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Course Overview

The course overview is a section of the course that serves as a student guide to the course. Here you introduce yourself and outline your teaching approach. You will tell your students what they will learn in your course, and state what weighting (expressed in percentages) will be given to the assignments, exams, exercises, etc., that will form the assessment portion of the course. The course overview is a good place to describe what course text(s), if any, are required.

A course overview may include the following sections:

Introduction to the Course

The Introduction should be designed to connect the student to the course and what they should expect to learn. A Course Scope can be added to provide students with a “big picture” of what the course offers, while detailed Learning Outcomes must be provided so that the students will know what will be expected of them and what they should expect of themselves by the end of the course.

Communication with the instructor

Communication is very important and essential to success. The online teaching environment provides several options for instructor-student group communication. Most communication can take place to the whole group (one to many) in a shared discussion forum, eliminating the need for instructors to have to respond to the same question about the course multiple times. It is important for students to know that they should direct their questions about course content to the shared discussion forum first, as other students may be able to help them.

Just as you would let your students know when they could contact you in your office, if you were teaching in the classroom, you need to let your students know when you can be contacted in your online course. If you intend to have virtual office hours, set aside a reasonable amount of time for virtual office hours (for example, you will be available Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2:00 to 4:00 pm), when you can be contacted by phone or online chat. However, one of the advantages of teaching online is that you don’t need to be available on one day at a specific time. Many instructors prefer to check in to the course for a few minutes each day to allow more flexibility to the students.

Perhaps more importantly, let your students know how long it will take for you to reply to their emails or discussion posts. In an age of almost instant communication, expectations for quick responses may be unrealistically high. However, depending on the number of students you teach, you will need to set an achievable timeframe. At a minimum, you should answer course emails within 24 hours. Inevitably, there will be times when you are not available for a number of days; just be honest and say you will be away at a conference, or for family reasons, from xxx to xxx dates. If necessary, you may need to have someone in your department act on your behalf while you are away. Make sure you have made those arrangements well ahead of time, so you won’t be stuck.

How to be successful in the course

This document explains to students what the pedagogical approach to the course is, what your teaching approach is, and outlines what the student and instructor roles are. It can also be helpful to explain to students what your ‘vision’ is for the online environment. For example, have you designed it like an online classroom, or do you view it as an online community? Clarifying these things will give students a better idea as to what the expectations are and what you hope to achieve as an instructor.

How to proceed

This document is where you can outline the course tools that you will be using and how they will be used. It bridges the gap that might occur for students between traditional face-to-face instruction and online learning.

Textbook and other learning materials

This is a good opportunity to let your students know what textbooks and learning materials will be required.  Note that you could even provide a link to web documents here.

Course schedule

Having the schedule available as an independent resource for students can provide added convenience and quick access for students. It is important to note that any dates added to the schedule must be updated each time the course is offered; therefore, it is recommended that you use a week one, week two, week 3, etc., format instead.

Assessment guidelines

This document can serve as an excellent resource for students and will likely be accessed frequently by students. In addition to providing students with the weighting for each assignment, details can be provided here to clarify what will be expected in each assignment.  It is recommended that you include any grading rubrics that you are using for the assignments as well.

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