14 Designing a Course Module

Include Variety in Materials and Activities

When considering online learning environments we want to provide a variety of instructional materials, activities, and assessments in order to help keep students engaged. Choose a variety of materials, such as videos, journal articles, podcasts, professional and/or current events websites, or textbooks. As well, choose a variety of activities and assessments, such as short self-graded quizzes, collaborative problem solving, discussions, or group projects.

When choosing a variety of online materials, providing clear expectations and time estimates will help students manage their overall workload.

Estimating the Appropriate Amount of Work

Online, it can be hard to estimate the amount of work we are assigning. A student credit work hour is calculated at 3 hours of work per week per credit. You can use this to estimate the amount of time a student might spend on a particular learning activity. As instructors and content experts, we often underestimate the time needed to complete content review and activity completion. It’s helpful to have a novice learner review one module within your course site and provide feedback on the time needed to complete the content [1].

Consider writing a weekly unit or module overview page that includes a breakdown of all the component activities for that week.

Example

Weekly Module Overview

Activities to complete this week:

  1. Watch this week’s overview video – 10 min
  2. Read, annotate and discuss this week’s core text – 120 min
  3. Connect with your learning partner and schedule your first synchronous meeting together – 10 min
  4. Complete the Anonymity on the Web lesson – 90 min
  5. Learn how to write accessible hyperlinks and complete the practice exercise – 30 min
  6. Complete your podcast discussion post for this week – time varies, 60-90 min
  7. Complete your reflection journal for this week – 20 min

Obviously, it’s not possible to provide an exact time, so we should be clear to students that we’re offering guidelines for how they should spend their time, rather than a limit. Students read at different speeds. The density of the material, the level of language proficiency, familiarity with the topic, and learning differences all contribute to how quickly a student is able to navigate and complete a task. Overall, we want to make sure we are offering an appropriate amount of work per week for students to achieve the learning outcomes in our courses, as well as a guideline to help them plan their weekly participation in the course.

It’s easy to calculate estimates for watching or listening to time-based media like TED Talks and podcasts–just include the run time of the media. Estimating time needed to complete other instructional activities may be more challenging. Here are a few resources that might help:

Library Course Reserves

The University of Minnesota Libraries offer a course reserves service which allows instructors and TAs to place items on on-site or online reserve for courses they are teaching. Reserve staff will work with instructors to provide access for any kind of physical or digital media they require including materials not currently owned by the Libraries. Your reserves can be accessed through your course’s Canvas page by clicking on  the Library Course Page on the left-hand column of your course’s Canvas page.

Using the Library Course Pages helps students find readings quickly and efficiently in one location. You may submit a request for this on the Course Reserves page (see campus library links below). Your Course Reserves list may be formatted in weekly, content, or alphabetical format. The Course Reserves list materials can include library articles, videos, digital textbooks licensed by the libraries and small sections of other texts scanned in to digital format.


  1. Ritchey, Kristin (11/18/2019). Scaffolding: How the chicken who crossed the road developed new knowledge. Teaching and Learning. Faculty Focus.

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Guidelines for Online Teaching and Design by TeachingSupport@UMN.edu and Faculty Development for Online Teaching task group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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