Why Adding Supplemental Resources to Online Courses is a Great Idea

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When designing an online course, I always include three types of learning assignments: reading (from a text or other academic source), video lectures or other presentation, and supplemental “not at all required to pass this course but just in case you are interested” materials. I add this last category because I have a wealth of resources to share with the students who are interested in learning more. When I teach in the classroom, my students face me and I can see those who are interested in what we discuss. Their expressions seem to indicate they hang on every word. They come up and talk to me after class. They ask for additional reading. I just can’t get that same experience in an online class, but those of us who have taught online for a long time know those same students exist. They love the subject, certain ideas intrigue them, or they just love to learn. Those students usually send a personal thank you at the end of the class. And those are the students I think about when posting supplemental materials.

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It always excites me a little when I see a student use a reference I gave them in the supplemental assignment. I am glad I took the time to share at least some additional information. I also know there are students who watch videos I post to help them understand new concepts in a different format. For example, when I teach human communication, I post a video about what the world would be like if there were only 100 people. I see that video, a supplemental resource to the lesson on the role of demographics in communication, as a reference in student use in the assignment. I explain the same idea in my video lecture along with other ideas, but that video is short, to the point, and fun to watch.

One of the reasons I started adding supplemental material was because I attended a presentation where the presenter said 10% of the students in an online class will read the minimum amount to complete the assignments, 80% of the students will read what is assigned, 6% will look for extra help, and 4% will read everything I post (sorry it was a long time ago and I don’t recall the presenter or the name of the study). So if I average 5 online classes a year of 15 students and I have been teaching a total of 15 years, I have touched 1125 students. If 4% of those students read everything I post because they are interested in the class or subject, I might have influenced 45 students to become Communication majors or even scholars. To me, creating such a legacy is well worth the hour or two I spend selecting the supplemental information and is truly the essence of teaching.

Posting videos, lectures, research papers, and links to share additional information is easy enough to do and it can make the difference to a struggling student afraid to ask a question. Most Learning Management Systems will allow you to track how many views a resource received, so you can examine what student are reading and it can help you see where you need to “beef up” your lecture or add additional materials. Many texts have a list of resources to get you started, but I am betting you already have your own list available. As I keep up with my discipline and study for my own learning and growth, I keep a document with a bibliography of the things I might want to use in class including links to videos, lectures, and blog pages. (Old research habits die hard!) When doing the course design, I can pull out the list and choose what goes where, checking, of course, to make sure it is still available. This process also helps when trying to select the essential information the 90% of the students will need to get through the course. I don’t know how many of my students access my supplemental information, but I know it is there for them – it is up to them to use it!

Dr. Aitken has extensive knowledge and experience in adult and higher education. She spent 24 years in technical training with AT&T/Lucent serving in a variety of functions including managing a global training initiative. She earned a PhD in Education with an emphasis on adult and higher education from Capella University, a Master of Science in Telecommunications Management and Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder, a Master of Arts in Organizational Communication, and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, both from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Aitken has been an adjunct for 15 years in both face to face and online courses with traditional and non-traditional students including teacher candidates and military personnel. She has served on both master’s thesis and dissertation committees and has held fulltime university positions as an Assessment Coordinator, the Director of Instructional Technology and eLearning, a Distance Learning Coordinator, Instructional Design Faculty, and as an Instructional Design Project Manager. She currently holds a fulltime position at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio where she is the Assistant Vice President of Educational Effectiveness and Institutional Accreditation. Dr. Aitken guides several of the Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan-C) workshops and works with Clemson University faculty as a course development leader. Dr. Aitken has administrator experience with learning and assessment management systems including eCollege, Blackboard, WebCT, Desire2Learn, ANGEL, SAKAI, Moodle, TaskStream, TK20, and Folitek.

Dr. Aitken is serving her third 5 year term on the editorial board for MERLOT and is a peer reviewer for JOLT, the Journal for Online Learning and Teaching. She is a reviewer for the OLC conference and has been a Master Chef in the OLC test kitchen where faculty share new technology. She lives in Xenia, Ohio and is a big Ohio State hockey fan.

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