Quality Enhancement Plan
Key Course Elements and their Function and Design
The learner should be the primary consideration in any educational design. An examination of the profile of the typical web student as an adult learner suggests some basic elements that should characterize the exemplary web course. Adult learners now account for almost half of all undergraduate students (Donaldson & Graham). If the premise is accepted that adults are self-directed (Brookfield; Knowles; Merriam & Caffarella), voluntary participants, the implications are that the online course should provide sufficient self-help tools to empower learners to immediately understand and comprehend how they are to participate in the course. Course expectations should be clear and unambiguous, and there should be no doubt in the mind of the participants as to how to proceed in the course (Driscoll). A "getting started" or "how to participate" page, as well as some tips for success would be helpful. Students also need to know the hardware and software requirements and the computer skills necessary for successfully participating in the course. If special plug-ins are required, a test page should be available that allows students to determine if their computers have all the necessary elements. An ungraded assessment, such as a self-test with feedback, will help them to decide if they have prerequisite skills for a web course (such as time and task management) and if they have sufficient self-motivation to survive outside a classroom environment (Driscoll). FAQs and quotes from previously successful students will help to reassure new online students that others have had similar questions and concerns. Testimonials from successful web learners will serve to encourage new students that they, too, can be successful. Additionally, a brief audio/video welcome with instructions would be appropriate, especially for auditory learners (may be included in a CD if streaming media is a problem for students with dial-up Internet connections). A "scavenger hunt" throughout the pages of the course would serve to familiarize students with the various elements contained within the website and would also satisfy the adult kinesthetic and visual learner ("Learning Styles and the Online Environment"). These activities should be rewarded with some type of immediate feedback. All these inclusions will help to ensure that the typical adult learner, no matter what type of learning style, will get off to a good start in a web course (Schmidt & Olcott)
The in-class syllabus, although a very useful guide for the course, is not a critical element for the success of the student. The web syllabus, however, may become a lifeline for guiding the web student throughout the course (Palloff & Pratt, Building; Palloff & Pratt, Lessons; Driscoll). In addition to the usual list of items for the typical syllabus, the web syllabus should be topic driven and describe the essentials of assessment, especially testing, and the nature of student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction, and list and describe all course activities. Participation guidelines and grading for discussion should be explicit (Ryan, Scott, Freeman, & Patel). Web students depend heavily upon the schedule and it is such a vital part of a web course that some researchers recommend it be placed in more than one location in the course, typically in the syllabus (or linked to it) and in the assignments area or even in a section by itself (Palloff & Pratt, Building).
Objectives are particularly important for the online class. Unambiguous goals and objectives assist students in a learner-centered environment to understand exactly what is expected of them (Schmidt & Olcott). Students depend upon reading participation guidelines, the course syllabus, assignments, and course objectives in order to determine how to be successful. The well-designed web course should present a close integration of all these elements.