Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design #1: Upload your course materials, then call it a day

Wouldn’t that be great? Upload your materials, and simply let a Blackboard/Canvas robot monitor discussion, grade activities and assessments, and provide useful comments, and maybe even encouragement.  Is that where we’re headed?

Maybe so if we follow the trend of neo-reformers like Sugata Mitra, who suggests that teachers may not be necessary:

Build a School in the Cloud?

I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the ability of online courses to deliver the experience gained from traditional face-to-face courses, mostly because I really enjoy the dynamics of the classroom.  And although I generally agree with Mitra’s position, I think students need more than a “gran.”  In my limited experience, they need to be helped, guided, challenged, supported, encouraged and evaluated, among other things, which is much more than posting information and hoping that they learn it.  Sure, we have access to a staggering amount of information through the web, but as Mitra says, it’s essential that we be discerning about this information.  How do we make decisions about what’s important, then? How do students know what to search for, and how to use what they find?

In my classes, I try to give students an example of what a (somewhat) educated mind thinks about things–a lesson I saw repeatedly in graduate school,  reinforced in a Chronicle of Higher Ed. article called “In Praise of Passionate, Opinionated Teaching” (

In the last few years, I’ve come around to recognizing the ability to do this in an online or blended format.  It’s not enough, I believe, to use your skills/training/perspective to build innovative experiences, as the “Five Common Pitfalls” article suggests.  Instead, I think it’s important, necessary even, to be engaged with student learning in all aspects of the course: the challenges, frustrations, insights, a-ha moments, and so on.  Put differently, it’s not enough to “re-author” materials to so they leverage Web resources, etc.  That just adds the newest technological bells + whistles to what may be an otherwise stale approach to teaching/learning.  Instead, I feel we need to make the most of this dynamic technology to continue to challenge preconceptions and outdated mental models of reality.

So, yes, it’s a pitfall to believe one can upload outdated materials to a new format and “call it good.” But thinking that adding an video of what was once a lecture is potentially running into another pitfall: that technology alone makes learning happen.



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5 Responses to Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design #1: Upload your course materials, then call it a day

  1. elliokar says:

    This is a very interesting pitfall and one that I always have to be conscious of as well to avoid in the online/hybrid classroom. Are there some specific activities or assignments that you are thinking of integrating into your course to ensure it is a dynamic environment? I am interested in learning more about Canvas to see what is possible in this area with creating diverse interaction and really allowing the concepts to come alive. With the video and technology feature, do you think you could use that as an assignment, and instead of having students watch a video, have them create and share a video with class participation and providing feedback to them? I am considering doing this, and perhaps at multiple levels where they get feedback on the initial video “draft” and then submit a final version. It could be interesting and rewarding to see their work evolve and have it engaging as well!

    • hommeld says:

      I think that’s a great idea–I’d assume some students would be more comfortable with creating video than others though. Or in your field is it expected that everyone would have some experience? I’ve had students do a number of different active learning exercises: debates, discussions, scenarios. Once a term I ask them to use presentation tools like Prezi, and I’ve also had some success using peer-review. I’m still learning though, and I’m always interested in what the educational research is saying about the effectiveness of specific methods, etc.

  2. terrella says:

    I like that one of your goals is showing students what an educated mind thinks of. I think that makes hybrid learning even more ideal because it gives the teacher less time to tell students what to think and gives students more time and freedom to practice how to think. Critical thinking skills can certainly be improved with more time on the receiving end — contemplation and preparation can happen at home. And then discussions in class can be more focused.

    • hommeld says:

      Exactly–I always try and show multiple perspectives, if possible, but I’m also willing to admit I’m biased and likely to have an opinion about the issue. Luckily I’ve found students in my classes generally do their homework, which allows me to go much further, regardless of the format.

  3. Floyd says:

    This was a really good post, and one that is very applicable today; even at the elementary level where I focus. I think that it was troubling how the Khan guy was lifted up for offering pretty low quality educational videos, in my opinion as an example. However, such praise it not heaved upon the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are really working hard to make in happen in the classroom on the daily basis. Activities and lesson practices beyond just a video to watch and make it happen. The students who needs emotional support, a student who needs a loving pat on the back…connections that a video or a screen will not replace. Great post. I have subscribed to your blog. I am researching blended learning as well and writing about it on my blog at AccuTeach

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