We have learned that there exists a myriad of Open Source content to be found on the web that can be used to increase knowledge. Generally open source content is free to the learner and is delivered via a Content Management System (CMS). The CMS consists of several components that should be designed to give the learner an engaging learning environment. When planning the components of the materials, Instructional Designers should consider the components of a successful learning system: the learners; the content; the method and materials; the environment and the technology. All of the aforementioned interact to create the learning experience (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 152). If the designer fails to come up with an effective combination of the components, then a lot of time and money has been wasted and possibly no learning will take place. Having open source content makes this more difficult as the designer may not have any idea of the learners that make up the target group. In this instance, it is advisable that the designer develop a standardized course structure.

Lee et al (n.d.) propose ten foundational components for standardizing online course structure based on research done by several authors including Boettcher & Conrad (2010); Draves (2007) and others. These components were derived based on research as a result of their experience as instructional designers, online instructors and students. They are:

  • Announcements – clear, supportive and regularly posted.
  • Course Information – display fundamental details including syllabus, schedule and grading policy
  • Instructor Information – including phone, email, office location and hours etc.
  • Course Modules – built in a logical sequence to contain the instructional content
  • Discussions – areas for synchronous and asynchronous discussions, as well as troubleshooting and clarification
  • Submissions – assignment listing along with deadlines
  • Assessments – area for quizzes, tests or exams
  • Grades – show all assignments submitted with grades and feedback
  • Send email – used to send emails to instructors and/or classmates
  • Course support – links to external support: technical, library, research databases or other support (Lee, Dickerson, & Winslow, 2012)

Further, Simonson et al (2012) have recommended the Unit-Module-Topic Model for content delivered at a distance. This is comprised as:

  • Unit-Topic-Module Guideline – Semester credit = 1 unit = 3-5 modules/unit = 3-5 topics/module = 1 learning outcome/topic
  • Assessment Guidelines – measurement of learning as 1 major assignment per unit and 1 minor assignment per 2 to 3 modules. A typical 3 credit course has the assessment strategy of – 1 exam, 1 10-page paper, 1 project, 3 quizzes, 3 small assignments and graded threaded discussions. The learning outcome must be observable and measurable
  • Content Guidelines – emphasis on varying forms of content delivery methods from printed materials to PowerPoint presentations to audio/video formats and webinars to synchronous chats.
  • Instruction/Teaching Guidelines – instruction should be paced to get the most out of learner interaction. Ideally that should be: 1 module/week, Instructor email to students weekly, 1 synchronous chat /week, 2 to 3 threaded discussions per topic, Instructor comments on discussion threads and grades submitted to learners every 2 weeks (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, pp. 180 – 183)

The website I looked is the MIT Open Courseware seen here:

http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

I found this website easy to navigate as the menu can be seen prominently at the top of the page. Clicking on the ‘Courses’ button gives you a drop-down menu where you can find course by topic, course number or department. I chose by topic and navigated to the African History subtopic and the Course ‘Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies’.

As you can see from the picture to the left, the menu bar on the left has the some of the components considered necessary as part of the 10 fundamental components of standardized content management. As I navigate through the menus I find:

Syllabus is thorough and it has meeting times, description, requirements and course readings.

Calendar has a listing of topics session by session, but does not include actual calendar dates. I like that it includes the Instructors for each session as there appear to be several of them for this course. Additionally, this course is not an online course but a hybrid as there are field trips included in the curriculum.

Readings lists the readings and the discussions that are going to be used per session.

Assignments each required by session. Again there is no calendar date included.

Download Course Materials allows you to download all of the required materials at once. I particularly like this function as I would like to be able to do the same in my current situation.

While the overall design is easy to navigate, the site is missing three critical components – Instructor Information, Grades and Support. It does appear that a great amount of planning went into not only the design of the site (the actual look and navigation) but the instruction content contains discussions, printed material, video media and even a group project. I think that maybe there wasn’t not an evaluation phase of the design process or maybe not a very thorough one.

All in all a viable site for instruction. (Note: all comments based on visual review as I was not able to actually enroll in the course.)

References:

Lee, C.-Y., Dickerson, J., & Winslow, J. (2012, March). An Analysis of Organizational Approaches to Online Course Structures. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, XV(1). Georgia, United States of America: University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). (K. V. Canton, Ed.) Boston, Massachussetts, United States of America: Pearson Education, Inc.