While every online course is different, many of the courses offered at SUNY Broome Community College have similar components that are available for the instructor to use in delivering their online instruction. We will begin with a brief description of the most common components and then finish with additional items that you may come in contact with in your online studies.
While the Course Information Area may be the first Module or Content Folder within the course, it is worth separating this area out for description purposes since it is so important. The Course Information Area (which may be called different things in different courses) contains the documents that you need in order to understand the requirements and expectations in your online course. The course syllabus, course schedule, instructional documents for participating in discussions and submitting assignments, and evaluation/grading criteria are typically explained in detail. While a fully online course does allow for a certain degree of flexibility on the part of the student, there will be deadlines that must be adhered to and policies/requirements that must be followed. It is crucial that an online student study and thoroughly understand the information that the instructor has posted in this area before jumping in to class participation!
Communication Areas for Important Announcements and Instructor/Student Questions:
Most online courses have areas in which instructors and students can communicate with one another to ask questions or post announcements. The three most common areas for this type of communication in our courses at SUNY Broome are the Course Announcement Area, Course Messages and the public Ask a Question area (although not all courses utilize this last feature). The nature of the communication will determine which of these areas is the appropriate course location for the communication. Below, each one is briefly described.
Course Announcements — The Course Announcements area exists on the Home Page of a course and allows faculty to relay timely information to the entire student roster. Announcements are course specific and are archived, so that students can see any past announcements they may have missed. Announcements that might be posted to this area may include changes to the course schedule, reminders of upcoming due dates, tips for preparing for exams and other course-related broadcasts.
Course Messages — The Course Message area of the Learning Management System is a private area for communication between instructor and student (or student and student). The benefit of utilizing the internal course messaging within a course is that all interaction remains within the course and can be easily found and retrieved at a later date if needed. The Course Messages function is ideal when a student (or instructor) has a question or issue that needs attention that is not appropriate for posting in a public discussion area.
Ask a Question — Your online course may contain a public area (or multiple public areas) in which you can ask a question regarding course content. At SUNY Broome, this area is often labeled “Ask a Question” and is typically monitored by the instructor. Because it is a public area, however, students can also see questions that have been posted and often are encouraged by the instructor to help other students. If your course has a public help area such as this take advantage of it! If you have a question, chances are others in the course may have the same one as well. The public Ask a Question area may already have the answer you are looking for!
Course Content (Modular Structure)
When a course follows a Modular Structure, course content is broken up into a series of parts (often called “modules”) that open at set times throughout the semester. A Module is essentially a self-contained holding area for all content items, lecture documents, assessments and discussions included in a particular lesson or timeframe. Modules can be broken into concepts, chapters or units and can span for whatever timeframe meets the needs of the course (typically one or two weeks). Instructors have the ability to open or close individual items within a module if they choose to – for example, a quiz may not be available until the last few days of the module to ensure that the student has completed all other components before attempting the quiz. The common forms of course content in a typical Module are briefly described below:
Lecture Area — This area within a module replaces the traditional Lecture that would occur in the classroom. Since the instructor is not present to conduct a live, interactive lecture in an asynchronous online course, other formats are utilized to deliver information to students. One of the most effective and widely used forms of online lectures is the written form. The document you are currently reading is a perfect example of such a document. Written lectures typically contain information covered in the current module, supplement information provided in the reading (if the course uses a textbook) and emphasize the concepts that the instructor feels are most important. The lecture can take on many forms from a simple text document to an interactive tutorial. Below is a listing of what you might find in the Lecture Area of your online course:
- Text documents containing content, concepts, images and examples that would typically be presented in a live face-to-face course lecture
- PowerPoint Presentations
- Downloadable files such as Word, Excel, or pdf’s that contain supporting information for the module
- Links to multimedia files such as audio or video or documents with embedded multimedia within them
- Links to additional resources such as online articles or activities that reinforce the material learned in the module lecture
Assignments –– An assignment within a module is essentially a dropbox that allows a student to submit work to the instructor. Examples of assignments that might be submitted using the assignment dropbox area are written essays, research papers, tutorials, end of chapter questions or other activities that have been completed offline. The instructor typically will give instructions regarding their preference for submitting assignments and often require that assignments be submitted as an attachment in the assignment dropbox area. The assignment dropbox makes it easy for students to submit their work and then find their grade later. Many instructors also include comments in the grading area as well.
Discussion Forums — The discussion area is an important component of many of the fully online courses offered at SUNY Broome. Since instructor and students do not meet face-to-face, there is typically not much of an opportunity for real-time interaction on a regular basis. The discussion area within the Learning Management System provides an opportunity for asynchronous conversations in which one individual can post a message at one time and another individual can respond at a later date or time. In a discussion forum, all postings are neatly located in one place and can be viewed in a “Tree View” format, which makes it very easy to see who is responding to who. Asynchronous discussion forums often lead to a very thoughtful and engaging exchange of ideas as students have time to think about and reflect on their response prior to posting. Asynchronous discussion forums also work to build class community and contribute to creating a learning environment where students feel connected when they all may not be physically located in a single geographic area.
Assessments (Quizzes and Exams) — A majority of the online courses at SUNY Broome utilize some form of assessment with quizzes or exams. The tools built into the Learning Management System to deliver these assessments give the instructor many options that they can use to customize delivery. For example, there are several types of questions available such as multiple choice, true/false, short answer, matching and essay to name a few. In addition, there are settings to control the time limit of the assessment once a student begins and other controls that dictate whether a student can return to a question once it has been answered. It is, therefore, very important to study for an online exam or quiz as you would for one that you would take face-to-face.
Additional Content Items — In addition to the 4 main content items mentioned above, many online courses also include other items such as (but not limited to) study guides, interactive activities such as flash cards and online games, case studies, small group work, glossaries, guest speakers, and webquests.
Grade Report Functionality
If an instructor chooses to utilize the built-in Grade Center for their course and make the My Grades tool available, the student has the ability to run a report to see a listing of their graded items in the course.