Planning an Online Course

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Accessibility & Technical Requirements

It is important to ensure that your online course meets ADA accessibility requirements and minimizes technical requirements. This page offers recommendations and key information aimed at reducing potential challenges in order to serve the broadest possible learner audience.

Technical Requirements for Your Learners

A laptop computer is recommended for all incoming Michigan Engineering students. If a student already owns a laptop, it will likely work with U-M and College of Engineering online services. All students (residential/remote, domestic/international) should have a computer that meets the technical requirements bulleted below.

We recommend clearly stating these minimum requirements in both your course syllabus and course LMS/website:

  • Computing power 64-bit multi-core processor
  • 8GB+ RAM
  • 128GB+ HDD
  • 802.11ac WiFi
  • 4-hour+ battery
  • Any operating system (MacOS, Windows, Linux)
  • Video and audio capabilities (camera, speaker, microphone, headphones)
  • Internet connectivity (minimum of 20Mb/s download and 8Mb/s upload)

Key Resources:
Selecting a Personal Computer (CAEN)
IT Accessibility and the University of Michigan

  • Tablet for virtual whiteboarding
  • Smartphone
  • Digital scanner app (for smartphone or tablet)

Tips for Maximizing Accessibility

  • Provide essential information regarding accessibility for all technologies required in the course. Articulate or link to the institution’s accessibility policies and services.
  • Address course accessibility in presenting all content. For example, ensure all videos are captioned, use of color is ADA appropriate, other visual elements meet ADA standards, etc.
  • Clearly state the minimum technology requirements and provide instructions for use, including computer system requirements, required software, and links for accessing CAEN computers remotely.
  • Use a video playback tool (e.g., Panopto, Zoom, Kaltura) that includes options for displaying captions (with minimum expectation of use of automated speech recognition). 
  • Recognize that additional caption edits may be required to meet learner needs.
  • Provide transcripts to improve ease of search for lecture content.
  • Use an ADA compliant template for creating presentations (e.g., PowerPoint files): Download Nexus’ Powerpoint Template

More Resources:

Tools for Promoting Disability Access and Inclusion

Accommodation Requests

For accessibility accommodation requests, contact the Services for Students with Disabilities Office (SSD) ([email protected]). They are prepared to provide services for both online and on-campus learners. To make sure your learners receive the help they need, also consider the following.

  • Some learners who do not typically need accommodations may need them in an online course. Be sure to share information about SSD right away so that learners can leverage these services and reassure them that you are committed to their success.
  • Familiarize yourself with SSD’s services and procedures so you are best able to guide your learners:

Synchronous and Asynchronous Content Delivery

Online learning opens a world of possibilities for course content delivery, including strategies for both synchronous and asynchronous engagement. This page offers advantages, disadvantages, tools, and frameworks to help you deliver content in a way that supports a quality education with equity and inclusion considerations.

Asynchronous Content Delivery

Asynchronous course delivery mitigates issues due to connectivity and provides additional flexibility to instructors and learners. It is important for instructors to inform learners about their office hours and synchronous lectures in advance via Canvas Announcements. For instructors who have chosen to pre-record lectures ahead of time, there are several options for organizing the course. Among the strategies instructors are using include:

  • Posting recorded lectures on the regularly scheduled class times, and establishing other times for office hours and 1:1 appointments.
  • Using flipped learning (aka “flipped classroom”) strategies, where instructors share lecture recordings in advance of the regularly scheduled class time and dedicate the scheduled class time for office hours, discussions, exam reviews, or other synchronous activities with learners.
  • Alternating delivery of the scheduled class meeting times, using live/synchronous lectures for some sessions, and pre-recorded lectures for others. 
  • Releasing several weeks of course lectures at a time as the semester progresses so learners have early access to review lecture content.
  • Facilitates contemplative discussion, reflection, higher-order thinking, and detailed exchange of ideas among students
  • Provides students the opportunity to participate around their schedules
  • Allows for the instructor to monitor for communication flow and understanding
  • Generally requires less bandwidth/lower technology requirements
  • Leverages existing materials
  • A lack of immediate feedback can be less than motivating
  • Students may feel isolated without live feedback or interaction
  • Requires students to take more ownership and self-regulation of participation
  • Create a weekly time management plan to map out where, when, and how you will be providing opportunities for interaction
    • Develop, repeat predictive patterns of communication so students know how/when they will receive communication from you
  • To stay current with events, create a quick recording or post a discussion board focused on a recent article or event

To learn about delivering lectures and activities synchronously, consider the tools and resources below:

Zoom: Along with synchronous lectures, Zoom can be used to pre-record lectures for asynchronous delivery.
Recording or Live Streaming Lectures Using Zoom (PDF)
Getting Started with Zoom (U-M ITS Guide)

Kaltura: Kaltura is another convenient platform to pre-record your lectures for asynchronous delivery.
Recording Lectures Using Kaltura (PDF)
Getting Started with Kaltura Capture (U-M ITS Guide)

Additional Resources:
Remote Lecture Recording
The (very) basics of screen casting lecture (U-M CAI Guide)
Creating engaging online lectures (U-M CAI Guide)

For tools and tips on administering asynchronous remote assessments, consider the resources below:

Canvas Quizzes: The Canvas Quizzes feature can be used to administer asynchronous, un-timed assessments courses.
Quizzes Instructor Guide (Canvas)
LockDown Browser – Securing Canvas Quizzes (U-M CAEN Guide)

Additional Resources: 
Offering Remote Quizzes and Exams
Alternative Assessment Strategies
Using Online Exams & Quizzes (U-M CAI Guide)

For asynchronous tools and tips on fostering engagement and interactivity, consider the resources below:

Canvas Discussions: To foster engagement asynchronously, consider using the Canvas Discussions tool to answer student questions and stimulate peer-to-peer interaction.
Discussions Instructor Guide (Canvas)

Piazza: Piazza is another useful platform for encouraging asynchronous discussion and engagement. This tool can be integrated within Canvas, is supported by ITS, and available to all U-M instructors.
Teaching and Learning with Piazza (U-M CRLT)
Piazza – Online Q&A Forums (Piazza)

Synchronous Content Delivery

With synchronous communication and content delivery, everyone participates at the same time. Online learning applications include videoconferencing, live streamed lectures, and timed exams. It’s important to keep in mind that some forms of synchronous content delivery can be taxing on both learners and instructors, especially when dealing with different time zones. For lecture delivery especially, consider asynchronous methods.

  • Supports instant feedback and interactions
  • Gives the familiar sense and structure of a traditional classroom
  • Synchronous delivery involves faculty and learners engaging live in a remote course environment. Coordinating time zones and other commitments can make synchronous sessions difficult for some learners to participate in.
  • Issues with technology or equity around broadband can undermine the activity
  • Inclusivity issues for students caused by different time zones, geographic distance, and access to technologies.
  • May increase accommodations needed for students with ADA-related accessibility needs
  • For all live sessions, make a recording available within 24 hours
    • This is important to help students stay on schedule if they were absent from the synchronous session or had technical issues
  • Offer a synchronous session where students can ask questions and express concerns
    •  This will help you address gaps or respond when students are not producing the quality of work that you have come to expect

We recommend pre-recording your lectures for asynchronous delivery. If will be lecturing synchronously, however, consider the following tools and resources.

Zoom: Consider using Zoom for synchronous (live streamed) lectures.
Recording or Live Streaming Lectures Using Zoom (PDF)
Getting Started with Zoom (U-M ITS Guide)

Additional Resources:
Remote Lecture Recording Tips and Tutorials
Videoconferencing Tool Comparison (U-M ITS)
The (very) basics of screen casting lecture (U-M CAI Guide)
Creating engaging online lectures (U-M CAI Guide)

For tools and tips on administering synchronous remote assessments, consider the resources below:

Canvas Quizzes: In addition to asynchronous assessments, the Canvas Quizzes feature can be used to administer synchronous (timed) quizzes and exams.
Quizzes Instructor Guide (Canvas)

Additional Resources: 
Offering Online Quizzes and Exams
Alternative Assessment Strategies
Using Online Exams & Quizzes (U-M CAI Guide)

For tools and tips on holding synchronous office hours, consider the resources below:

Remote Office Hours Queue: U-M’s Remote Office Hours Queue offers a synchronous tool for holding live, face-to-face office hours.
Remote Office Hours (U-M ITS Guide)

Zoom Breakout Rooms: Zoom’s Breakout Rooms feature is a useful tool for holding synchronous remote office hours.
Enabling Breakout Rooms (Zoom)

Additional Resources:
Effective Office Hours (U-M CAI Guide)
Tips and Tricks for Synchronous/videoconferencing sessions (U-M CAI Guide)

Recommendations for Content Delivery

Depending on the type of course content, certain delivery modes are often more effective and sustainable than others. The table below offers general recommendations for each broad category of course content.

Recommendations adapted from the U-M Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) and Dr. David Chesney, U-M Department Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).

Deciding which methods are right for you

When deciding between synchronous methods, asynchronous methods, or a mixture of both, it’s important to consider the nature of your course content, the supplemental materials required, and your preferred tools for community building.

Below are four frameworks to help you consider which method is right for you:

Above: Synchronous/Asynchronous Webinar

FRAMEWORK 1: FULLY Asynchronous
Design course to be fully asynchronous and created for online delivery, with a repeat and predictive nature.

  • Advantages: Provides maximum flexibility for learners, mitigates internet connectivity concerns, and enables you to pre-record lectures with high production quality.
  • Disadvantages: Learners may feel isolated without live feedback or interaction.
  • Example: I pre-record my lectures in Canvas using Kaltura so they’re easily accessible to my learners. Learners engage with each other and ask questions using Canvas’ Discussion Boards feature; to respond to these questions, I record short videos which are posted in Canvas. Instead of a timed exam, I offer untimed Canvas Quizzes and assign group projects — which also help encourage peer-to-peer interaction.

FRAMEWORK 2: Flipped Classroom
Deliver all content asynchronously with live class sessions to enable learners to work through the content.

  • Advantage: Supports prompt feedback and interactions while reducing synchronous expectations, enabling you to pre-record lectures with high production quality and mitigating internet connectivity concerns 
  • Disadvantage: Some learners may be unable to attend the live sessions.
  • Example: I pre-record my lectures using Zoom, which are added to my Canvas course. To enable learners to ask questions and work through problems in an interactive format, I set up a Zoom meeting, held during the same day/time each week best suited to class’s various time zones. To encourage learner discussion outside of these sessions, I use Piazza to pose questions and post relevant articles.

FRAMEWORK 3: Strategic Blend
Consider each delivery and meeting mode to optimize a strategic blend between synchronous and asynchronous delivery, considering the purpose for each decision.

  • Advantage: Achieves balance between asynchronous and synchronous delivery that meets the objectives of the course.
  • Disadvantage: Some learners may be unable to attend the live sessions.
  • Example: I pre-record my lectures in Canvas using Kaltura, but set up weekly Zoom meetings to host a live Q&A session. Since some learners are on the west coast and overseas, I also answer questions and encourage peer-peer engagement using Canvas Discussion Boards. Group work is part of my assessment strategy, so I utilize the Zoom Breakout Rooms feature to facilitate regular, live collaboration. For their final grades, learners pre-record presentations and upload them to Canvas, where they receive peer review from the class based on a standardized rubric.

FRAMEWORK 4: Fully Synchronous
Simulate the in-person classroom experience as much as possible through a fully synchronous course.

  • Advantage: Gives the familiar sense and structure of a traditional classroom.
  • Disadvantage: May be stressful and difficult for both learners and instructor.
  • Example: My teaching style is better suited for synchronous lectures, and all of my learners are in the same time zone. Instead of pre-recording, I live stream my lectures and set up weekly live Q&A sessions using Zoom. Learners are graded based on a timed Canvas exam, during which I am present to answer questions.

Course Materials and Copyright

In addition to your syllabus, we recommend including information about course texts, materials, and required software information in your course LMS (e.g. Canvas) or website.

Copyright Clearance

Due to the scale and delivery mode of online courses, it is important that all materials are used properly to avoid infringements. To ensure your course materials adhere to University policies for the use of third-party copyrighted material or provide evidence of appropriate copyright clearance, consider the following recommendations.

  • Inventory all third-party content in your course, documenting where it came from, where it appears in the course, and the license it’s available under (if any).
  • When possible, use open content (i.e., content that is either licensed under a Creative Commons (CC) license or is in the public domain) as it does not require copyright clearance.

Texts and Materials

Open Education Resources
When possible, use open content as it does not require copyright clearance.

  • Begin your research in the public domain. Consider using Creative Commons as your search engine.
  • When in the research phase, record all of your sources for future referencing.
  • Cite all of your sources.
  • Consider whether or not you are using the content under fair use. Visit the U-M Library Copyright Basics Guide for more information.

Handouts and Homework Material
To ensure handouts and homework material are readily accessible to learners, consider posting this material in your course LMS or website.

Online Resources
Many instructors post articles and reports on their course LMS or website, sometimes to replace textbooks. If you require learners to purchase a course pack, we recommend including vendor contact information. 

To learn more about integrating software into your course, contact us at [email protected] or visit the CAEN Software page.

Coordinating with Instructional Team

Our Services

Nexus is here to support you in the development and delivery of online and blended courses. Learn about our services in online readiness, instructional design, and technology and learning management support.

1:1 Consultations & studio recording ruests

To schedule a consultation or request studio recording services, please email [email protected].

Guidance on Defining the Academic Credit Hour

According to guidance from the Office of the Provost, for each credit earned per full academic term:

  • Contact Hour of Instruction: Students are expected to receive at least one contact hour of instruction (i.e. synchronous or asynchronous pre-recorded lecture) or academic engagement each week, AND
  • Work Outside of Class: Students are expected to perform at least two to three hours of work outside of class each week.

This guideline applies regardless of delivery modality (i.e., in-person, online, or blended).

Guidance on Contact Hour of Instruction

It is generally accepted that a 50-minute pre-recorded lecture satisfies the requirement for students of one contact hour of faculty-led instruction. Thus, faculty are not required to conduct additional course activities during the regularly scheduled class time. While not required, faculty may choose to offer office hours, exam reviews, or other activities related to the course during the scheduled class time.

Guidance on Work Outside of Class

It is important to estimate how long it will take the average student to complete all of the unsupervised course assignments for each week, keeping in compliance with the Office of the Provost guidelines outlined above. This includes homework, reading assignments, videos, quizzes, discussions, group work, etc. Additional lectures or recordings that fall outside of the “Contact Hour of Instruction” should be included in this estimate.

Estimating Academic Credit Hour Workload

  • For a one-credit hour, 15-week course, estimate 15 contact hours of scheduled instruction, plus 30 hours of work outside the class, totaling ~45 hours.
  • For a three-credit hour undergraduate course, estimate 45 hours of scheduled instruction time, plus a minimum of 90 hours of work outside the class, totaling ~135 hours.
  • For a three-credit hour graduate course, estimate 45 hours of scheduled instruction time, plus 135 hours of work outside the class, totaling ~180 hours.

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