computing device (including smartphones) with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.
When I add printed activities to my course shells, I show an image of some part of the activity (see figure 4) to remind myself which activity it is and to catch the attention of students (who are quite visually oriented). Often I include partial solutions to the activity either in written or video form even if we have used the activity in class. To include videos you’ve found on the Internet (e.g., YouTube or Vimeo), consider embedding the video directly into the course shell so that the student does not have to leave to watch it (see “Use Online Video to Create Context in Math Courses,” MAA FOCUS, June/July 2010).
Over time, your course shell will accumulate new resources— not just during the semester you teach, but in the off semesters as well. As you find yourself stumbling across great material (such as news articles, videos, and demonstrations), you’ll know exactly where to deposit them for use the next time you teach that course.
This column appeared in the June / July 2011 issue of MAA FOCUS.
Maria H. Andersen is a Learning Futurist for The LIFT Institute and a Math Professor at Muskegon Community College. She is also president of Edge of Learning LLC (formerly Andersen Algebra Consulting LLC), an educational consulting business. Follow her on Twitter @busynessgirl or visit her official website.