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Designing Your Class to Achieve Goals and Objectives

After you develop your goals and learning objectives, you then have to craft activities that help meet these goals and objectives.  The web has numerous resources that can be adapted for use in your class.

One of the better sources of online activities is MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching).  MERLOT is a user-centered, searchable collection of peer reviewed and selected higher education, online learning materials, catalogued in a variety of ways by registered members and a set of faculty development support services. The material in MERLOT is licensed under the Creative Commons to encourage the sharing of resources.  MERLOT's vision is to be a premiere online community where faculty, staff, and students from around the world share their learning materials and pedagogy.

MERLOT members work to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning by increasing the quantity and quality of peer reviewed online learning materials that can be easily incorporated into faculty designed courses.  The MERLOT repository is not only learning materials, but assignments, comments, personal collections and snapshots, all designed to enhance the teaching experience of an learning material. The learning materials are categorized into 14 different learning material types. A large selection of materials in MERLOT also have assignments and comments attached to them.

The materials in MERLOT are categorized as follows:

  • Simulation: Approximates a real or imaginary experience where users' actions affect their outcomes. Users determine and input initial conditions that generate output that is different from and changed by the initial conditions.
  • Animation: Allows users to view the dynamic and visual representation of concepts, models, processes, and/or phenomena in space or time. Users can control their pace and movement through the material, but they cannot determine and/or influence the initial conditions or their outcomes/results.
  • Tutorial: Users navigate through electronic workbooks designed to meet stated learning objectives, structured to impart specific concepts or skills, and organized sequentially to integrate conceptual presentation, demonstration, practice, and testing.
  • Drill and Practice: Requires users to respond repeatedly to questions or stimuli presented in a variety of sequences. Users practice on their own, at their own pace, to develop their ability to reliably perform and demonstrate the target knowledge and skills.
  • Quiz/Test: Any assessment device intended to serve as a test or quiz.
  • Lecture/Presentation: Any material intended for use in support of in-class lectures/presentations. Lecture notes, audio visual materials, and presentation graphics such as PowerPoint slide shows that do not stand alone are examples.
  • Case Study: Illustrates a concept or problem by using an example that can be explored in depth.
  • Collection: Any collection of learning materials such as web sites or subject specific applets.
  • Reference Material: Material with no specific instructional objectives and similar to that found in the reference area of a library. Subject specific directories to other sites, texts, or general information are examples.
  • Learning Object Repository: A searchable database of at least 100 online resources that is available on the Internet and whose search result displays an ordered hit list of items with a minimum of title metadata. What is not a LOR: a webpage with a list of links.
  • Online Course: A material that is designed to be used in an online course.
  • Workshop and Training Material: Materials best used in a workshop or tutorial for the purpose of teaching others about learning and teaching online.
  • 3D Learning Object
  • Open Textbook

The learning materials in MERLOT are organized into discipline "communities" :

There are many other sources of activities for online classes.  E-tivities (2002) by Gilly Salmon provides numerous examples.  She suggested that in building e-tivities, you consider the following key principles (from her Chapter 4): 

The E-tivity Process

  1. Decide in advance of the participants logging on what you expect them to do and what the e-moderators will do.
  2. Ensure the participants are clear about your intended objectives for an e-tivity. Start with the end in mind.
  3. Ensure that your planned evaluation or assessment meets the purpose (s) of the e-tivity. If assessment is involved, look for alignment with tasks. Attempts to forcefully create participation through direct assessment are rarely successful.
  4. Build in motivation as part of the process of undertaking the e-tivity itself and not as something separate from it. Motivation occurs because of the learning activities. Avoid trying to motivate people to simply log-on, and ‘discuss’, instead provide an e-tivity that makes taking part worthwhile.
  5. Create an experience that is complete and worthwhile in itself. This includes setting short-term goals but ensuring there is a satisfying process and ‘flow’ of actions. In practice, e-moderators need to exercise judgement about when to go with the flow and when to guide participants towards expected outcomes.
  6. Be highly sensitive to timing and pacing. Divide the e-tivity up into bite sized chunks – no more than 2 or 3 weeks’ work for a complete e-tivity, less if you can.
  7. If you offer more than one e-tivity at a time, build them together in a coherent way to create a ‘program’. Use the 5-stage model.

  8. Ensure that the e-tivities are in some way focussed on sharing, shaping, elaborating or deepening understanding.
  9. Ensure that participants need to work together in some way to achieve the learning outcomes. If you cannot see the way to make working together worthwhile, maybe using e-tivities is not the best approach?
  10. Be generous in allocating e-moderator time, especially if the e-tivity is geared towards stages 1-3.
  11. Be ready, be prepared, and don’t be surprised at serendipitous events.
  12. Aim to provide just one instructional message, which contains everything needed to take part.  Each instructional message e-tivity should include:
    • The purpose of the e-tivity (why the participants are doing it). If the e-tivities is assessed, indicate what might indicate success and how they can achieve it.
    • What participants should do and how they can go about doing it.
    • How long it should or could take. An idea of when the e-tivity starts and when it should finish.
    • How the participants should work together.

Of course, your activities need to be organized.  In online courses, it is recommended that you develop weekly lessons or modules based on a curriculum schedule.  Within these lessons, you can have:

  • Assignments: such as a list of reading assignments, writing assignments, research, and other activities. Students can complete assignments at the time they choose so long as they turn in assignments before their deadline. 
    Lectures: online lecture materials can be provided  to extend learning beyond the textbook. “Lecture” might also include readings, PowerPoint presentations, podcasts, or videos.
  • Discussions: discussions (either synchronous or asynchronous) provide an excellent way to engage students in the learning process, particularly when they are linked to other activities such as readings or research.  The key to good discussions is well-crafted questions and rubrics for evaluation. 
  • Questions: in an online class, your students do not raise their hand to ask a question. Instead, you should provide avenues for questions, such as an “Office Forum” in the Discussion Board, criteria for email questions, or other forums such as instant messaging or microblogging.  Take advantage of the collective crowd wisdom and encourage your students to feel free to respond to each others’ questions.
  • Quizzes and Tests: along with other assignments, you may test student understanding of content and skills through quizzes and exams. Given that any online student will have access to the textbook or websites, one should craft quizzes that engage critical thinking.  Use of timed tests and random question pools can mitigate against concerns regarding cheating.  The online assessment process also allows for formative practice quizzes and knowledge games.
  • Group Work:  new tools expand the options for student collaboration and group work.  As with face-to-face classes, rubrics and expectations on participation and process can be very helpful.
  • Presentations and Projects: Student generated presentations shared with the rest of the class are excellent learning opportunities. This might be an online blog site or journal, a PowerPoint presentation, a podcast, a paper, or a YouTube video. 
Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 09/22/2009
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