How to Make Your Online Course Suck

As I learn more about pedagogy and best practices in instructional design, I’m clearly developing some strong opinions on what can make an online course effective—and not. The following are some of my strongest ideas (not in any specific order) about how to make an online course bad.

  • Refuse to take ownership of your course; instead, teach the textbook. If the course is set up in modules, use headings such as “Module 1: Chapters 1–2” and “Module 2: Chapters 3–5” so that it’s obvious that the course is just a review of a book. Create PowerPoint files that only summarize the textbook readings, ignoring the possibilities of sharing your own valuable experiences or input from others who are experts in the field.
  • Create a course site that is purely text based, with no audio or video whatsoever. Even though students will feel closer to you as an instructor if you offer short multimedia introductions to modules and discussions of topics, omit this invaluable option.
  • Limit communication with students to a minimum. Include an announcement in the course site when it first becomes available to students, but do not post any others during the term. Post on a discussion board forum only when a student is desperate for a response, and then keep your response as minimal as possible. Use the excuse that students may feel stifled in their conversations if they feel you are “hovering.” (In actuality, you can add extremely meaningful insights and provocative questions if you contribute to discussion board forums significantly.) Schedule no synchronous class meetings, help sessions, office hours, or other support opportunities, even though the Internet makes myriad opportunities available. (Think Skype, Google+ Hangouts, AnyMeeting, LiveMinutes, and many others.)
  • If you use modules or other unit-type organization, make only one available at a time, and close the prior module as soon as the new one becomes available. Ignore that students might be interested in continuing discussions on discussion board forums, or in reviewing prior videos or other instructional material, later in the term. Ignore that students also move at different paces, so some may want to move ahead with content before others.
  • Seek out no other types of assessments than discussion board forums, papers, and multiple-choice exams and quizzes. Learning management systems like Blackboard now offer blogs, journals, wikis, and a plethora of test question options. The Internet offers tremendous options like timelines and storytelling tools. Creating simulations and scenarios is getting easier all the time. Even so, why not stick with the traditional yet boring assessment types?
  • Rather than assess students on rationale, critical thinking, innovation, and creativity, test their abilities to memorize and regurgitate information. Although life should rarely be dealt with in a black-and-white way, make sure in assessments that only one answer is right.
  • Make assumptions as to what your students know about you and the course. They should know that you never check e-mail on weekends and holidays, right? And why wouldn’t they know how to unzip a zip file?
  • Provide no rubrics at all. Shouldn’t students understand what you want in an assignment without telling them the criteria on which to grade them? Why bother explaining a concept for an assignment if you’re sure most of them have done a similar assignment in a previous course?
  • Make no effort to make your course site attractive. Even though a banner will more easily identify the course to students, why go to the trouble of creating one? Even though you grade students on their clean, concise, cogent work, why shouldn’t you play with a variety of fonts and type sizes, pay no attention to spelling and grammar, refuse to proofread your work, and either be too wordy or not say enough?
  • Last, and possibly most important, do absolutely nothing—don’t seek out ideas online, don’t discuss with colleagues, don’t read any books or magazines—to make the course intellectually stimulating, challenging, and innovative.

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