Three Course Design Strategies To “Stop the Drop”

Empty school desk on a blue background. Conceptual.

As you design your online course, you may closely consider the quality of your resources, the relevance of your assessments, and the level of interaction between your students. However, are you spending enough design time contemplating proactive approaches that help students finish their semester with you successfully? Let’s review three design strategies to improve your course, help your students have a successful semester, and stop the drop.

Strategy 1: Starting Out on the Right Foot

Preparing your students for a challenging and thought-provoking semester isn’t only about providing a high-quality syllabus on the first day of class. Instead, you can utilize the power of your learning management system (LMS) to provide your syllabus and course expectations to your students in the weeks or days before your course begins. Opening areas of your online course prior to the start of the semester can give them additional time to review materials and prepare themselves for the exciting challenges ahead. Alongside your syllabus and detailed, semester-long schedule of activities and assessments, consider opening an FAQ Discussion Board, where you can be available to answer any pre-semester kick-off questions from students.

This is not to say that the entire course must be open to students before it begins. Instead, work with your Instructional Designer to learn more about how to strategically open areas of the course that will best prepare your students for success.

Strategy 2: Stress Test Your EdTech

Educational Technology can be an awesome way to increase engagement, excitement, and interaction in your online course. However, from video recording software to open educational resources (OER), technology in your online course can pose challenges to your students that may discourage their participation. As a result, it’s important to take steps in the design of your course that anticipate students’ questions and needs when it comes to educational technology.

Stress testing your EdTech gives you an excellent opportunity to utilize a second set of eyes in your online course. We recommend asking an Instructional Designer (ID) or colleague to act as a mock student in your class to use the EdTech required. For example, you might have an ID or colleague practice recording an introduction video on a discussion board, utilizing the tools needed and the steps you provide. This second set of eyes can help you discover any additional instructions you may be missing or experiences you have not yet anticipated for your students.

In addition to these tests, consider providing testing labs or practice assessments within your online course so students have the opportunity to use EdTech in a low-stakes environment. For example, if you ask students to use a simulation for a major course assessment, you might have them practice simulation navigation in the weeks prior. In doing so, you may help increase their comfort level and tackle questions before the assessment. Or, if you ask students to create podcast episodes for a semester-long project, you could create an online podcast lab space in your course that contains tutorials, resources, instructions, examples, and other materials that might help students prepare for their project.

Strategy 3: Pre-Write and Template Presence Strategies

For many, remaining present and engaged in your online courses are givens during delivery—but have you considered presence during the design phase of your online course? Proactively considering this aspect can help decrease your workload during course delivery, which may free up time to engage with your students more authentically during the course.

Designing a presence plan and identifying key milestones for students during the design phase of your course are great ways to get started practicing proactive presence. Consider working on prewriting and templatizing some of the more common presence strategies. For example, you might plan to begin each class with an announcement. An added benefit of prewriting the announcement content is that it will help lessen the workload in future weeks. Other types of information that could be prewritten include important due dates, critical reflections and takeaways that you want to highlight and the upcoming week’s objectives. A benefit of prewriting is that it leaves placeholders for more timely information like current events or shout-outs to students.

Presence strategy schedule. Announcements Mon, Thurs, Sat. Office Hours Tues, Thurs. At-Risk Check-ins Wed, Fri. Shout-Outs Wed, Sun. Mentoring Tues.
Schedule yourself in advance for regular and substantive interactions with students.

Prepping a grading library is another valuable presence technique. Timely and substantive feedback from faculty is a key indicator of student success in online courses. You can amplify the experience by identifying common feedback phrases and comments on student work. For example, if you have a major written assessment in your course, review previously graded work and begin collecting common areas of feedback that you provide often. Then, modify those feedback phrases or comments to include examples, links to course content or additional guidance. Having a fully fleshed-out library of prewritten comments can help speed your grade time and improve the types of feedback students receive. In addition, you can practice similar feedback improvement by reviewing your assessment rubrics for accuracy and detail.