7 Keys For Successfully Updating Online Courses
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Updating Online Courses: 7 Keys To Success

We all know the sweat, time, and energy put into developing a new online course. However, many instructors or course developers do not revisit the course project after its initial run. This article will address the importance of consistent course management to ensure your course stays relevant to your audience. Course management does not need to be time-consuming. In fact, by following the 7 suggestions listed below, you can become a pro at updating your courses in no time!

1. Create A Master Course

Many Learning Management Systems have the option of creating a master course. A master course allows for an instructor to develop a completely online course that can be copied each semester. Once a master course is created, you now have a template to work on each time the course runs. A master course is especially important for online courses with multiple sections and multiple instructors. You can use the master course to copy over each section. Each section and each instructor now has a standardized starting point on the main topics and ideas that need to be taught to their own class audience. Creating a master course allows for you to save time, effort, and provide consistency each time the course is offered.

2. Use Survey Data

Many higher education institutions have the resources to conduct some sort of exit survey that asks for student feedback regarding the content of the course, the set-up of the course, their specific instructor, etc. Instead of only using the survey data as part of your tenure review process, look for specific trends. Are the students lost with the assignment descriptions? Do the students love the video you put in the week two overview? Use this data to brainstorm what works and doesn’t work in your course. When you decide to address specific trends, make the changes in your master course for the next time the class is offered. Surveys can help you address root problems within a course. Anonymous student surveys tend to work best as students are more open to discuss issues and potential problems.

3. Make Notes During Course Running

As you teach the course, take notes of what you would like to modify (videos, discussions, wikis, etc.). If you make changes to your course while teaching, make sure to make a note of it. Consider keeping a course diary where you can write down potential changes or areas where students are not understanding concepts. Topics or questions brought up by students can provide insight on the trends in the field and potential areas of improvement in terms of assignments or topics to be covered. By using a course diary or course notes, you now have a list of items that were of concern or interest when you actively taught the course rather than trying to remember my memory.

4. Develop A Maintenance Schedule

Set a time that works for you to improve your master course. Whether the time is at the end of each week while the course is running or after the course has ended, set aside a period for course updating. Use maintenance time to reflect on your course diary or notes and see where you can update your master course for the next time you teach the course.

5. Keep Current

In addition to updating your course of changes you have determined, look at what is going on in the field you are teaching. Is terminology changing? Are there important concepts you are not covering? Is any of your material outdated? With the growth of open educational resources and other materials, make sure your course is addressing any ‘hot topics’ in the field. In order to stay current make sure you build in some time in your schedule to work on your own professional development, find educational resources (blogs, videos, journals, etc.) that align with your content area, subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education, or have conversations with practitioners in the field. Once you have determined the ‘hot topics’ your course may be missing, update your readings and research articles, especially if they are old or outdated. Many students want to make sure the information they are learning will be relevant to the workforce and by keeping your course current you will be able to show your students how the content of your course is being used outside of the academic world.

6. Create A Learning Outcome Map

It is important to create a learning outcome map for online courses. As you start to change and update items in an online course, it can be difficult to see where those align with the overall learning outcomes of the course. By mapping assignments, discussions, and projects directly to the course outcomes, you can see if elements in your course are still pertinent to student learning or if you have any elements that no longer relate to the main concepts you are teaching. Once your learning outcome map is developed, you can also spot areas where additional items need to be added in to ensure your students are able to meet the objectives of the course.

7. Ask For Help

When you develop your own course, it is easy to think the assignments and course as a whole makes perfect sense and everything is logical. Ask a co-worker, a friend, a past student or an instructional designer to review your work. An outside perspective can help catch little errors you have glazed over (spelling, organization, design, etc.). In addition, another perspective can provide fresh eyes on assignments and may be able to provide insights on how to teach a concept differently. As a content expert, an outside evaluator can provide feedback on the items outside of your content area such as online tools to use, best practices in online teaching, how to build communities in your classroom, presenting new material, providing guidance, etc.

While this list is not all-inclusive, I hope it provides a starting point for instructors who are teaching online. It is also important to make sure you are addressing and meeting any requirements by your institution or laws (i.e. Americans with Disabilities (ADA)). I suggest you find a schedule or method that works best for you in terms of updating your course and make time for course improvements. Are you currently using any of the above suggestions? Do you have a method that works best for you? What recommendations do you have for those trying to successfully keep their online courses updated?

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