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October 28, 2013

Defending Modules in Online and Hybrid Courses

I just recently returned from a conference and was intrigued to find that a presenter didn’t particularly like the idea of using modules in his hybrid course. In fact, he said that “all that extra junk” was confusing to students. I was assuming all the “extra junk” was referring to some of the standards Quality Matters suggests we add to our course in order to have quality. I often find that many online courses don’t bother to list course objectives or link them to the learning, something many students couldn’t care less about. But even if there is just one student who wants to know why they are doing a particular assignment, we should make the effort to tie it all together for him/her.

Basically this instructor had a problem with the modules option in Canvas and avoided setting up a modules page in lieu of a front page with links to weekly pages. In the weekly pages, which could be considered mini modules, he posted everything the students would do for that week. I failed to see how that was better than using the modules. In fact, you can create the same effect in modules.

Module 1

The whole concept behind using modules is it benefits students; first by providing consistency. “By incorporating the same types of components in each course module, students quickly pick up on the course’s rhythms and patterns and have a better idea of what to expect than if the course were designed using a varying structure,” says  in his article in Faculty Focus titled “A Modular Course Design Benefits Online Instructor and Students.” He goes on to quote Andrea Henne, dean of online and distributed learning in the San Diego Community College District, who said,  “Often online students get a little bit lost, and they don’t understand what they’re expected to do. But if the course follows a format that’s recognizable and comfortable, then the second week and subsequent weeks are consistent.”

For me, I use the end of a module to trigger major assessments like an essay and/or a module quiz. I want to evaluate students to see if they are ready to move on to the next sequence or module. I have smaller assessment in each week (assignments) to keep student actively learning and building skills for the larger assessments. But when my students move to the next module, they can expect the same pattern, smaller assessments, lessons, discussion, major assessments (quiz and essay) at the end. Take a deep breath and move on to the next.

Consistency should follow through within the week pages as well. For my class, all the week pages look the same. There’s a Notes, Instructional Objectives, Reading, Lessons, and Assignments headings on every week page. So students can anticipate that each week they will have all of these elements to attend to. This is where my philosophy differs from the above mentioned presenter. Students are trained from years of reading textbook to go to the major headings on a page, so I provide that for them here. Click the images to make bigger.

Week 5a

Week 5b

One additional element I added this semester is time estimates. Many students have unrealistic expectations of how much time they should be spending each week in the online class. So I’m very clear up front about what my expectations are for them. I tell them to expect anywhere from 6-11 hours of work per week ( 3 hours for class + 2.5-3 per credit hour for homework = 10.5-12 hours). Some weeks are lighter than others. To help them manage this time (they still don’t believe me), I post estimates on the weekly page for every activity for the week. You can see these estimates in bold on the images above. Students can use the weekly page, just like the non-module-believing presenter’s students, to see clear instructions for what is due that week. But my students have an option to click the links on the page to access the material or click the Next button at the bottom to advance to the next activity.

I also find that giving students something to do each week makes it easier to keep them engaged in the class. It makes it easier to keep track of attendance, as well. If I just give them reading to do or extended time to work on projects with nothing to turn in, I can’t tell when a student is just out there doing nothing for 2-3 weeks or actively participating in the course. So I’m a big fan of modules because of the consistency it forces me to follow. And I hope it helps my students develop a pattern of study for my class and gets them to consistently show up and get the work done.


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