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Initial Steps in Course Building

Who is your course is for?

What role will it play in your curriculum?

What resources will be available to you and your students?

What is your student audience?
Is this course for 20 or 100 students?
Is the course for beginners or advanced students?
For majors or primarily nonmajors?

What types of material should be made available to students online?

Will any on-campus activities or labs be available, or must all class activities be delivered online?

What kind of Internet access will your students have?

Will students access this online classroom via high speed networks or over a modem?

What course management software is available to you? How well do you know Blackboard Vista?

Initial Steps: Design

Design really means the shape and direction you want your course to take.

In thinking of about the design of your course, you need to consider your course objectives, the preferred teaching strategies and approaches to the material that you want to preserve, and any new approaches you would like to try in the online environment.

Here are some types of questions:

  1. Is collaborative work among students or peer review appropriate or desirable?
  2. What’s the best way to assess your students?
    1. Portfolios?
    2. Multiple-choice quizzes? Self-assessment exams or graded exams?
    3. Essays?
    4. Fieldwork reports?
    5. Individual projects
  3. What will be the balance of student-centered versus instructor-led activities?
    1. Will you mainly facilitate discussion and research, or does the course have a strong component of lecturing as well?
  4. How central is discussion or student presentation to achieving the objectives of the course?
  5. What are your preferred methods of presenting content?
    1. Do you have graphics or slides that you want to utilize in some way?
    2. Do you use lecture notes?
    3. Do you use overheads?
    4. Is it important for you to accommodate as many different learning styles as possible?
  6. How might your available resources affect the implementation of your design?
    1. Will you have online testing forms?
    2. Will you use streaming media?

Is a direct translation to an online course desirable?

PowerPoint won’t translate very well with lots of text on them—though simple figures and images may be directly convertible.

Do you really want to replicate the combination of lecture and slides you’ve always used? Would it be possible to consider some new combination of presentation methods?

The move to an online format offers you opportunities to try out new methods and approaches. Preserving the quality of your course need not mean finding an exact translation of what you’ve always done in the past.

Initial Steps: Development

The development stage involves the actual creation of a syllabus, class schedule, content and exams, as well as activities the class will follow. Most college classes can probably be divided into a few large categories:

Instructor presentations

  • Lectures
  • Simulations
  • Charts
  • Graphs
  • PowerPoint
  • Guest lectures


  • Small group, guided discussion sections
  • Question-and-answers sessions as adjuncts to lectures, labs and exams

Group-orientated work and student presentations

  • Collaborative, cooperative, and other peer activities
    • Group project
    • Peer-reviewed compositions
    • Independent project presented to the entire class


  • Either by individual or in groups
  • Practical applications
  • Experiments
  • Fieldwork
  • Interviews
  • Apprenticeships


  • Exams
  • Essays
  • Projects
  • Portfolios
  • Evaluation and credit for participation

Content on this page adapted from:
Ko, S & Rossen. S (2001). Teaching Online: A Practical Guide. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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