Monday, August 29, 2016

When Less Is More

By Worth Weller
Continuing Lecturer
Department of English and Linguistics

With the fall semester fully underway, those of us who teach online have gotten our first round of e-mail from students who say they are “confused.”

I’m never quite sure what this statement means, but I believe the comment most often boils down to a matter of course navigation. For example, at the beginning of last semester I got a very long e-mail from a student who said they (the gender neutral pronoun) had examined my course and found it very confusing and couldn’t see how the assignments and content unfolded. They called the course “vague” and said they didn’t have any spare time to try to figure it all out.

My initial temptation was to be a bit smart-alecky and ask if they had read the course calendar and say that if they had spent more time looking at the course and less time writing the e-mail they might not be so confused. Instead, I simmered down and took a hard look at the course navigation.

One thing I discovered right away was that I had a lot of folders buried within folders. Upon reflection I came to the conclusion that “nesting” material into new folders when not really necessary is just perceived by students as “click-bait”: why go there?

Hand in hand with this discovery was the realization I was delivering a lot of links and files that weren’t really vital towards meeting the goals of the course: more click-bait.

Not long afterwards I came across an article in the Blackboard Blog by Torria Davis, titled “How to avoid a ‘hot mess’ in online course design.” Davis lists five quick tips for streamlining course design and concludes from her own extensive redesign experience that online courses don’t need to “overflow with content to be rigorous and effective. 

In other words, less can be more in online teaching.