Student-centered design can help improve learning. Here are some ideas to help focus your course design on your students.
Students are more likely to engage in an activity or task that interests them. Whenever possible, incorporate choice into your course assignments. When providing discussion prompts, include at least two different questions so that students can select the one that most interests them. Allow students to choose how they respond to discussion questions, such as through a typed response, an audio recording, a video recording, or even a visual representation of their thoughts. When assigning students to small groups, allow them to self-enroll in those groups based on their interests. If students are expected to complete a major paper or project in the course, allow them to select their topics or provide them with a list of topics from which to choose.
Prioritize Equity and Cultural Inclusion
To help students build and maintain social presence, make equity and cultural inclusion a priority. Not only is it important to establish guidelines about appropriate etiquette for student interactions with you and with one another, but it is also important to build awareness of differing cultural contexts that students might not be able to identify in an online setting. One simple way to begin this process is to ask students to participate in a discussion forum activity, called “Name Stories,” where they share information such as: how they got their name, the meaning of their name, how to pronounce their name, any nicknames they use (and why), their preferred name for the purpose of the course, and their preferred pronouns. An important note about preferred pronouns; if you encounter a situation where there is an accidental misuse of pronouns, acknowledge it, accept the mistake, and modify as necessary for the future. Then, move on.
Tap Into Prior Knowledge and Experience
Help students build connections between the knowledge they possess and new topics or concepts they will encounter during the course. Toward the beginning of the course, ask students to create a concept map of their ideas for the final paper, presentation, and/or project. Students can create the concept map by drawing on paper or by using computer software. They can design the concept map using the knowledge they already have about that particular topic and even leave spaces for the concepts they want to explore or research in greater depth as they progress through the course. Mapping out what they know and need to learn about the topic provides a visual representation of the students’ knowledge. Don’t forget about choice here; if possible, give students the opportunity to choose how they create their concept map.