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Working with Data
Website Design for Online Courses

by Karin Kirk, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College

While much of the look and feel of an online course is determined by your course management platform, there is much you can do to enrich the student experience by creating lively, engaging course pages. This page describes some simple guidelines drawn from discussions at the 2010 Online Learning workshop, recommendations from educators, examples from the educational literature, and from SERC's experience with educational websites.

Today's college students are often fluent users of the internet. A 2005 survey of American college students noted that 94 percent of students reported spending at least one full hour on the internet every day (Jones et al, 2009). Students can be sophisticated and demanding web users; thus it is worthwhile to give careful consideration to the design and functionality of course web pages.

Create a course website that students will want to visit


The web is an incredibly rich and useful medium, capable of delivering information via multiple media types, engaging users, and creating communities. This makes the web an ideal canvas for education; you can leverage the advantages of the web as you design your course website.

Some suggestions, gleaned from SERC's experience in educational website development:

A consistent, organized structure will allow students to find what they need


See an example of course layout: Controversies in Earth Science by Eliza Richardson at Penn State University

Example of an "Image of the Week" integrated into the front page of an environmental geology course. Click to enlarge.

Keep the course pages fresh with frequent updates

Plan to roll out new material at least once a week so there is frequently something new for students to see. The front page of the course website is analogous to the announcements that often kick off a face-to-face class period. Here are some ideas for the front page of your course:
In addition to the front page, you can add content to the course regularly via:

Minimize user anxiety with thoughtful design

Although many of today's students are highly-savvy web users, the online environment can create anxiety for some learners.

References

Example course layout: Controversies in Earth Science by Eliza Richardson at Penn State University

Instructional Design Tips for Online Learning, developed by Joan Van Duzer of Humboldt State University. This document offers simple checklists for various aspects of online course design. The lists are designed to be used in conjunction with the Rubric for Online Instruction developed by CSU, Chico, c 2002.

Everyday life, online: US college students' use of the internet by Steve Jones, Camille Johnson-Yale, Sarah Millermaier, Francisco Seoane Perez. First Monday, Volume 14, Number 10 - 5 October 2009

Avoiding the Trap of Clicky-Clicky Bling-Bling by Cammy Bean. eLearn magazine, June 2011




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