Around the world, instruction is increasingly delivered asynchronously online, with educators facing new challenges and searching for ways to maintain rigor and quality content. As online education has emerged across mainstream higher education, an increasing number of MPA programs are offering online courses, hybrid courses and entire degree programs online (Naylor and Wilson, 2009; Powell, 2007). Today, even face-to-face courses commonly have an online component where readings are posted, assignments are submitted and information is shared.
The following findings are result of research conducted by Pace University students Gina Scutelnicu, Rebecca Tekula, Beth Gordon and Hillary J. Knepper:
“Institutions of higher learning now frequently rely on department-wide or university-wide templates for their online courses to provide a common navigation for students (Ley and Gannon-Cook, 2014). Online instruction adds another level of cognitive loading if a student must relearn how to access course components as they move through their program of study. This load may be lightened when course components are presented consistently and designed with clarity (Borgemenke et al., 2013). Such universal course shell templates may benefit learners and instructors in a number of ways. First, course templates facilitate early student engagement with course content because students do not need to relearn the format of the digital interface (Borgemenke et al., 2013). Second, course templates can improve student learning and satisfaction because they allow the online environment to be well organized and simple to navigate, which, in turn, helps students stay organized (Jackson and Helms, 2008) and improves student engagement, completion and success (Miller, 2012). Third, to increase the comfort level further, when all courses in a program or department have a similar look and feel, it improves student and instructor satisfaction (Dykman and Davis, 2008). An online-course template that balances the technological skills of instructors and students has the potential to lead to high student satisfaction and performance (Shea et al., 2016). Furthermore, a consistent homepage of a course shell can provide orientation to the course: a good orientation plays a critical role, and a deliberately designed homepage helps students become familiar with the instructional tools and resources (Chen, 2007). Finally, course templates may contribute to the creation of communities of online learning where a consistent course structure can establish expectations and a familiar space for exchanging ideas between students and instructors (Shea et al., 2016).
In a traditional classroom setting, a professor has the academic freedom to adjust communication with students immediately and continually, exercising their judgement to guide the student–professor engagement (Smith and Mitry, 2008). Especially in a recorded online distance education format, instructors are unable to adapt in this way. In some cases, faculty members find online instruction threatening to their academic freedom by prescribing the way of teaching (Oh and Park, 2009). The potential exists for faculty to perceive efforts to create structure and consistency in course design as an extension of this threat.
However, an online-course design template can create a consistent course structure and support faculty and students. With templates, faculty are able to focus on course content and engagement with students, while students benefit from less anxiety and isolation as online learners (Burgess et al., 2008). In 2012, Gillingham and Molinari noted that quality of online learning and student satisfaction were dependent upon instructional design. Notably missing from their study was consideration for the course-design template, in other words, how course components were offered across the program. This study is trying to fill in this research gap by examining how an MPA online-course template impacts learner and instructor access and satisfaction. Rather than restricting academic freedom, course templates can free an instructor to focus on content delivery and themes rather than focusing on the physical course structure or layout.
Online templates can have significant benefits to students and instructors and their success depends largely on the way they are designed, implemented and evaluated. While some institutions of higher learning are taking a top-down approach to institutionalizing templates or rubrics (i.e. Quality Matters), the department in this study chose to pursue this process in a highly collaborative bottom-up approach, engaging faculty and academic technology specialists. This, in turn, yielded a high level of satisfaction. The template is now preloaded into every course three months prior to the start of the semester, making it easier for faculty to build courses and easier for students to engage and learn since the courses all follow the same format.
This study found that consistent online-course templates have the potential to minimize transactional distance between students and instructors by increasing teaching presence and student engagement through familiarity with digital interface. Ultimately, this study suggests that technological changes such as consistent online-course templates are beneficial to student learning and faculty teaching experiences, and their success depends on how well graduate programs can balance student and instructor technological preferences and skills.”
For more information regarding this research, please visit, ‘Consistency Is Key In Online Learning: Evaluating Student And Instructor Perceptions of A Collaborative Online-Course Template’.
We currently have a course shell template available for anyone to request. Take a peak at the Quick Start Course Shell and learn more about it.
If you or your department maybe interested in collaborating with the Instructional Design and Academic Technology team towards developing a course template that would best suit your department offerings, please reach out to IDAT. We look forward to collaborating with you towards making our student learning and faculty teaching experiences more beneficial and engaging!