Throughout the fall semester of 2017, I worked on the development of an introductory chemistry course geared towards the fully online environment. This is the first course that I have designed to be fully online from the beginning. The work I did to develop this course will form the basis of the first fully online introductory chemistry class offered at Lenoir-Rhyne University. I hope to offer this online course for the first time during the summer of 2018.
One of the big lessons that I learned this semester could be summarized as “be flexible”. Going into the semester, I had a plan for the course. I have taught this course numerous times in a traditional setting. My plan was to create an online course from that same content. While the general content can be translated into the digital realm, I had to learn to be flexible with my organization.
In my traditional courses, as I teach the material I can observe the students and see who’s lost. These observations allow me to elaborate so I can correct any issues. In an online environment, making sure that the students do not become lost is more of a challenge, especially due to the complexity of the material in chemistry. The modules had to be very carefully ordered and structured so that material would be presented in a certain order. It became critically important to design the material so that the students never reached an assignment they were being asked a question that they haven’t learned about yet. In my traditional course, the quizzes and homework assignments are at the end of the chapters so material is never missed. In my online course I decided to break things up. The assignments are smaller and spread throughout the modules so that the students can test their knowledge periodically throughout the module. In order to achieve this I had to move beyond the design that I have used in my traditional courses and break up my material into small, manageable bits. This required me to be flexible in my thinking… moving away from my normal style of teaching this material. Once I had these education bits, I then put them together carefully, layering concept upon concept so that by the end, the students could approach the assignments with confidence. I also set up the course so that the students were forced to work through the material in order so that I could be sure that the material built up properly.
It turns out that while I intended to use the ADDIE model to create this course from the beginning, it took me a while to start actually using it. The ADDIE model is built around this idea of using an analysis of the content that already exist to then develop and modify it to improve the course (or new course). I should have spent more time analyzing what I already had and focusing on ways to alter it. Instead, I spent too long trying to shoehorn traditional content into this online format. Once I got to the real task of altering the material, everything went much smoother. Overall, this was a great reminder of how to actually use the ADDIE model.
Peer review also turned out to be a new tool that proved highly useful. Up to this point in my career, I have discussed my course content with other members of my department. I was interested in their take on topics and how to teach those topics. This is the first time that I have had others look at my work who are far outside of my field. At first I was concerned because of the complexity of the material. What I came to understand is that these outside reviewers provide an invaluable resource. While they can’t speak to the material that I am presenting, they can review the overall design and flow of the course. Too often, I got caught up in the weeds, dealing with the minute concepts, so that I ended up with content that didn’t flow well or was simply confusing. Several times I had my reviewers tell me that they didn’t understand where I wanted them to go. I had spent so much time fine tuning the individual content that I never looked at how it worked overall. It was through my reviewers eyes that I began to create an online course that worked. While I came into this course uncertain about the value of outside (non-sciency) people reviewing my courses, this course illustrated how useful they can be in the instructional design process.
I also had an opportunity to review other students materials throughout this term. It was sort of eye opening to see how other instructors approached things. For example, when I created my first splash-page, I didn’t have my name or contact information on it. I had assumed that having it in the syllabus was enough. Then I saw that one of my fellow students had included their information on their splash-page and it looked great and seemed very useful. Additionally, rather than just typing the information into the page, this student had created a small Piktochart of their contact information and embedded that. It looked so much better. While I ended up simply typing my information into the page, it is my intention to create a Piktochart graphic of my contact information for use in my upcoming class. The main reason that I haven’t created it to this point is that I don’t have much in the way of contact information right now. I won’t have an office (or phone number) until the science building reopens in January and I get them assigned to me. It turns out that I got a lot of ideas for my courses from how my fellow students set up their courses.
The Orientation Module
One of the things that I will do differently in the next course I create regards the orientation module. Due to the structure of EDU 658, I created the orientation module before I created the content modules. In the future I would reverse that order. When I designed the content, I began with the assessments. As I learned in the instructional design theory course, when you start with the assessment, you get an idea concerning what sort of content you need to provide to your students. In that same respect, in the future I will go from assessments to content and then to orientation. At the beginning of the course, when I created the orientation module, I had an idea of what I wanted to do but as I implemented the content, things changed. In this course I found that as I was building the content I was having to go back and fix the orientation module. It turns out that changing the orientation wasn’t a big deal, the ADDIE design model is all about the cyclic nature of the design process, but creating the orientation module last would save a lot of time in the long run.
I believe that, on the whole, my biggest difficulty turned out to be my familiarity with the material. I knew how I had taught the material in a traditional classroom. I feel like I relied on that past experience too much. I spent too much time trying to build an online course using the techniques I have used in the traditional setting. Once I began building the course with an eye towards not doing what I’ve done before, the content began to flow together better and I had less “what are the students supposed to be doing here” moments. In the future I need to make sure that while I used the same content, I try to ignore how I teach the material face-to-face and look at how I can best utilize the online format to instruct my students.