Publishing online course content to Canvas has almost become a necessity for us as teachers. We need to make our content accessible to learners and cut down in printing costs. But how effectively do we design our courses? Are they readily accessible to our students?

In the following blog post, “Seven Deadly Sins of Online Course Design,” DePaul University instructional designer Adam Sanford outlines some of the biggest mistakes that teachers make when designing content online. He then recommends how these pitfalls can be avoided.

I know that I have sometimes made the mistake of what he calls digital hoarding, where I overshare by providing a number of assignment related materials with too little context. This was a good reminder that more is not necessarily better when it comes to providing students with resources. And by providing a short description of a resource (perhaps in parenthesis) students will be able find the resources they need to complete a task more efficiently, which is much better than dumping a big heap of uncurated links and files on a page in Canvas.

In my experience, digital hoarding comes about because students are not meeting the expectations for a specific task or assignment. For instance, in one class I found that, as students were struggling with their reading response assignments, I continually uploaded more materials online in an attempt to help them. The problem wasn’t a lack of materials, though. Rather, it was that the assignment and grading criteria needed to be completely revised to provide more clarity. I simply needed a few quality materials, not a large quantity of them.

Which of Sanford’s 7 sins of course design seem especially salient for you? Where do you think you can make improvements in course design?

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This past March I attended the TESOL 2017 conference in Seattle. While there, I sat in on many sessions, focusing mainly on vocabulary, reading comprehension, and practical activities for the classroom. One of the best research-focused sessions that I went to was by Scott Douglas from the University of British Columbia. He was presenting on the lexical needs of University bound ESL students in order to be successful with the reading and writing demands of their studies. I found this session to be eye opening and very engaging because I had never before thought about vocabulary in terms of word families needed or the fact that the vocabulary needs for reading may differ from the vocabulary needs for writing. Below I give a brief summary of the main points of his presentation. If you find it interesting and want to learn a bit more or discuss it further, I will be presenting the information at the Winter 2018 PED as well as adding the full reference list from the presentation to this post.

As we are all aware, students need to learn a lot of vocabulary to be successful at the University level in the U.S. (and I am sure other countries), and the words that they need to learn are not static; they change depending on a variety of things. Therefore, students need to be aware of whole word families as well as the many different meanings one word can have.

A typical college bound 18-year-old in the U.S has around 18,000 word families at their disposal (Nation, 2001) and they learn +/- 5,000 more during their undergraduate studies (Zechmeister et al., 1995). While this is a daunting number of word families, fortunately, ESL students do not have to learn this many to be successful in their own studies. This is because of the Lexical Frequency Principle, which basically means that some words are used more often than others, so students should focus on those higher frequency words first. Continue reading