Organizing Online Learning: Small Details to Avoid Big Fireworks

FIU Online’s Insider Instructor Webinar series explores relevant instructional strategies and effective uses of technology for the online environment. Organizing Online Learning: Small Details to Avoid Big Fireworks reviewed easy tips and tricks that can be done right before your course starts to help ensure fewer headaches during the semester. 

Instant Replay: Organizing Online Learning – Small Details to Avoid Big Fireworks

Teaching online certainly has several advantages. However, it’s important to remember that there is some work that needs to be put in before the semester begins. Paying attention to the small details before students are active in your Canvas course will make the semester easier for everyone.

In the webinar, FIU Online Instructional Design Manager and adjunct professor, Dr. Amber Webber shared the checklist that she reviews before the first day of class in order to set herself (and her students) up for success. If you missed this webinar, you can view the recording or read some of the key takeaways below.

 Check small things. Success ultimately rests on small things. Lots of small things. -Colin Powell

Manage Your Modules and Spruce Up Your Syllabus

First, Dr. Webber detailed tackling course organization. If you provide students with easy to find information and organize it for them so they know exactly what they need to do and when they need to do it, it stands to reason that you won’t get bombarded with emails. Completing this before the semester starts ensures even your superstar students who plan ahead will have everything they need. Dr. Webber suggested:

  • Create one page in each module that gives students everything they need to do and know for that module or chunk of the course. (If you need help breaking up your course into chunks or want to know more about how to do it, check out Chunk-a Chunk-a Burning Love for Knowledge)
  • Review your modules’ rules and dates, if you have those set up.
  • Use wayfinding elements throughout the course to make it easier for students to find what they need without contacting you about it. For instance, use introductions (for the course, for each module) and give them reminders or nudges in the module page for assignments that may be coming up that they should already be planning for or thinking about. 
  • Use your Syllabus as a roadmap with an updated course schedule. Maybe even provide a table or list of all the course assignments and how they breakdown across the semester. 
Table of learning units and corresponding assignments

Make Canvas Work for You: Assignments and Grades

Canvas has several features that can help make your job easier. Dr. Webber recommended leveraging these and setting them up prior to the semester start. Some of these features include: 

  • Canvas now has an Edit Assignment Dates option on the Assignments page that will allow you to quickly update all your assignment dates on one page. Do this before the first day of class to avoid confusion among your students. 
  • Use Assignment Groups to recreate your grade policy from the syllabus on the Assignments page. This will also ensure that the Gradebook mimics the grade policy and you won’t have to be weighing percentages at the end of the semester. 
  • Rubrics can be created and attached to assignments and then used in the SpeedGrader so that grading can go a little faster. You can even create one rubric to use across several assignments, a popular strategy with discussions
  • The Gradebook has a late policy and a missing policy that can automate some grading for you.

Collaborate (and Listen)

Canvas provides several methods of collaboration that will allow students to work together.  Also, this allows you to keep up with what’s going on with your students and help you create a real presence in the course. (For more information, check out Creating Instructor Presence in Your Online Course.)

Dr. Webber outlined how to use discussions, groups, and Zoom video conferencing to fully embrace a collaborative, engaging learning environment.

  • Check your discussions area to make sure you don’t have any duplicate discussions from the course copying process. 
  • Take advantage of both graded and ungraded discussions. Having an ungraded discussion that works as an open forum or office hours will allow students easy access to you. Answering questions this way might help several students at once. 
  • Set up your groups at the beginning of the semester, so you don’t forget or have to worry about that later. 
  • Set up Zoom meetings for the semester before the course starts so that on Day 1 students can see a list of all the meeting dates and times to plan ahead. 

Trendy Tools, Student View, and Professor Plans

Additionally, Dr. Webber offered advice on finishing touches to make a really great course experience for your students. 

  • Use the Link Validator (found in the course’s Settings) to make sure hyperlinks haven’t broken since the last time you checked.
  • Consider setting up delayed announcements that can go out at chosen times throughout the semester. If you have used these in the past, check them to make sure the content is still relevant and up-to-date.
  • Using Student View, go through your course as if you were a student. You can ensure that everything makes sense from their perspective. 
  • You might want to include a Course Unlock Assignment, like a Syllabus Quiz, that students need to complete in order to unlock the remainder of the course content. This ensures that students read enough of the syllabus to pass the quiz. 
  • Periodically check View Progress on the Modules Page to determine where your students are in the course to identify any students who might be falling behind. 
  • Take advantage of Message Students Who in the Gradebook, which will allow you to quickly identify students who haven’t turned in an assignment. You can write one message that will go out to individual students. 
Instructor Webinars

Future Instructor Webinars

Be on the lookout for FIU Online’s future webinars on instructional strategies and effective ways to use technology in your online classroom. If you have any ideas for future webinar topics, we’d love to hear them. Contact Christina Schettini (cschetti@fiu.edu) to share your topic ideas.

In the meantime, enjoy reading some of our other instructor webinar instant replay articles:

Claudia Fernandez is a proud FIU alumna ('05) and has been a part of the FIU Online family since 2012. A former librarian and storyteller, she has brought those research and storytelling skills into her work as a Senior Instructional Designer in order to create engaging learning experiences for online students.

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