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Structure the Content


When you start to plan the structure of the course, you will need to make a few decisions up front.

  • Will you make the students proceed through the content in a specific order (linear) or will everything be available from day 1?

  • Will they need to complete assignments by specified due dates (paced) or can the complete work on their schedule?

  • Will coursework need to be accessed at specific times during the day or at the same time as the instructor or other students (synchronous) or can student access the course anytime during the day?

Instructors can make any combination of the above options work, but the easiest way to organize an online course is to make it linear, paced, and non-synchronous. The instructor then controls the timing of assignments and assessments. Students will all be working on the same content, which can simplify everything from discussion forums to grading, and there won’t be a rush of assignments submitted in the last week of class, which can happen during a non-paced structure.

By making the course non-synchronou, the course instructor  recognizes that the students in an online course may live in different parts of the world. If some students live in China, for example, requiring an assessment or assignment be completed between noon and 3pm EST would be difficult for them, as that is the middle of the night in that time zone.

Course length

Fall or spring semester

Online courses taught in the fall or spring semesters will run for the normal 15 week period. Online course material should be divided up in the same manner as an in-person course.

Summer semester

There are six full weeks during the summer semester, which means you will design a six-week course. The seventh week is shorter and should be reserved for turning in projects, taking final exams, or any other form of assessment you would like to include.

Course workload

MSU policy indicates that student workload should not exceed a maximum of 3 contact hour per week per credit during fall and spring semesters and 6 contact hours per credit per week in the summer. This includes any time the students spend on the course such as navigating websites, reading, watching videos and lectures, completing online activities, taking quizzes and exams, and/or completing writing assignments.

Module structure

A good rule of thumb in creating an online course is to organize content into modules and have a structure that is repeated in all the modules. Students will understand what is expected of them for each module if the work is similar. For example, each module could consist of

  1. A set of lecture videos

  2. A pre-assignment quiz - Due every Tuesday

  3. A homework assignment - Due every Thursday

  4. A discussion forum post and reply - Due every Friday

  5. A metacognitive analysis of their learning - Due every Sunday

Using D2L tools such as checklists and the calendar functions can also help students stay on track with their work.

Working with D2L

Although creating the educational content will be the most time consuming aspect of course development, make sure to give yourself enough time to actually work with D2L. Uploading and organizing materials on D2L is not difficult, but it is not a quick task, either, especially if you plan on using release conditions or specific dates for access to assignments and assessments. Changing the properties of all the items can take time. Also note, that certain properties for D2L items can only be accessed if you navigate a specific way to the item.

D2L resources

  • Under “Self Registration” on your D2L homepage is a course entitled “Instructor - D2L Self-directed Training” that is useful for learning about the functions and tools D2L has to offer.

Course structure resources

Neuroscience Program Director
Jim Galligan

Giltner Hall
293 Farm Lane Room 108
East Lansing, MI

Phone: (517) 353-8947
Fax: (517) 432-2744

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