Building the Net: Challenges to Online Course Template Design

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

An effective course template is pedagogically sound, accessible, and abides within the instructional design framework. However, online course template design can be confusing and frustrating. This session will discuss the process, challenges, and considerations necessary for creating effective online course templates.


S. Taylor Yarbrough is an Instructional Designer at Mississippi State University - Center for Distance Education. He primarily works with faculty, offering training, building course templates, creating interactive content, and seeking new ways to breathe life into the online environment. He also has a particular interest in studying online student retention, such as the factors that influence retention and strategies to assist students in staying the course.
Kenna Vowell is an Instructional Designer at Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS. She works with the Instructional Design team in the Center for Distance Education to assist with template design and implementation of best practices in online courses. She also facilitates trainings focused on online pedagogy and technological skills and assists faculty with the university's curriculum approval process. Kenna has a special interest in building quality online courses that are interactive and engaging as well as pedagogically sound.

Extended Abstract

Designing and building online course templates is an incredibly intricate process that requires knowledge from several disciplines. Creating an online course template is much like constructing a net for a trapeze artist. The net itself consists of many interlocking threads that each provide their strength to the net. In template design, the threads consist of many factors such as accessibility, pedagogy, instructional design, and graphic design. These threads form the foundation from which the instructor designs and builds their instructional content. The intent is for the student, as the trapeze artist, to fly high above the net.

Uniformity is a crucial element in the template design process. However, uniformity does force the designer to walk a fine line between template design and instructor freedom. Templates must provide space for the instructor's individuality and personality to shine through. On the one hand, each course should be unique while also providing a clear and consistent means of organization and structure. As a result, it was necessary to design templates by department or college since each has its ideas and preferences for course design. 

Having a clear and straightforward process for online course template design is crucial. The process begins with an in-depth discussion with the department or college requesting the template. After which, the team creates several rough drafts, each having a unique design. These designs are then presented to the department or college for approval and additional requests. Finally, the team builds the final template. They check it for accessibility and ensure it follows the university course standards before presenting it to the department or college.

Should you start designing online course templates? How do you get started with online course template design? Who needs to be involved in the process? What types of challenges should you expect along the way? What is the process of designing and building an online course template? All of these questions will be answered in this education session. If you're interested in this process, we look forward to discussing this topic with you.

Level of Participation:

This session will consist of a lecture-based presentation while also including interactive gamified elements. Upon completion of the lecture presentation, the presenters will provide time for questions and answers. 

Session Goals:

Individuals attending this education session will be able to identify the various elements of effective online course template design. They will also be able to list the common challenges associated with online course template design. Finally, individuals attending this education session will be able to articulate the online course template design process.