A question for you. If a new student logged on to your LMS in your class, would they know what to do?
The first standard for Quality Matters states, “The overall design of the course is made clear to the learner at the beginning of the course.” The standard is broken into different factors such as instructions, netiquette, and what technical skills a student needs to accomplish an objective. Again, the rubric from Quality Matters is designed for an online course, but the foundation of the standards are useful for all levels of blended environments.
The biggest hurdle in designing your digital lessons is articulating the instructions for the students so that they can be successful in accomplishing the objectives. So, let’s start simple. Label your content starting with a verb. For example you have a webpage that you want the students to read. Instead of labeling the website by the name of the article, start the label with the verb, Read.
Use the verb that matches the desired action you want from the student.
These are examples of verbs that will direct the student in a quick and clear way what to do for the digital content.
The next level is the use of the description area for content. Each LMS has different parameters regarding the description component. Moodle has a description box for everything, from web links to assignments.
There are two important aspects to consider when using a description for something besides instructions (which I will discuss in a minute.) Is the content required or optional? This is important. I am guilty of having too much content in my LMS. I have web links, articles, and videos that enhance the lesson but is not a fundamental part of the lesson. Unless I indicate to the students that the content is optional or bonus material they will assume that all of it is needed for the lesson. They will be overwhelmed. Which brings in the option of displaying the description on the course page. It is the bottom option in the photo above. I suggest activating this option when you use the description box for quick information, like noting if the content is bonus material.
Other options for the description box is supplying a brief summary of the content. For example, if there is a video for them to watch, provide a quick statement of what they should expect to see or questions to consider as they watch.
Depending on the LMS the description area is also used for instructions for assignments or projects. Here are three ideas to consider when writing instructions.
45 Seconds: This is not a rule but a guideline. Can the students read and understand the steps in 45 seconds. This forces you to be clear and precise. At times there may be extra material and that’s OK, but keep the instructions to complete to 45 seconds.
Keep files, videos, and other content together. Again, I have been guilty of separating things. I would have a video for the students to watch, then go to the assignment to answer questions. As you know a lot can happen in the time a student watches the video and then opens the assignment to answer the questions. I now embed the video in the assignment. I attach any files or link websites inside the assignment. The more I can keep a student in the LMS the better. Side note: for most LMS you can embed photos and videos in your test questions.
Don’t be afraid to add help material. The main idea is to address hurdles you know the students will face completing the assignment. You might provide a file with an example, or create a VoiceThread showing a tricky step. There are so many tools and ways to handle this idea, choose the best tool for you.
Yes, it takes time and work to create an outstanding class on an LMS. But it is important. The classroom is a blended environment. If you spend the time to develop the digital aspect of your lessons, you will find you have more time to be a teacher in the physical room. Feel free to contact me with any questions or ideas.