OSCQR – Standard #3RSI Dashboard illustration

OSCQR – Standard #3RSI Dashboard illustration

Course includes a course information area and syllabus that make course expectations clear and findable.

Review These Explanations

Simunich, Robins, and Kelly (2015) found that courses with high levels of findability, based on careful development and placement of course information materials, have a direct impact on learner perceptions of course quality, experience, and successful learning outcomes.

Creating an area in the course for Course Information/Syllabus materials, provides the opportunity to present course information into well-labeled smaller chunks of information for the learners to easily access and review. The intent is to enable learners to find varied, discrete course information details easily and quickly with a scan of document heads and subheads, or one or two clicks, rather than having the information buried in obscure nested folders/documents, or a convoluted and lengthy syllabus .pdf.

A recommended approach is to create a dedicated Course Information/Syllabus area that is positioned prominently in the course for easy access, and to present the information clearly with attention to descriptive and relevant titles. This information can mirror the information in the syllabus, and provide an additional means through which learners can orient themselves to the activities and expectations of the online course.

Think about Course Information/Syllabus materials from the online learner’s perspective and use them to anticipate and address learner questions, build trust, support online learner confidence, and lessen the sense of online isolation. Use Course Information/Syllabus materials to:

  • Define the instructor’s role and responsibility to learners.
  • Explain the roles and responsibilities of the learners.
  • Provide clear learning objectives/outcomes.
  • Establish course expectations and plans for evaluation, assessment, and feedback.
  • Describe course activities and familiarize learners with how the course functions.
  • Provide information on how, when, and where course communications and interactions with the instructor and between learners will take place.

References:

Simunich, B., Robins, D. B., & Kelly, V. (2015). The Impact of Findability on Student Motivation, Self-Efficacy, and Perceptions of Online Course Quality. American Journal of Distance Education, 29(3), 174-185. (https://doi.org/10.1080/08923647.2015.1058604)

Key findings have implications and support for the deconstructed syllabus, well named modules, etc. “Findability may have a significant effect on self-efficacy and motivation, as well as student perception of the instructor.”

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

How This Standard Supports RSI

RSI Dashboard illustrationOnline courses support regular and substantive interaction by including communication plans for regular, predictable, and substantive instructor-to-learner interaction, and clearly stated expectations for timely and regular feedback from the instructor. Overall course expectations regarding instructor and learner roles, course communications, interaction, collaboration, assessments/ evaluation, and instructor-learner, learner-learner and learner engagement need to be explicit, clear, and easy to find. The course syllabus provides course details such as purpose, description, credit information, learning outcomes, learning activities, methods and criteria for evaluation, plans for regular and substantive interaction, plan for formative assessment, and any other requirements. Directing learners to ask questions and interact with the instructor about these course information and syllabus topics, such as in an online discussion forum, further supports RSI, and is a good general practice. Scheduling a specific instructor-facilitated discussion on these topics demonstrates compliance with RSI.

Substantive interaction is defined as direct interaction between the learner and the instructor to engage learners in course teaching, learning, and assessment activities. This direct instruction from the instructor includes:

  • Assessing or providing feedback on a student’s coursework.
  • Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course.
  • Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency.
  • Other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.

Regular interaction requires an institution to ensure, prior to the student’s completion of a course or competency, that there is the opportunity for substantive interactions with the student on a predictable and scheduled basis commensurate with the length of time and the amount of content in the course or competency.

The online course syllabus could include an Instructor Communication Plan that specifies how, when, and where communications, interactions, and feedback with/from the instructor can be expected.

The syllabus could also contain a section labeled Regular and Substantive Interaction such as:

As your instructor, I plan to interact and engage with each of you on a regular basis throughout the term to support your learning. I will provide direct instruction related to the course’s learning objectives, respond to your questions, grade and/or provide feedback on your submitted coursework, post regular announcements, and engage in the course discussion areas regarding academic course content when appropriate.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  1. A prominent area in our course dedicated to Course Information/Syllabus materials is intended to help your learners find their way through the most important details related to participating, and succeeding in the online course.
    • Course information documents provide instructor explanations. The instructor’s intentions live in these documents, set tone, and convey the voice of the instructor.
    • Course information documents make course expectations explicit, and detail specifics about course communications, assistance/help, contact, interactions, office hours, etc.
    • Create a set of Course Information Documents
  2. Provide a searchable syllabus document with clear and consistent heads and subheads, or a deconstructed syllabus that presents categories of course information in separate documents organized in an outline type format to make course information and expectations explicit, clear, and easy to find.
  3. Provide rubrics, strategies for time management, and examples/models of previous student work.
  4. Clarity in naming conventions is key. In introductory course information and materials it is important to refer to content, interaction, and assessment items consistently and using simple titles/labels – an exam should be referred to as an exam, a case study should be referred to as such, and the same for any interaction elements such as discussion forums. Adding additional contextual information to course material titles/labels further improves course organization, clarity, and findablity.
  5. Use active language to guide learners to take action – for example, course information pages can be titled, “Purchase Required Textbooks”, “Read through Interaction Guidelines”, “Print out the Course Calendar”, “Take Note of Office Hours”, and the like. These active titles act as key signposts for learners to navigate through the online course, and when the quickly want to find that information again – making for a high level of findability in your course.

Examples

  • Each element in the Course Information/Syllabus area steers learners to specific information by categorizing course information:
    • Course Welcome
    • Instructor Contact Information and Office Hours
    • Instructor Expectations
    • Schedule and Due Dates
    • Required Texts and Associated Materials
    • Learning Activity Overview
    • Interaction Guidelines
    • Grading and Assignment Rubrics
    • Campus Policies and Resources
    • Strategies for Success
    • Ask a Question (Open Discussion Forum)
  • Example actionable titles:
    • Welcome to (list the course name and number)
    • Get to Know Your Instructor
    • Learn What I Expect from You, and What You Can Expect From Me
    • Go through the Course Schedule
    • Review Required Texts and Associated Materials
    • Discover How to Communicate and Interact in this Course
    • Explore Campus Policies and Resources
    • Understand How to Succeed in this Course
    • Ask a Question (Open Discussion Forum)
  • A dedicated course folder (module, or area) titled Course Information/Syllabus, may be enhanced by the use of a subtitle, or short description that will appear with it as an advance organizer, to aid in findability. For example:

    I encourage you to explore the documents in this folder for more information about the course learning objectives, grading criteria, learning activities, and expectations. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to me immediately via the course messaging tool.

  • Remember to introduce the Course Information/Syllabus area in your Course Overview, and refer back to it consistently throughout the course. For example, in your discussion forum instructions, direct learners to the Course Information area for more information about interaction guidelines and expectations.
  • Learner-Centered Mindful Syllabus Checklist (PDF)
  • Learner-Centered Mindful Syllabus Checklist (Printable Text)
  • The Chronicle’s How to Create a Syllabus Advice Guide webpage
  • Syllabus Creation Guide
  • Review your Syllabus.
  • Revise your Syllabus.

Explore More Refreshing Ideas

This video explores at approaches to orienting learners to the online course, and setting expectations through an introductory module, or course information area:

Explore Related Resources

Fisher, E. A., and V. H. Wright. 2010. Improving online course design through usability testing. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 6 (1): 228–245. Irizarry, R. 2002.
Morville, P. 2005. Ambient findability. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

Share What You Know

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RSI Dashboard illustration