Teacher Tap

Planning Shows

Careful instructional design and development is critical for an effective distance learning course. The better the planning, the more successful the implementation.

Be Prepared. How often has your class preparation been just one week in front of your students? Do you remember developing course materials the night before class? Have you ever run to the copy center five minutes before class to pick up handouts? This type of procrastination doesn't work in a distance learning environment. All details of the course should be fully planned and prepared before the course starts.

The distance learning environment tends to exaggerate both the positive and the negative aspects of all the elements of instruction. Anything left to chance will become a major pitfall. Any lack of planning will be exposed. Adhering to the basics of instructional design is essential to success in distance learning.

Be Organized from the Start. In an Internet-based course, it is essential to have the completed web pages including activities, projects, readings, and links in a final form from the beginning. Although in some courses the pages and projects may evolve and build as students make contributions, the skeleton must be ready to go from the beginning. In this case, an active announcement, discussion, or chat arrangement is essential in communicating changes, updates, and evolution of the site. If your site will be evolving, build in a mechanism to be certain that students are constantly working with the materials. We've found that some students will print out pages and not check the electronic bulletin board or announcements as often as we would like.

Good students will appreciate your planning. They like to be able to see the "big picture" before the course begins including all the assignments, projects, and requirements. The course will run smoothly and students will complete assignments on time with little difficulty.

Develop a Plan. Instructional design begins with outcomes. What do you want your students to be able to do or talk about when they complete your course? Create a visual plan. Consider using a software package such as Inspiration to create a visual map of your website and course. Start by planning the big picture. Start with a semester or a complete course. Revise as you go rather than going back later and trying to remember what needs to be updated. Be sure to inform learners of any changes you make as you revise and reorganize to increase effectiveness and efficiency.

Consider using a template to create your materials, so they look consistent and professional. You can create your own template, use a web development tool template, or use an established package such as Blackboard.

Some people like to design their materials as separate courses. Other prefer to design a series of courses or short modules. The advantage of short chunks is that students have short, easy to attain goals. This format is particularly good for procrastinators who need a more structured environments.

Organize Resources. In a web-based course, it's essential that the Internet sites be carefully selected. If students will be doing their own exploration, be sure to provide search engines, subject area portals, and other helpers. A good assignment makes all the difference in student success. For example, rather than assigned the Artcyclopedia site. Provide specific questions or activities related to the site. The National Gallery of Art contains many pages, you might focus on identifying a particular artist or work. Consider starting points with good indexes.

Look for Short Cuts. Don't reinvent the wheel. Use existing databases and sets of information. Look for online lessons and other resources. For example, the No Laughing Matter: Analyzing Political Cartoons site contains a great teacher section. The edsitement website contains lessons in the arts and humanities.

Adapted from Virtual Sandcastles: Teaching and Learning at a Distance by Annette Lamb and William L. Smith.


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