Large Online Courses

Design Considerations

Like traditional classes, sometimes online courses are large in size.  An online course that enrolls more than thirty students needs special consideration.  As you plan your course, be realistic in your ability to interact with students and provide timely feedback.  Grading assignments in a class with twenty-five students requires much less time than grading in a class with one hundred students.  How can you design effective instruction in these large classes without sacrificing student learning?  If you are fortunate and have a teaching assistant, divide the workload so that both of you have an opportunity to interact with all students during the semester.  If you are facilitating the course on your own, here are some tips to create a more manageable course. 

Groups Students for Discussions - For students, interacting with a large number of people in a discussion forum can be overwhelming.  It is better to create several small groups and allow students to create meaningful dialogue with fewer people.  You will interact with students by posting within the group’s discussion forum. 25 students per group is a good starting point.

Group Projects – As you plan your course activities, redesign some individual tasks to create larger group projects.  Students benefit from interacting with each other during the group process.  The use of group projects allows you to provide feedback to the entire group while reducing the number of activities that need grading.  Give students an opportunity to provide feedback through a peer review process. Groups should contain a minimum of three people (four is better). 

Automatic Scoring – Consider creating low and high stakes assessments which Canvas will automatically score for you.  You will be able to review student work without the need to grade.  Students will receive specific feedback about their performance and view correct answers.

Rubrics - Rubrics allow you to provide specific feedback while limiting the need for individual comments.  Rubrics also enable students to view the scoring criteria prior to starting an activity, which enhances the quality of their work.

Self-Checking Activities – You do not need to assess every activity that students complete; some may become self-checking activities.  Simply set the due date for the activity, then provide an answer key for students to self-assess their work.  This key may be available on a limited basis to promote timely feedback.    

Message Students Who – Through Canvas, you can send students messages based upon specific criteria found in your grade book.  Plan a message for students who did poorly on an activity or assessment.  This feedback will go to all students who fall below a certain criterion.  You can encourage students to follow up with you if needed.  Praise students who did well on an activity or assessment.  Although you only create one message, it will reach multiple learners.  Also, send messages to students who miss an assignment or submit late work.  This type of interaction can help students feel your presence in a large online class.  Here is a link to a Canvas tutorial on using Message Students Who. 

Help Forum - A help forum is a type of discussion which allows students to ask questions to the entire class.  Anyone who feels like an authority on the topic may reply.  Quite often when one person has a question, several others have the same question.  Everyone that reads the forum benefits from the feedback.  You will need to monitor this forum and reply as needed.  Encourage students to post general course questions in the help forum.  This will reduce the number of individual questions you receive.        

Targeted Virtual Office Hours – Set specific topics that you will address during targeted office hours.  This allows students to get additional help and support as a group during this virtual meeting.  Whether the meeting reviews an exam, further explains a challenging topic with practice activities, or addresses careers in your field of study; this type of interaction further allows you to meet the needs of your diverse students.