Reshaping an online course in response to students’ needs and preferences

A fresh start informed by students’ thinking

In his new role as course director for the MSc in Teaching English Language in University Settings, Dr Heath Rose faced the challenge of creating an entire set of online modules from scratch. At the time, he was new not only to teaching online but also to using Weblearn to create and share learning materials. The course is distinctive as it is designed for part-time distance learners in full-time work. To gain a better sense of learner preferences, Heath consulted with second year students before the start of term. From these discussions, he was able to ascertain existing elements of the course that they enjoyed in the first year of their studies (the structure, the asynchronous nature of the tasks, the detailed feedback on tasks) and new elements that they wanted to be added. These included webinars (online video lessons), a wide range of course materials and clearer integration of features such as forums. Equipped with this information, Heath set out to design the course according to the students’ needs and preferences.

All the information the learner needs in one place

Heath began by designing the curriculum for the new term and familiarising himself with the main features of WebLearn. This process largely consisted of learning by doing. He was particularly keen to explore the possibilities offered by the WebLearn Lessons tool as a means to deliver weekly themed content. He soon discovered its main benefit to lie in the way it allows tasks, learning materials and useful links for lessons to be housed in one place. For tasks that required students to post a short response, he added the ‘comment’ feature so that they could contribute and view responses directly under the task description. For extended tasks, he included links to the relevant forum, where students could post their responses, and read and respond to others. This represented a step towards better integrated, linear lessons.

In response to the students’ request for webinars, Heath found that the most practical method was to stream the lecture portion of the session from a YouTube channel. After careful consideration, he settled on a split screen format, with a video of himself delivering the lecture on the left side and his PowerPoint slides on the right. The recordings were then uploaded to a private YouTube channel, and the links pasted into the WebLearn Lessons tool ready for students to watch and comment on.

Screenshot of a webinar

Screenshot of a webinar

Heath also used two other WebLearn tools. The Chat tool enabled students to pose questions informally to their peers, the course lecturers and teaching assistants. The Drop Box tool proved a useful means to provide feedback for summative assessment tasks.

A positive story of progress

The students expressed a high level of satisfaction with the webinars and new course structure in the end of term evaluation. Their comments include:

‘The content is well tailored and weekly modules are equipped with good media resources ’.

‘I really enjoyed the webinars’.

‘I felt the readings were balanced and varied, a good mix of textbook type reading, seminal primary source reading and original research studies’.

‘I like the fact that the main concepts were introduced in detail by the tutors and then the topics were suggested for discussion and interpretation.’

In particular, they found it useful to view the PowerPoint slides in the webinars, but also appreciated being able to see Heath himself, which lent a personal touch to the lecture. The forums were very active during the course which further demonstrated students’ engagement. On average, each student contributed 320 posts during the two terms, equating to roughly 20 per week. This high level of participation was particularly pleasing to Heath, considering that the students had to balance their studies with full-time work and other commitments.

Top tips for creating your own online course

Based on his experiences of designing and creating an online course, Heath offers the following advice to lecturers in a similar context:

  • If you require students to discuss something in the forums, it may be best to start the conversation yourself, so that students’ comments and responses are shown together within the same conversation.
  • Embed videos as well as links to resources directly into lessons. This creates a more diverse and colourful interface. YouTube is a treasure trove of interviews with scholars, recordings of plenaries and TED talks which can offer a lot to students.

Further information

  • Read other case studies in this collection showing the different ways in which WebLearn can support your students’ learning.
  • To find out more about WebLearn, contact the WebLearn team.
  • To learn how to record lectures, capturing both the tutor’s voice and slides, visit the Replay web pages.

OxTALENT 2016 Logo - web versionWinner, OxTALENT 2016 award for use of WebLearn to support Teaching and Learning. The text in this case study has been adapted from Heath Rose’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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