Wrapping Up A Large Online Course


This fall I’ve been teaching a large-scale online course for the first time. I’ve written a series of posts here about my experiences, and particularly what works and hasn’t worked as I’ve addressed both the challenges of scale and the problems inherent in teaching one of the only online courses offered as part of a traditional face-to-face degree:

With the end of the semester rapidly closing in, it’s time to take a look back and prepare for the future. Online courses are often subject to changes in scale (I taught 130 this semester, and the course will be capped at 200 next semester) and demand continual reflection and revision thanks to changing technologies, updating content, and addressing problems in each iteration.

We’ve talked a lot here at ProfHacker about strategies for the end of the semester: I particularly like Natalie’s suggestions for approaching the end of semester like a survivor in an apocalypse film (gather supplies, form a group, be tough). With potentially overwhelming grading and projects to support, the end of the semester might not seem like the best time to start revising an online course, but it’s particularly important when

Here are the steps I’m following to make rapid iterative changes to my online course:

  • Evaluate and prioritize assignments for revision based on student success. Most online learning management systems offer easy to use analytics: in Canvas, for instance, it’s easy to quickly look at the average grade for assignments as well as the average time spent accessing particular materials in the course. When looking for assignments to potentially replace or update, I look for outliers: assignments with either too high or too low an average grade are easy to prioritize, and may be warning signs of sections of content worth revising.

  • Offer a student survey for specific course feedback. While institutions usually have pre-set course evaluations, they are rarely helpful in identifying specific challenges students faced in a course: instead, they tend to prioritize customer service style ratings without any information. In online courses it’s particularly easy to set up our own surveys and offer extra credit or making it anonymous. Consider offering open-ended courses or asking students to reflect on their progress throughout the course: this can be particularly valuable for an online course where students can seem more distant than in face to face classes.

  • Review materials and prioritize content for updating. I record new lectures and write new material for most of my course every semester: it’s inevitable when teaching digital media and computer-driven contents. Every discipline is different, but typically historical and foundational sections are less likely to need a complete overhaul between semesters, while topics that involve any underlying technology or current materials absolutely need rewriting. Flagging content makes it easier to plan the migration of materials for the next iteration of the class.

What are your strategies for evaluating and updating online courses? Share your tips in the comments!

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Katina Rogers]

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