Designing a Language for Online Learning - The Architecture of a Language Course

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

Architecture, inter-connection, and intentional course design mixed with reflective pedagogy, is responsible for student success in online learning of language courses.


Chris Beks is an instructional designer at UAF eCampus and has been working with technology in higher education for more than twenty years. He is interested in how technology can enhance instruction and assist the teaching and learning experience for faculty and students. He has been at UAF since 1996, as a student, adjunct, and full-time faculty, and since 2008 he’s been a full-time staff member. Prior to joining the eCampus department, he worked for seven years as a staff member in the OIT Training & Development group, supporting the Blackboard LMS and Google Apps. When not at UAF, Chris enjoys outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, and hiking in the Alaskan outdoors. In the summer, he spends a lot of his time on the family's cut-flower peony farm.

Extended Abstract

Alaska is the biggest state in our nation, and providing equitable access to education depends more and more on online course delivery, especially in the rural areas of the state. With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, many classes had to ‘go online’ in a matter of weeks. Continuing to provide courses became a top priority. Designing a course for remote or online delivery is a challenge and at this time with the limited resources provided, many faculty struggled with the process of creating engaging online courses.

Modern language courses are based on communicative curricula that are collaborative, engaging, and reflective. These courses focus on the implementation of listening,  speaking, reading, and writing skills, the building blocks for any language learning.  Teaching an in-person class allows an instructor to engage with students face-to-face. How do you do that in an online foreign language course? How do you get to the desired outcomes? How do you evaluate student responses?

We saw this as an opportunity for something different and pursued building professionally designed online courses. All the elements of a course could be implemented in a course architecture and design that enabled students to engage with the language, and each other, to achieve the same or better results as with an in-person course.

The online courses are developed from linguistic, curricular, and pedagogy-related principles and segments of the face-to-face courses. Learning objectives, assessments and measurements, instructional materials, learning activities, learner interaction, and academic content were created and built into the course. Reflective pedagogy, as well as mastered experience from face-to-face teaching, were translated into a professional online format. 

With all this in mind, the following were important parts of the course development:

  • A learner-centric approach, which aims at making language learners grammatically accurate and communicatively fluent, assists students in each module, pulling them into the material, and keeping them interested in learning. 

  • Clear and consistent navigation is built sequentially through each module. Visually appealing content pages with integrated audio and video elements keep course materials exciting and help in differentiating the instruction to achieve the outcomes.

  • New technologies allow for speech focussed assignments, where students can communicate with their instructor and each other.

  • The integration of listening, speaking, reading, and writing is built into each module. Every module has a similar structure.

  • The use of the Learning Glass video feature is assisting with teaching the grammatical concepts

  • A new ‘Music Assignment’ is an innovative approach to connect linguistic and communicative learning. It also has an added cultural aspect to it.

Many iterations and revisions of the courses have been made over the past several semesters based on student feedback and student results. Courses keep improving and changing with each semester and ideally become better learning experiences for the students.


Level of participation:
The first half of the session is structured to initially present the process of the course design, and a brief demonstration of the course as a result of that process. Attendees will be asked to provide feedback on the course or ask questions/provide comments regarding the process. This would, in theory, result in more of a question-and-answer second part of the session.

Session Goals:
The attendees should be able to describe our design process, and hopefully have some new ideas for their own courses. The course will be publicly available in the Canvas Commons for anyone interested in adapting or improving upon our process.